Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t call an album “Street Survivors” for no reason.
From early member changes to the 1977 plane crash that took the lives of three band members and put the veteran Southern rockers on hiatus for a decade, hard times have proven the group — whose hit “Sweet Home Alabama” provided the basis for current tour mate Kid Rock’s 2008 hit “All Summer Long” — nothing if not resilient. That goes for this year, too: in January, original keyboardist Billy Powell suffered a fatal heart attack; and in May, bassist Ean Evans died after a short battle with cancer.
“We were just hit left and right,” says frontman Johnny Van Zant, who replaced his late older brother Ronnie in 1987. “Losing Billy and Ean was just a tough thing for us. But we had a record and wanted to finish that off, and, of course, all these dates with (Kid Rock) were on the books and we wanted to do them, too.
“Y’know, we’re just a big ol’ family. I’ve been in this band 22 years. Any big family would probably lose four people in that period of time, and that’s how many people I’ve lost since I’ve been in this band (including bassist Leon Wilkeson and guitarist Hughie Thomasson). Every day out here playing is just a blessing to us, and we’re gonna keep doing it until the good Lord opens those clouds and says ‘Come on home, boy ... ’ ”
The “Free Bird” continues to fly not only on stage but on record, with Skynyrd’s new album, “God & Guns,” due out Sept. 29. The album’s first single will be “Still Unbroken” and it features a tribute to Powell called “Gifted Hands,” but Skynyrd is giving fans a taste of another new tune, “Skynyrd Nation,” that was inspired by reaction to Powell’s death.
“I was on the computer right after Billy passed away,” Van Zant, 50, recalls, “and was just seeing the messages that people were posting. Somebody said, ‘Will the Skynyrd nation go on?’ I thought, ‘Wow, I never thought of it as being a nation, but it really is.’
“So I called up Gary (Rossington) and Rickey (Medlocke) and I said, ‘Man, we’ve got to write a song called ‘Skynyrd Nation,’ and we did. It’s a party kind of song, just an upbeat kind of thing and a tribute to the fans, who have been so great and are always there for us.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd performs with Kid Rock and Robert Randolph & the Family Band on Friday (July 17) at Comerica Park, 2100 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $46.50 with a $99 upper deck six-pack. Call (313) 471-2000 or visit www.kidrock.com.
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