Monday, January 15, 8948

Ronnie Van Zant (1948-1977) - Lynyrd Skynyrd

Ronnie [Ronald Wayne] Van Zant (January 15, 1948 - October 20, 1977) was the lead vocalist, primary lyricist, and a founding member of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was the older brother of .38 Special founder and vocalist Donnie Van Zant and current Lynyrd Skynyrd lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant.

Van Zant formed Skynyrd late in the summer of 1964 with friends and schoolmates Allen Collins (guitar), Gary Rossington (guitar), Larry Junstrom (bass), and Bob Burns (drums). Lynyrd Skynyrd's name was inspired by a gym teacher the boys had in high school, Leonard Skinner, who disapproved of students with long hair.

The band's national exposure began in 1973 with the release of their debut album, which included their signature song, Free Bird which he later dedicated to the late Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers Band.

Lynyrd Skynyrd's biggest hit single, although Freebird was a close second, was Sweet Home Alabama, which came off the album Second Helping.

Despite the unflattering mention of Neil Young in Sweet Home Alabama, the two musicians were close friends and mutually admired each other's work.

On October 20, 1977, a Convair 240 carrying the band between shows from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Louisiana crashed outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi. The passengers had been informed about problems and told to brace for impact.

Ronnie was thrown from the mangled wreckage and died of a blunt trauma injury to his head.

Band associates Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray were also killed. Remaining band members survived, although all were seriously injured.

Van Zant's younger brother, Johnny, took over as the new lead singer when the band reunited in 1987.

Ronnie Van Zant was buried in Orange Park, Florida in 1977, but was relocated after vandals broke into his and band member Steve Gaines's tombs on June 29, 2000. Van Zant's casket was pulled out and dropped on the ground. The bag containing Gaines' ashes was torn open and some scattered onto the grass.

Their mausoleums at Orange Park remain as memorials.

According to the cemetery listing website Find-a-Grave, Van Zant was reburied at Riverside Memorial Park in Jacksonville, near the grave of his father Lacy and mother Marion.


Free Bird

Free Bird was first featured on Lynyrd Skynyrd's debut album in 1973, and reached #19 on the U.S. Billboard charts. The group's longest song, it is used as a finale by the band during their live performances.

[8948 S. Schwartz / 8948 R. Van Zant / 8947 John]