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Axl Rebelled v. Lynyrd Skynyrd, but Uncanny Similarities to Singer Ronnie Van Zant

Axl's Agony Aunt

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One of the reasons Axl said he left Indiana was because everybody was into Lynyrd Skynyrd, but this article suggests he was quite similar to lead singer Ronnie Van Zant: http://teamrock.com/feature/2016-10-08/lynyrd-skynyrd-a-southern-ghost-story

He drilled his band mercilessly, driving out to Green Cove Springs, Florida to a little tin shack on 90 acres north of Jacksonville. This sweltering shed, which quickly earned the nickname Hell House, became the boot camp where Van Zant moulded his raw recruits into musical men. He picked up his bleary-eyed and grumbling troops in his battered old ’55 Chevy truck every morning at 7.30am, stopping for jugs of coffee at the donut shop where his mother worked. By 8.30 he’d be putting his charges through their paces in workdays that regularly ran eight to 12 hours; sometimes they wouldn’t straggle back until the next morning.

The members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were strangely united by one thing. The bandmates, almost to a man, had lost their fathers early on.

Hammered was the operative word. Van Zant had no compunction about hitting a band member across the mouth if he saw some dereliction of duty.

He was the sort of guy that pulled himself up by his bootstraps. To the effect that he started with very little and he was getting somewhere and although he still had a bit to go, he still thought ‘Well if I continue to do it my way I’ll do okay. I’ve proved this to myself, so why should I listen to anybody else?’

Van Zant and his band became known as offstage boozers and brawlers who would fight among themselves if no external adversaries were available. Their antics reached such proportions that many viewed the airplane crash as a symbolic culmination of the band’s violent lifestyle.

“I loved and respected Ronnie Van Zant, “says Pyle. “I mean that from the bottom of my heart. But I have seen the man turn into the devil right in front of me and hurt people.”

“If we were The Beatles, Ronnie was the mean Beatle,” says Rossington. “He was super mean, and super nice.”

“They were all mean around here,” remembered Van Zant’s mother Marion. “But Ronnie was the meanest of them all.”

“Ronnie’s meanness, they all have it,” remembers Jeff Carlisi, a neighbour of the Van Zants, and bandmate of Ronnie’s younger brother, Donnie Van Zant, in .38 Special. “He grew up in Shantytown [the rough and tumble West Side of Jacksonville]. Violence was just part of the culture there. If you didn’t fight for it, somebody would take it from you.”

As mean as he could be, there was a Jekyll and Hyde aspect to Ronnie Van Zant. “He’d give you the shirt off his back,” remembers his brother Donnie. “He always paid for everything,” remembers writer Cameron Crowe,

“Ronnie was such a gentleman, he wouldn’t let anybody mess with us,” says Jo Jo Billingsley. Although all three Honkettes were stunning, there wasn’t a man in miles who would come near them if Van Zant was around.

“Ronnie had this here charm about him,” remembered his mother Marion in 1996. “He could charm anybody. But he was straightforward with everything he did. You could say he always knew his own mind. He never ever changed, either. He saw his old friends when he came off the road

Then of course, there was the lyrics to That Smell, one of the last songs Van Zant wrote for Street Survivors. At the time people were chilled when he sang: ‘The smell of death’s around you.’ After the crash, the words took on a macabre, prescient feel.

Van Zant had written the song as a cautionary tale to his band members, inspired by Rossington’s near-fatal 1977 car crash and the feeling that some of them were pissing away their future with excessive drinking, drugging, and carousing.

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I never heard of Axl saying that about Skynyrd and Indiana. The only time I remember him talking about them was how Paradise City was their attempt at a big Skynyrd Freebird type of song.

But Van Zant was the man. When they played Knebworth, The Rolling Stones (the headliners) sent the message to all the opening bands that the tongue set up on the front of the stage was off limits and for The Stones use only. So after Skynyrd won the crowd over, during the last song Freebird, Van Zant walked his guitarists onto that tongue and they commenced to absolutely shred the big solo. I mean they killed it. On The Stones tongue :lol:


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Thanks for your reply J. Axl has said that about Indiana and Skynyrd, but not criticising Skynyrd directly, more that it was so dominant, and people didn't have the variety of tastes he had, saying he was more into ELO, Elton John and Queen. 

Yeh, Skynyrd playing Freebird at Knebworth is one of my favourite music videos, if not my favourite. 

I think I saw it not longer after getting into rock in 1980, on the Old Grey Whistle Test I think, and loved it straight away. The way the 'hippy' crowd were inspired to rise from an afternoon relaxing sitting in the sun to a rousing clapping standing ovation over the course of one song is still probably the quickest crowd transformation I've seen. 

I saw Meatloaf win over a Monsters of Rock crowd in 1983, but that was over the course of the whole concert; closest I think I've seen live to Skynyrd playing Freebird at Knebworth. 

Yeh, still love and admire Van Zant, although it must seem a bit hypocritical, as I also criticise managers who bully and harass their workers.

I think that if it's your idea and people sign up for it, whether in a band or gang, that mitigates it, rather than a manager being put in charge of people to lead, but then abusing the position for their personality's demands, such as sadistic bullying or sexual harassment. 

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On 2/4/2018 at 8:03 AM, Axl's Agony Aunt said:

I think that if it's your idea and people sign up for it, whether in a band or gang, that mitigates it, rather than a manager being put in charge of people to lead, but then abusing the position for their personality's demands, such as sadistic bullying or sexual harassment. 

Oh for sure. Those manager types that you're talking about are pure scum. Where Axl and Van Zant just have some a-hole qualities about themselves.

The thing with Van Zant and Skynyrd, and this is where I think the difference is between him and Axl/Guns....Skynyrd was like a real family. They grew up around each other and went to school together and stuff. Van Zant's ways can almost be compared to being the big brother. I imagine it went like, him telling Rossington, dammit Gary if you don't get that guitar in tune I'm gonna kick your ass. And Gary being like, alright Ronnie damn give me a minute. Lots of brotherly love/hate were with that original lineup.

Van Zant was very particular on how they played lived. He liked for them to be loose, they had their ritual of taking shots of Jack before shows, but he demanded they play tight, top notch music. He had almost a James Brown level of pickines. But it worked for them and they loved him. There wasn't that animosity, power struggle b.s that went on with Guns and Axl.


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