When Ronnie Van Zant and four friends formed their first band My Backyard in the summer of 1964, the history of rock and roll and southern identity would change forever. Its last incarnation, Lynyrd Skynyrd, was named after the boys’ gym teacher, who strictly enforced the school’s policy against long hair. Lynyrd Skynyrd would later encapsulate this long haired rebellion and touch onto deep issues plaguing the south and the rest of America during its successful reign of the 1970s.
The band’s most notable hit “Sweet Home Alabama” was inspired by Neil Young’s hit “Southern Man,” which was critical of southern segregation of the time. Many interpreted Van Zandt’s shoutout, “Hope Neil Young will remember, a southern man don’t need him around anyhow” as criticism of the singer. What most people don’t realize is that Van Zandt and Young mutually respect one another and “Sweet Home Alabama” actually agreed with Young’s critique of segregationist policies of the time.
This would not be the first time that controversial Jacksonville rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd would directly challenge southern sentiments at the time. “The Ballad of Curtis Leow” directly criticized bigotry and the southern divide of the time and “Saturday Night Special” satirized the nation’s lax gun policies. Unfortunately, a plane crash in 1977 would place its timestamp on the band, radically altering the progression of southern rock for years to come.
Alongside Lynyrd Skynyrd were famed southern rock group The Allman Brothers hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, the very birthplace of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The Allman Brothers would go on to be one of the most celebrated southern rock acts of all time up until the unfortunate death of Greg Allman last year. The Allman Camp and Lynyrd Skynyrd would go on to inspire legendary Jacksonville rock acts, including Molly Hatchet, .38 Special, and JJ Grey & Mofro.
It may seem strange that an entire genre of music could be formed and defined by a single city. Just like the Expatriate Writers of Paris or the Jazz age in Harlem, all of the pieces just seemed to come into place to give birth to something special.
In the early 1960s, jazz, blues, and R&B were becoming huge acts across the country and Jacksonville was no exception. Ray Charles began performing his first sets in Jacksonville and many major blues artists came funneling through the Jacksonville clubs. It should be noted that Jacksonville, even to this day, remains a playground for jazz artists, hosting the Jacksonville Jazz Festival each year. It was this fusion and experimentation across Jacksonville that led to the birth of southern rock at the time. This came even as the British invasion was just hitting the United States.
As Lynyrd Skynyrd ended 1977 and Duane Allman passed in the early 1970s, southern rock began to evolve. College bands, liberated by punk and post-punk airways, began forming across the country in places like Winston-Salem and across the deep south. The southern rock tradition would be led on by acts like R.E.M., and solidified to this day by bands like Shinedown who brought a new generation back to the passion of Lynyrd Skynyrd through its cover of “Simple Man.” It should be noted that Shinedown also hailed from Jacksonville, Florida.
To this day, Jacksonville still remains a home for popular acts like Shinedown and Limp Bizkit. Although the sound has changed, Jacksonville bands still embody its southern rock roots to a degree. People in search for homes for sale in Jacksonville, Florida come here to reconnect to the rebel spirit that bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd expelled. While the times may change and even the city itself, the spirit still burns brightly and lives in every southern man across the United States.