what year was free bird released

When did Southern rock officially take form as a legitimate subgenre of American music? When did the music that pulled significantly from country and rock, and then infused that with soul and blues influences take hold of the public consciousness to the point where it permeated throughout society? Some point to the self-titled debut album of Charlie Daniels released in 1970 as the point when Southern rock was seeded. Others point to a local reporter in Atlanta named Mo Slotin who coined the “Southern Rock” phrase when writing a review for an Allman Brothers concert in 1972. It may not have formed the subgenre officially, but Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut album, the somewhat eponymously-named (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) released 50 years ago this week (August 13th, 1973 to be exact) would be a pretty perfect spot to claim that Southern rock was officially sent into the stratosphere. It’s arguably one of the greatest debut albums of all time, and for good reason. Lynyrd Skynyrd had already been around in one form or another since 1964. When they went into the studio with producer Al Kooper, they were as seasoned as just about any band ever hitting the studio for the first time. Lynyrd Skynyrd had a rehearsal shack just outside of Jacksonville, FL that they nicknamed the “Hell House” since it got hot as hell. Despite the lack of air conditioning, they practiced in the space nearly every day and for long hours, perfecting every song, every phrase, and every note. Unlike a lot of other bands of the era especially in Southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t utilize improvisation. Every note what orchestrated, even in their solos and extended jams. The band had also been seasoned on the road after opening for numerous other bigger bands and playing local gigs. This is how Lynyrd Skynyrd met guitarist Ed King from California, previously of the band Strawberry Alarm Clock who Skynyrd opened for. King saw the promise of these scrappy Floridians, and decided to sign up when they temporarily lost their bass player Leon Wilkeson. When Wilkeson returned, Ed King transitioned to become a rather unprecedented third lead guitarist. The revolutionary Southern Rock sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd was officially born.

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut album really is the perfect specimen of the Southern rock sound. “Gimmie Three Steps” is a punchy and sweaty Southern rock ode if there ever was one, including the hand drums that give Southern rock additional textures compared to its close cousin of country. But “Simple Man” is the song from the album that every single country music artist heard and immediately wished they had sung and written themselves. Interesting to note, producer Al Kooper hated “Simple Man,” and wanted to 86 it from the album. During the recording, lead singer and the songwriter Ronnie Van Zandt had to politely escort Kooper out to his car in the parking lot, and told him to stay there until the recording of the song was done. Of course, “Simple Man” has since become one of Skynyrd’s top signature songs. “Tuesday’s Gone” also from the session is another top Skynyrd track. But more than any other song, the legacy of Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd and the entire band is intrinsically tied to the final song on the album—the studio version of what might be one of the most popular and recognizable songs in American music history, “Free Bird.” It’s the only song that would ever get 20-somethings to ponder what song they want played at their funeral. If for no other reason, “Free Bird” makes the recognition of the 50th Anniversary of this album essential, because it also marks the 50th Anniversary of the studio version of this song being released into the wild. “Free Bird” would be officially released as a single from the album in November of 1974. The cover for the album was shot on Main Street in Jonesboro, Georgia after a long day of taking promotional photos. There they were: Leon Wilkeson, Billy Powell, Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Bob Burns, Allen Collins and Ed King, forever chronicling the first official lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The lightning strike over Ed King’s shoulder is real. Gary Rossington puked on the sidewalk seconds after the photo was taken. With Rossington’s death on March 5th, 2023, everyone in the album photo has now passed on. But the music of Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd remains, as does the legacy, including people yelling out “Free Bird” at concerts, sometimes at the most inappropriate times. Imagine the complexion of American music if this album was never released—if we had never heard “Free Bird” or “Simple Man?” It most certainly would be a much less colorful world we live in, and Southern rock may not hold as much sway in popular music as it still does 50 years after this album was first released.

Everybody who listens to “Free Bird” interprets it differently, which is one of the things that makes it so unique. John Van Zant stated that each listener has a unique connection to the song in a 2010 commentary on it. This young person informed me that they had performed it at a funeral not too long ago, and they had also used it for their graduation song. And really it’s a love song. It’s among the rare ones that Lynyrd Skynyrd has ever owned,” he remarked.

There were no guitar solos at the end of the band’s 1972 debut recording of “Free Bird.” Even after seven and a half minutes, they didn’t feel like it was over.

The listener is left to their own devices once the lyrics are removed from the song. Everyone can have a different interpretation, so what feelings does the music evoke? How do you think the story ends? There is no right answer. That’s the beauty of “Free Bird. ”.

While recording the album, they kept working on the song, and the nine-minute “Free Bird” ended up on the final version. Numerous label executives advised against including a song this length on an album since it couldn’t be played on the radio. In order to address this issue, the group recorded a different version of “Free Bird.” The instrumental portion was trimmed down to just one minute for the radio version, which ran slightly under five minutes.

Upon the song’s release, some fans conjectured that it was an ode to the guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman, who passed away in 1971. Many mistakenly think it’s about Allman because of the guitar riffs towards the end. “Free Bird” was actually written years before Allman passed away, even though the band would occasionally dedicate it to him during performances.

Some claim that Charlie Daniels’ 1970 self-titled debut album is the moment when Southern rock was first established as a legitimate subgenre of American music. When did the music that heavily drew from country and rock and then infused that with soul and blues influences take hold of the public consciousness and become ingrained in society? Some cite Mo Slotin, a local reporter in Atlanta, as the source of the term “Southern Rock,” which he used in a 1972 concert review about Allman Brothers. Even though it didn’t officially create the subgenre, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s somewhat eponymous debut album (pronounced “LĔh-‘nérd “Skin-‘nérd”), which was released 50 years ago this week (on August 13, 1973, to be exact), would be a great place to argue that Southern rock was elevated to a new level. With good reason, it’s regarded as one of the best debut albums ever. Since 1964, Lynyrd Skynyrd had existed in one form or another. They had more experience in the studio than almost any band that had ever entered it when they worked with producer Al Kooper. Lynyrd Skynyrd had a rehearsal shack near Jacksonville, Florida, which they called the “Hell House” because it got really hot there. They practiced there for extended periods of time almost every day despite the absence of air conditioning, honing every note, every phrase, and every song. In contrast to many other bands of the time, particularly Southern rock bands, Lynyrd Skynyrd did not use improvisation. Even in their solos and protracted jams, every note is masterfully orchestrated. Additionally, the band had gained experience touring after opening for a number of larger acts and performing at local events. Through this, Lynyrd Skynyrd got to know Californian guitarist Ed King, who had previously played with Strawberry Alarm Clock, the band that Skynyrd opened for. When they temporarily lost their bass player Leon Wilkeson, King saw the potential in these resilient Floridians and made the decision to join. After Wilkeson came back, Ed King changed and started playing as a third lead guitarist, which was pretty unusual. Officially, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s groundbreaking Southern Rock sound was born.

The debut album by Lynyrd Skynyrd is unquestionably the ideal representation of the sound of Southern rock. “Gimmie Three Steps” is a punchy and sweaty Southern rock ode if there ever was one, with hand drums adding textures that set Southern rock apart from its close relative, country music. However, after hearing “Simple Man” from the album, every single country music performer wished they had written and performed the song themselves. Remarkably, producer Al Kooper wanted to remove “Simple Man” from the album because he detested it. Lead singer and songwriter Ronnie Van Zandt had to gently lead Kooper out to his car in the parking lot during the recording process and instructed him to remain there until the song’s recording was completed. Naturally, “Simple Man” has since grown to be one of Skynyrd’s most well-known songs. Another great Skynyrd song from the session is “Tuesday’s Gone.” More than any other song, though, the album’s closing track—the studio rendition of “Free Bird,” which is arguably one of the most well-known and well-loved songs in American music history—is inextricably linked to the legacy of Pronounced “Lĕh-‘nérd “Skin-‘nérd and the entire band. It’s the only song that ever made twentysomethings think about what music they would like to hear played at their funeral. If for no other reason, “Free Bird” makes commemorating the album’s 50th anniversary crucial since it also marks the song’s studio version’s 50th anniversary of being made public. November 1974 would see the official release of “Free Bird” as the album’s lead single. The album cover was captured on Jonesboro, Georgia’s Main Street following an exhausting day of capturing promotional images. The first official lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd was forever documented by the presence of Leon Wilkeson, Billy Powell, Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Bob Burns, Allen Collins, and Ed King. The lightning strike over Ed King’s shoulder is real. Just moments after the picture was taken, Gary Rossington passed out on the pavement. Rossington died on March 5, 2023, so all of the people in the album photo have since passed away. However, both the legacy and the music of Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd endure, with concertgoers occasionally yelling out “Free Bird” at the most inappropriate moments. Imagine the musical landscape of America if this album had never been released—what would have become of “Free Bird” or “Simple Man”? Our world would undoubtedly be far less colorful, and Southern rock might not have had the same influence on popular music as it does now, fifty years after its initial release.


When was the original Free Bird released?

“Free Bird”
November 1974
April 3, 1973
Studio One, Doraville, Georgia, U.S.
Southern rock hard rock arena rock