Johnny Van Zant’s Concern About Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Legacy
Musicians who form and nurture their bands rarely expect a tragic ending, such as losing one of their bandmates. For instance, Ronnie Van Zant didn’t get the chance to enjoy the success of Lynyrd Skynyrd as much since the lead vocalist passed away after the infamous plane crash that resulted in the passing of three band members in 1977. Following the musician’s death, the band took a long hiatus that lasted for ten years before they were ready to return to the stage.
The band managed to pull themselves together to reunite for a tribute tour with Ronnie Van Zant’s brother Johnny Van Zant. Although Johnny became the band’s lead vocalist to fill his late brother’s position, the singer recognized the legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd that his brother and the band had created. Therefore, Johnny did everything to protect and respect it and avoided doing anything that would tarnish their reputation.
Although Johnny took over as the lead vocalist and tried to fill his late brother’s place, he knew he wanted to carry on the proud legacy his brother had left behind. He realized early on that his shoes were too big to fill, but he wanted nothing more than to focus on making music that Ronnie would be proud of and stay away from anything that would tarnish the respect Lynyrd Skynyrd had gained from the fans.
“Well, my brother started it, along with Gary Rossington and Allen Collins,” said Johnny to Alabama News in 2011, and discussed his brother’s impact. “Hey, I was a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan before I was ever approached to do a tribute tour back in ’87 or ’86. I never wanted to do anything to hurt the name of Lynyrd Skynyrd; it was already an icon to me at that time. For me to carry it on all these years and be out there playing the songs, I love my brother and what he stood for.”
Besides the way Ronnie and the band carried themselves, their lyrics were what most resonated with the fans. Johnny said, “I love how he wrote songs without saying. The words and the meanings of the songs have helped out a lot of people. We’ve had people come up and say, “Free Bird’ was played at my father’s funeral,’ or “Free Bird’ was our graduation song,’ and ‘We love ‘Sweet Home Alabama.” And ‘That Smell’ and ‘Simple Man’ are great songs that you can never repeat or try to repeat, so we’ve never tried to write something like them.”
He continued, “We write from the heart. They always say the music’s bigger than anybody in the band, and that stands true to this day. One thing about playing music is writing stuff that will live on forever. And my brother will live on forever through this music and the members who have gone on.”
The musician knew from the get-go that the cult classics from Lynyrd Skynyrd were songs that were untouchable and represented so much of what his late brother was trying to portray. He knew that, so his aim was always to avoid making anything resembling those tracks like ‘Free Bird,’ ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ or ‘Simple Man.’ Instead, Johnny made the conscious decision to write songs from the heart and let the works he created also be a part of Ronnie’s legacy.