The Lynyrd Skynyrd Song That Touched Johnny Van Zant’s Heart

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Ronnie Van Zant founded Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1964, and the band started to take the stage in small venues during its initial years until it achieved considerable success. After their essential debut record ‘(Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd)’ came out in 1973, many songs sung by Ronnie made lasting impacts on the band’s career. Besides his distinctive singing, he contributed significantly to this album with his songwriting. He co-wrote and sang the band’s hit songs like ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Free Bird.’

Unfortunately, the rocker deeply saddened the entire music world with his passing at the band’s plane crash in 1977. Following this tragic event, the band members decided to go on a hiatus that would last ten years. They reunited in 1987, and Ronnie’s brother Johnny Van Zant joined the band as the lead vocalist. Besides working on the new songs, he also started singing their previous pieces during the tours. However, a track among them was challenging for Johnny to sing.

Which Song Was Emotionally Hard For Johnny Van Zant?

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‘Free Bird’ was released in 1973 and was featured in the band’s debut album. The track was written by Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 87 and reached number 19. Besides being the band’s longest track, it also became their signature song, often played at the finale of their live shows. Although this song had an important place in the band’s career, it was initially hard for Johnny Van Zant to perform it during concerts.

As Johnny mentioned in a past interview reported by the YouTube channel LynSkyn1981, he could not sing this track for a while until his conversation with Gary Rossington. Rossington bluffed him at first to make him sing this song. Later, the guitarist reminded Johnny that this piece was special for his brother Ronnie. At the end of this discussion, the vocalist had a revelation and sang it during their performance in Sacramento. As he revealed in the interview, he initially could not sing it because it touched his heart greatly with the lyrics ‘If I leave here tomorrow,’ which reminded him of his brother Ronnie.

Johnny Van Zant on his feelings toward ‘Free Bird:’

“I really didn’t do that until we were playing out in Sacramento, and Gary had been telling me nights before, ‘Man, I’m not going to do ‘Free Bird,’ not less you sing it!’ So, I actually thought I was calling his bluff. He said something to me ‘Ronnie was a songwriter and a singer, and he grabbed those words. I’m sure you want to hear him.’ It really touched my heart, and I went, ‘You know what? You’re right. Why the hell haven’t I been doing this?’”

Van Zant said the following when asked why he did not want to sing it at first:

“I just thought of the words that say, ‘If I leave here tomorrow.’ It’s kind of hard for me to sing that emotionally.”

You can listen to the song below.