Ronnie Van Zant, the lead vocalist and founder of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd is best known for the most requested song of all time, Free Bird. Forty-one years ago, in Jacksonville, Florida Van Zant, Allen Collins and Gary Rossington met in high school and formed a band called My Backyard. Eventually the band was joined by Leon Wilkenson and Billy Powell and the bands name changed from My Backyard to The Noble Five, and then One Percent, before they decided on the sticking name, Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Van Zant grew up in the roughest household, in one of the roughest neighborhoods of Jacksonville, Florida’s Westside, Shanty Town. Ronnie was always the ringleader of his baseball and football team as well as his friends. In the early 60s, while attending Lakeshore Junior High, Ronnie heard that a group of students were looking for a lead singer for their band. Being the ring-leader we all know him to be, he jumped at the opportunity.
Ronnie Van Zant was a very intense individual, he always pushed himself and the other original members of the band to work extremely hard no matter what it took. They spent many long days and nights in a place dubbed the “Hell House” . An isolated cabin on a 99 acre farm located in Green Coves Springs, Florida ,this so called “Hell House” was exactly as it sounds, a hell house. Van Zant was well known to be an over the top ,”In your face” type of person and he was, but he meant well. Aside from the fighting and acting as almost a Drill Instructor of sorts to his fellow members, this was his way to utilize his motivation and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s live performances passion which led to his superstardom.
In 1790, Skynyrd started gigging one-nighters and that led to a record demo with Jimmy Johnson. The album didn’t catch too much positive attraction, but to one, Capricorn Records. Van Zant had more determination, so he vetoed their offer and the band was back to one-night gigs.
After three long years, the band was discovered by the renown Al Kooper, Skynyrd entered the studio with Kooper after signing a record deal with MCA subsidiary Sounds of the South. But in 1976, Van Zant considered leaving the band because his health was declining due to partying and touring, a lot of partying. After his daughter, Melody was born in September, he insisted on toning down his crazy lifestyle and it re-inspired him to write some of the best material of his entire career.