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(Credit: MCA Records)

Music

Watch rare footage of Lynyrd Skynyrd performing 'Free Bird' in 1977

@josephtaysom

Lynyrd Skynyrd are an act drenched in tragedy due to the plane crash which killed their frontman, Ronnie Van Zant, in October 1977, and this heartwrenching performance of ‘Free Bird’ was filmed mere months before his death.

Prior to the death of Van Zant, Lynyrd Skynyrd looked unstoppable, and they truly had the world at their feet. Their fifth album, Street Survivors, was released just three days before they lost their singer, and it became their second platinum record. However, without him, they couldn’t continue.

Two years after the disaster, the band regrouped, however, it was never the same without Van Zant. His brother, Johnny, stepped into his shoes but often became too emotional during concerts to sing ‘Free Bird’ as the memories of Ronnie flooded back, and it was left to the audience to deputise for the frontman.

The lyrics are heartbreaking, and in the initial years of performing the track, Lynyrd Skynyrd, they did so as a tribute to their friend, Duane Allman. However, after Ronnie’s death, the track took on a whole new meaning which still produces powerful moments every time the band take to the stage today.

Initially, the band didn’t even plan on adding lyrics to the extravaganza of a track because Ronnie felt it “had too many chords to write lyrics for,” according to Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington. He added: “But after a few months, we were sitting around, and he asked Allen to play those chords again. After about 20 minutes, Ronnie started singing, ‘If I leave here tomorrow,’ and it fit great.”

He continued: “It wasn’t anything heavy, just a love song about leavin’ town, time to move on. Al put the organ on the front, which was a very good idea. He also helped me get the sound of the delayed slide guitar that I play – it’s actually me playing the same thing twice, recording one on top of the other, so it sounds kind of slurry, echoey.”

The decision to add lyrics was a stroke of genius, and it became their most loved song. The performance below of ‘Free Bird’ was taken from their concert at the Coliseum Stadium in Oakland which was part of the biggest tour of their career. 

After four albums and a fifth on the way, Lynyrd Skynyrd had finally made it to where their ambitious, stadium-ready brand of rock was destined to be with this video capturing the Floridians at the height of their powers. Be warned; the footage may give you goosebumps.