FOR older Scottish fans of the US rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd, the SSE Hydro will be an emotional place this Wednesday evening.

The fans will recall five concerts performed at the Glasgow Apollo between 1974 and 1977 by Skynyrd, a mesmerisingly good live act who, equipped with three talented guitarists and fronted by the charismatic Ronnie Van Zant (who frequently sang barefoot), made their reputation with such classic songs as Tuesday's Gone, Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird.

That last song in particular was a molten showstopper, an extended work-out that gave way to an absurdly exciting three-way guitar climax. Little wonder that once, when the group was supporting The Who at a date in Atlanta, Pete Townshend halted a backstage to remark during Free Bird, “They’re really quite good, aren’t they?”

Indeed they were. For a time Lynyrd Skynyrd, who were formed in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1964, and began their ascent to fame once they had relocated to Atlanta, were the primary exponents of Southern rock, renowned for their live shows and for the power of their songs.

Rolling Stone magazine would later say of them: “In matters of unpretentiousness, power and invention, the best hard-rock band in America during the first half of the 1970s might well have been Lynyrd Skynyrd.” (The magazine would also observe of Free Bird that it was “easily the most requested live song in existence"; it has been used in many films and TV shows, including the blood-drenched free-for-all enacted in a church by Colin Firth in the film Kingsman: The Secret Service).

Musician and producer Al Kooper, who played organ on Bob Dylan's landmark single, Like a Rolling Stone, and who later produced Skynyrd's first three LPs, once said of them: "After three or four albums, Lynyrd Skynyrd transcended the Southern-rock tag. They became one of the greatest rock & roll bands in history. They feared no one."

The band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame citation includes these words: "Their three-guitar lineup gave them an uncommon musical muscle, while their down-to-earth songs spoke plainly and honestly from a working-class Southerner’s perspective."

Skyyrd's 1974 hit, Sweet Home Alabama, made a point of name-checking Neil Young, who had been critical of racist attitudes in the American south in his own songs, Alabama and Southern Man.

Skynyrd's song included the lyrics, "Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her/Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down/Well, I hope Neil Young will remember/A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”

Some made out that there was now a feud between Skynyrd and Young, but both sides made clear that this was far from the truth, and that each held the other in the highest esteem. The song itself, with its distinctive guitar opening, has been downloaded as a ringtone more than two million times.

Forty-five years later, Skynyrd are now on their lengthy farewell tour, which is about to visit Glasgow one last time. But that's not the sole reason for the emotion that will surround the gig. For few groups have suffered the loss of so many key personnel as this one has.

A plane crash in rural Mississippi in October 1977 robbed Skynyrd of Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing singer Cassie Gaines (Steve's sister) as well as their road manager Dean Kilpatrick. The pilot and co-pilot were also killed.

Guitarist Allen Collins died in 1990, aged 37; bass player Leon Wilkeson died in 2001, aged 49; keyboard player Billy Powell died in 2009, aged 56. Original drummer Bob Burns passed away in 2015. When guitarist Ed King died in 2018, Gary Rossington, the band's sole surviving original member, issued a statement: “Ed was our brother, and a great songwriter and guitar player. I know he will be reunited with the rest of the boys in Rock and Roll Heaven."

Two latter-day members, Hughie Thomasson (2007) and Ean Evans (2009), also died long before their time, in 2007 and 2009 respectively.

Following the 1977 crash, the surviving members slowly recovered from their injuries and the band went on a ten-year hiatus. When they reunited for a successful tour in 1987,Van Zant's place was taken by his brother, Johnny. Thus was born 'second-generation' Skynyrd.

In 2006 came their induction into the Hall of Fame. Studio albums have followed at a decent rate over the years, the most recent being Last of a Dyin' Breed, released in 2012.

The personnel for their final tour is Rossington on guitar, Johnny Van Zant, Rickey Medlocke on guitar, Mark “Sparky” Matejka, Michael Cartellone, Johnny Colt, Peter Keys, Dale Krantz Rossington and Carol Chase.

It's known as the Last Of The Street Survivors Farewell Tour, after their 1977 album Street Survivors, which was the very last album to feature Ronnie Van Zant.

"We decided to make the announcement that it would be our last tour in 2017," says Medlocke, "mainly because Gary had, and still is having, some pretty serious issues with his heart."

Rossington, 67, suffered a heart attack in 2015, prompting several of the band's concerts to be cancelled. He underwent a quintuple bypass a few years ago.

"Normally we do between 80 to 100 shows a year, staying out for long periods of time and it just ... it just wasn't working anymore," Medlocke adds. "Even though this is a farewell tour, there will be a time when the band may want to do a residency in Las Vegas, like Aerosmith and others have done.

"We've been musicians all our lives, you don't just turn that off like a light switch."

The world tour is set to run "well into 2020", he added. "After that, we plan on doing some recording and then the band will probably do special events, charity shows and so on – we just don't want to undertake the long touring like we used to."

Their tracks are popular because of their timelessness and sympathetic lyrics, Medlocke says, explaining it is all down to Ronnie Van Zant and his skilled musical touch.

"Most people could relate to what he was writing – he had this insight into the everyday person, no matter what walk of life. The songs will live on a lot longer after we're gone, that's for sure. He just had a beautiful, natural gift for putting things into words – he was a genius. He was quite a special man and I was really happy that I got to be in a band with him when I did."

Not that life in Lynyrd Skynyrd was always smooth and easy.

In the new edition of Classic Rock magazine, Rossington recalls one day in Hamburg in October 1975, when the band, more accustomed to whisky and Jack Daniel's, indulged themselves in potent peppermint schnapps. Van Zant, "screaming drunk", smashed a bottle over their road manager's head and cut Rossington's hands 11 times. Drummer Artimus Pyle, a former Marine, used his sheer bulk to pin the singer down and throw him around.

As for Rossington, he ended up in hospital, having stitches put into his hand. True to form, he, and the band, were still able to play the show that night. "Sometimes I can feel things," Rossington tells the magazine, holding out his hands. "Feel it in the nerves. But I played the gig, I had to."

As for the current tour, he added, "We said we need to do a farewell tour, because we wanted to go out with our boots on and still sounding great at night and doing well. But I'm too old and sick now to tour any more."

Rossington acknowledges that some people would have preferred Skynyrd to call it a day, all those years ago. "A lot of people were mad at us for going back, and still are," he told Classic Rock.

"There's some people still think we shouldn't be doing this, but I'm doing it for the memory of the band, and Ronnie and Allen and our dream and the music we wrote. I want to share it until I go. I mean, life is over like that, so while I'm here I want to keep it going."

Lynyrd Skynyrd play the SSE Hydro on June 26, with Status Quo as their special guests.


LYNYRD Skynyrd are far from being the only veteran rock-music act which is still touring and recording. Among the 'heritage rock acts' who are still going strong

  • The Eagles, who play the SSE Hydro on July 4
  • The Rolling Stones, who played Edinburgh's Murrayfield a year ago, are now taking their 'No Filter' tour across the States
  • Bob Dylan and Neil Young are co-headlining major concerts next month at London's Hyde Park and at Nowlan Park, in Kilkenny, Ireland
  • Last December Roger Waters, ex-Pink Floyd frontman, concluded a mammoth tour that saw him play 156 shows in 35 countries
  • Paul McCartney, who visited the SSE Hydro last December, is currently playing a handful of dates in the States and Canada
  • Fleetwood Mac have entertained fans at London's Wembley Stadium at two gigs within the last week
  • U2 have just announced Joshua Tree tour dates for Australia and New Zealand, as well as Tokyo and Seoul
  • Bruce Springsteen, whose latest album is the well-received Western Stars, has revealed that he and the E Street Band will record an album, then hit the road next year.