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Lynyrd Skynyrd- “Sweet Home Alabama”

  • Joined Dec 2019
  • Published Books 1

Let’s start with a song which tells a great story. this is “Gimme Three Steps”- Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first single from their first Album “(Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd)”

The story is simple and in my opinion very authentic (apparently it’s based on a real-life experience of Ronnie Van Zant, the band’s lead vocalist).



[Verse 1]
I was cutting the rug
Down at a place called The Jug
With a girl named Linda Lou
When in walked a man
With a gun in his hand
And he was looking for you know who
He said, “Hey there fellow
With the hair colored yellow
What you trying to prove?
Because that’s my woman there
And I’m a man who cares
And this might be all for you”

[Verse 2]
I was scared and fearing for my life
I was shaking like a leaf on a tree
Because he was lean, mean
Big and bad, Lord
Pointing that gun at me
I said, “Wait a minute, mister
I didn’t even kiss her
Don’t want no trouble with you
And I know you don’t owe me
But I wish you’d let me
Ask one favor from you”

“A-won’t you give me three steps
Gimme three steps mister
Gimme three steps towards the door?
Gimme three steps
Gimme three steps mister
And you’ll never see-a me no more
For sure”

[Verse 3]
Well the crowd cleared away
And I began to pray
As the water fell on the floor
And I’m telling you son
Well, it ain’t no fun
Staring straight down a forty-four
Well he turned and screamed at Linda Lou
And that’s the break I was looking for
And you could hear me screaming a mile away
As I was headed out towards the door

“A-won’t you give me three steps
Gimme three steps mister
Gimme three steps towards the door?
Gimme three steps
Gimme three steps mister
And you’ll never see-a me no more
Show me the back door”


Let’s begin with the band’s history.

Most of the founding members of the band met during high school in Jacksonville, Florida. They named it mockingly after Leonard Skinner, their high school P.E. teacher, who was notorious for strictly enforcing the school’s policy against boys having long hair- which was of course problematic for them…



In 1972, the band was discovered by musician, songwriter, and producer Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat & Tears, who had attended one of their shows in Atlanta. He signed them to his “Sounds of the South” label.


Al Kooper is also known for his work with Bob Dylen, including playing the Hammond organ riffs on Dylan’s incredible “Like a Rolling Stone”



On August 13, 1973, The band released their debut album “(Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd)”. It sold over one million copies. Their popularity grew rapidly as they opened for the Who’s US tour and later toured on their own.
The highlight of their shows was the 11 minutes long power ballad “Free Bird”- featuring an amazing 5-minute triple guitar duet section, here starting at 6:55: LINK TO YOUTUBE


Regarding the criteria we disscussed in class for a popular song- I believe the powerful chemistry within the band, visible while they are playing this guitar section, played a big part in the song’s succsess at the time.


The band was part of one of the many rock sub-genres that emerged in the 70’s- Southern rock. They were proud of their southern origins, even featuring the Confederate Flag as background in many of their shows, but were also sometimes critical of southern culture- mostly apperent in their all-time best hit “Sweet Home Alabama”, (I’ll disscuss it later) which was featured in their second and most succsessful album “Second Helping”, released 1974.


They released two more albums in 1975-1976 which were moderatly succseesful. As we disscussed in class- some song are great but did not become wildly popular. Here is (in my opinion) one of these songs, “Double Trouble” from the album “Gimme Back My Bullets”:


Sudden End:
The band was touring the country three days after the release of the album “Street Survivors”, when on October 20, 1977, the plane they boarded to fly between shows crashed, killing Lead vocalist/founding member Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist and vocalist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines (Steve’s older sister), assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray. Other band members suffered serious injuries. This brought to a premature end what was supposed to be their biggest tour yet.
The band disbanded following this tragedy.


“Street Survivors” became the band’s second platinum album. It’s original cover sleeve featured a photograph of the band amid flames, with Steve Gaines nearly obscured by fire. Out of respect for the deceased, MCA Records withdrew the original cover and replaced it with the album’s back photo, a similar image of the band against a simple black background. Thirty years later, for the deluxe CD version of Street Survivors, the original “flames” cover was restored.

The Original Cover
The Revised Cover

The survivng members did regroup eventually, and in fact some of them are still preforming under the Lynyrd Skynyrd name to this day, lad by the original lead singer’s brother, Johnny Van Zant.



Sweet Home Alabama

This is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most popular song- both at the time of it’s release and today. To an unaware listner who’s just familiar with the chorus it might sound like a simple patriotic song, but the reality is a bit different.


First, non of the creators of the song are from Alabama- so why Alabama? Because the song was written as an answer to two songs by Neil Young, “Southern Man” and “Alabama”, which dealt with themes of racism and slavery in the American South.


In the words of Ronnie Van Zant: “We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two”
They respond to Neil in the songs lyrics:
Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow


But while the song expresses love for Alabama and it’s musicians, it also has criticism of local politicians’ racism:


In Birmingham they love the governor (Boo! Boo! Boo!)


This line is refering to the Civil rights movement and to the Alabama governor George Wallace, who fought against desegregation during the 1960s.
Birmingham was home to massive non-violent demonstrations against racism and segregation, which were met with police repression, tear gas, attack dogs, fire hoses, and many arrests.
(so “love” is meant cynically here..)


So basicly they are saying:
we agree that the local politicians are bad, but that does not mean all southerners are bad people!


Neil Young, who maybe suprisingly had a good relationship with Lynyrd Skynyrd, has said later:
“My own song ‘Alabama’ richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue”


More about the song’s story can be found HERE.


Why did it become popular?


In my opinion, using the music appreciation checklist we learned, there are a few main reasons:


Hook– there are two: the great guiter riff repeating throughout the song, and the titular “Sweet Home Alabama” line from the chorus.


Authanticity– the song seems to express an authentic feeling of pride, even if some of the lyrics sang are meant cynically.


Makes you feel part of a special group of people– as if saying, Alabama has a good side too, and you can be part of it.


And lastly, the song just has a great unique feel


Connection to Blues:

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s musical style is heavily influanced by blues. Here, for exemple, is the song “Call Me The Breeze”, formed in the 12-bar blues format we learned in class:

“Call me the breeze
I keep blowin’ down the road
Well now, they call me the breeze
I keep blowin’ down the road
I ain’t got me nobody
I don’t carry me no load”


And there’s also the song “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”, based on childhood experiences of the band members.
It tells the story of a young kid collecting spare change and giving it to an old black man, who buys wine with it and plays him some blues.

“Play me a song
Curtis Loew, Curtis Loew
Well I got your drinkin’ money
Tune up your Dobro
People said he was useless
Them people all were fools
Cause Curtis Loew was the finest picker
To ever play the blues”


My Personal Connection:

The way I discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd is a bit unorthodox, so I wanted to tell about it. I was in 6th grade when I played the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Besides shooting gangsters and running over pedestrians, the game also featured 10 fake “radio stations” the player could listen to when driving around. The stations each represented a different genre, which allowed me to explore music genres I might have not found about otherwise.

Luckily the radio stations can be found on youtube! Two of my favorites are “K-Rose”, which featured Classic Country music, and “K-DST” which featured Classic Rock music, including Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. The stations are in the next pages, along with a list of the songs in them.


1. Jerry Reed – Amos Moses 0:06

2. Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn – Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man 2:29

3. The Desert Rose Band – One Step Forward 4:59

4. Statler Brothers – New York City 8:03

5. Statler Brothers – Bed of Rose’s 10:56

6. Asleep At The Wheel – The Letter That Johnny Walker Read 13:19

7. Juice Newton – Queen of Hearts 16:30

8. Hank Williams – Hey Good Lookin’ 19:38

9. Patsy Cline – Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray 22:42

10. Eddie Rabbitt – I Love a Rainy Night 24:54

11. Willie Nelson – Crazy 27:34

12. Mickey Gilley – Make the World Go Away 31:29

13. Ed Bruce – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys 34:18

14. Merle Haggard – Always Wanting You 37:26

15. Whitey Shafer – All My Ex’s Live in Texas 40:35


DJ: Tommy “The Nightmare” Smith (voiced by Axl Rose)

0:00:14 Rod Stewart – Young Turks (sadly removed due to copyright issues)

0:04:35 Billy Idol – White Wedding

0:08:24 Boston – Smokin’

0:12:19 Kiss – Strutter

0:15:36 Grand Funk Railroad – Some Kind of Wonderful 0:18:51 David Bowie – Somebody Up There Likes Me

0:22:47 Toto – Hold The Line

0:27:18 The Who – Eminence Front

0:32:10 Humble Pie – Get Down to It

0:36:33 Heart – Barracuda

0:39:46 Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird

0:45:54 Joe Cocker – Woman to Woman

0:50:27 Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River

0:52:53 America – A Horse with No Name

0:56:36 Foghat – Slow Ride

0:59:46 Tom Petty – Runnin’ Down a Dream

1:04:40 Eddie Money – Two Tickets to Paradise



That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this book.

Here’s another song I like to finish it up, telling the story of first signing a record deal with MCA:


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