In the late 1960s, in Jacksonville, Florida, a clean-cut gym teacher named Leonard Skinner sent student Gary Rossington to the principal’s office because his hair touched his collar. The teenager’s shaggy mop was a brazen violation of Robert E. Lee High School’s dress code. When Rossington and some of his friends and schoolmates—singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins, drummer Bob Burns, and bassist Larry Junstrom—were searching for a new name for their fledgling rock group—they drew on memories of the incident. Lynyrd Skynyrd (vowels changed “to protect the guilty”) was born.
More than forty years ago, on August 13, 1973, Lynyrd Skynyrd released its debut self-titled album (helpfully subtitled “Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd.”). They were an instant hit, opening for The Who on their Quadrophenia tour, and charting “Free Bird,” which would go on to become one of the most iconic power ballads of the era, if not all time. But their biggest hit was yet to come. “Sweet Home Alabama,” off their 1974 Second Helping album, reached number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—and earned an eternal place in the hearts of many Southerners, even beyond the borders of the Yellowhammer State.