Lynyrd Skynyrd was originally formed in 1964, in Jacksonville, Florida, by Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington and Larry Junstrom as My Backyard. Five years later, they settled on their current name as a sendup of their gym coach at Robert E. Lee High School, Leonard Skinner.
Their triple guitar harmonies and heavy blues rock sound became synonymous with Southern Rock and laid the groundwork for subsequent successful Florida bands like Molly Hatchet, 38 Special and the Outlaws.
After some regional success in the early 1970s, the group released their first record in 1973. The album went gold within a year. This marked the beginning of a five-year, four-album stretch in which the band had a string of hits, including the iconic favorites “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” as well as multiple lineup changes. By 1977, the band had reached their apex and were touring relentlessly to sold-out crowds across the country.
On October 20 of that year, the band was in a devastating plane crash in Mississippi on the way to a show. It took six lives, including Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup vocalist Cassie Gaines. This tragedy marked the end of Lynyrd Skynyrd until 1987, when the group reformed with Van Zant’s little brother, Johnny, taking over on lead vocals.
In 2005, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The influence of Lynyrd Skynyrd is pervasive in American music, most especially in hard rock. Along with the Allman Brothers Band, they established Florida as the birthplace and wellspring of Southern Rock for the entire country.