Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Street Survivors

Last week, the world received the news that former high school gym teacher Leonard Skinner passed away from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 77. Dave Itzkoff, of The New York Times, memorialized Skinner as “arguably the most influential high school gym teacher in American popular culture, whose enforcement of a draconian classroom policy against long hair inspired some of his students to name their Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

While Skinner did not approve at first of his former students using his name for their band, he eventually accepted it and according to his son, “He kind of ate it up.”

Today’s Saturday Album Feature is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1977 “Street Survivors” LP. Three days after the album’s release, the bands’ chartered plane crashed killing the lead vocalist, Ronnie Van Zant; guitarist, Steve Gaines; backup vocalist, Cassie Gaines; the assistant road manager; the pilot; and co-pilot. The others on the plane suffered from multiple injuries.

Steve Gaines had joined the band about a year before the crash and “Street Survivors” was his only recorded output with the band. The album features two songs written by Gaines and two cowritten by Gaines and Ronnie Van Zant. One of those tunes was my favorite cut on the album and the flip side of the “What’s Your Name” single. I wore out “I Know A Little” on the jukebox at the Pizza Hut in Grayson, Kentucky that winter.

The original album cover depicted the band engulfed in flames. A prophetic end to the band at this juncture and it joins the pantheon of records that were ominously released prior to the death of the artists. Some of the others include Hank Williams’ “I’ll Never Get out of this World Alive,” Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Any More,” and Patsy Cline’s “I fall to Pieces” to name a few. Out of respect for the dead, the album cover was changed to a photo of the band and MCA began recalling the “flame” cover.

I did not get a copy with the original cover until December 1977 when I spotted one in a record store in the Louisville suburb of St. Matthews. It was the only one in the store and I was surprised that it had not yet been purchased. So, I grabbed it up.

The album produced one hit single, “What’s Your Name?” This song written by Gary Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant peaked on the US charts in January 1978 at #13. It did better in Canada where it reached the #6 slot.

The second single, a Gaines/Van Zant composition, did not fare as well. “You Got that Right” only charted at #69. Gaines shares vocal duties with Ronnie Van Zant on this tune. Gaines joined the band in 1976 replacing Ed King; ironically, both were born on the same day – September 14, 1949.

One of “Street Survivors’” better known LP tracks was a song that told of the danger of substance abuse. It was written by Van Zant as a warning to the members of the band as collectively and individually were indulging themselves on drugs and alcohol.

While these four songs represent the best of this LP, I have a YouTube playlist will all of the songs from the original album in order. Long live Lynyrd Skynyrd and Leonard Skinner.

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