Above the Mason-Dixon line, Lynyrd Skynyrd is a short story. Below, the Southern rock stalwarts are a novel, an ongoing saga of love, tragedy and determination – “Gone With The Wind” with a three-guitar front line and minus the book’s unfortunate artifacts.
The band’s story will air on Showtime in “Lynyrd Skynyrd: If I Leave Here Tomorrow” on Aug. 18 beginning at 9 p.m. EDT/PDT on-air and will also be available on-demand and online.
The 90-minute documentary features recent and archival interviews, photos and home movies from a half-century ago and a haunting recollection of the 1977 plane crash that killed three members of the band, including their founder and driving force Ronnie Van Zant. For diehard fans as well as those whose awareness of the group encompasses only “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird,” plenty of surprises light the way.
Their history begins with Ronnie Van Zant nearly knocking out Bob Burns
The two charter members met at a baseball game when Van Zant smashed a line drive into Burns’ head. Van Zant’s first words to the stricken drummer’s friend Gary Rossington were, “I think it’s funny as hell!”
They didn’t get their name from their high school gym teacher
At least not entirely, though many think gym teacher Leonard Skinner was the inspiration for the band’s name. Their decision was confirmed when they noticed a lyric from folk song satirist Allan Sherman’s early 1960s hit, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadda” (“You remember Leonard Skinner? / He got ptomaine poisoning last night after dinner.”)
Van Zant’s nickname foreshadowed his early demise
Van Zant’s friends called him the Mississippi Kid. When asked why, he always replied that he had no idea. He eventually would lose his life in Mississippi when the band’s plane plunged into thick forest outside of Gillsburg.