The Heartbreaking Story Behind Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’

Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, and Gary Rossington became close friends while playing baseball against each other. Then the trio wanted to jam together after the baseball practices and met in Burns’ house. They decided to form a band to start their music career after playing The Rolling Stones’ iconic song ‘Time Is on My Side.’ The first name they chose was My Backyard, but later they went over many names.

The band’s name changed from The Noble Five to The One Percent until they finally came up with their legendary name Leonard Skinner, spelled as Lynyrd Skynyrd. The spelling was inspired by a character from Allan Sherman’s ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh’ and was a mocking tribute to their P.E. teacher Leonard Skinner. Finally, Lynyrd Skynyrd was ready to write and compose their first studio album, and one of its songs was very special for them.

The Creation Process Of ‘Simple Man’

Lynyrd Skynyrd released their debut studio album entitled ‘(Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd)’ on August 13, 1973, and the record received very positive reviews from the music critics and their newly formed fan base, which would become larger and larger in a short time. The band members proved their talents as musicians and as songwriters with the album. In addition, it consisted of the band’s most known hits such as ‘Gimme Three Steps,’ ‘Simple Man,’ ‘Tuesday’s Gone,’ and ‘Free Bird.’

As one of these tracks, ‘Simple Man’ has a special meaning, especially for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lead guitarist Gary Rossington and frontman Ronnie Van Zant. Rossington was raised by his mother, and Van Zant was like a father figure in his life, even though he was just a few years older than him. It’s known that he taught the guitarist how to drive a car or the other things that youngsters needed to learn in their teenage years.

Therefore there’s no doubt that Rossington’s mother had great importance on his life, along with Ronnie Van Zant’s grandmother, who gave advice to her grandson to help him pursue a simple and peaceful life. After both of them passed away, they sat down together and talked about the stories they told them. This conversation turned into a song named ‘Simple Man,’ which Rossington stated that the women in their lives wrote for them.

In Rossington’s words, he said:

We just put down in a song what our mama or grandma had said to us. They really wrote it. We just played it.”

The song’s lyrics reflect a woman speaking to her only son and advising him to be the simple person who can love and understand himself despite all of these challenges. A few years after the song’s release, Ronnie died because of a plane crash on October 20, 1977, at the age of 27. Consequently, his devastated friends and bandmates decided to dedicate ‘Simple Man’ to him to pay tribute to the late singer.

You can listen to the song below.