Twenty first installment in a series exploring very important people in my life.
Let me start explaining how this will work: I listed 65 idols of mine. Every Friday (with the exception of those reserved for the Rock Chain posts) I’ll draw one of the names (following a system that it’s really not important to be explained here) and talk about it.
Therefore, the order in which the names will appear doesn’t necessarily shows where they rank in my preference.
As a final introductory note, this is also not a biography article. I’ll just write how I feel about people represented in it, their talent and their importance in my life.
Nothing is more traumatizing to a band than losing its lead singer. Sometimes the blow is so hard that the band needs to call it quits. Other times the substitution is so bad that it almost finishes the band for good (Iron Maiden, anyone?). And when your lead singer is the founding member and main songwriter, then you’re in deep trouble.
And that was the situation the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd saw themselves after that fateful plane crash on October 20, 1977. A lot of people think that the whole band died in the accident, that’s why the band ended, but that’s not the case. What happened is that among the casualties (backing singer Cassie Gaines, guitarist Steve Gaines and assistant tour manager Dean Kilpatrick) there was also singer, leader and main songwriter, Ronnie Van Zant.
The band decided to call it quits until the late-eighties/early-nineties when they found the solution to their problem in the very same Van Zant family.
John Roy Van Zant was born February 27, 1959. Of course, growing up alongside his two older brothers (there is also Donnie Van Zant, .38 Special lead singer and founder), music was in his blood from an early age.
He started performing in the seventies with The Austin Nickles Band that later changed its name to Johnny Van Zant Band. The style had some Southern Rock influence but it leaned more towards AOR. In 1985, he changed name of the band to just Van Zant and released a brilliant – to say the least – eponymous album.
When he started fronting Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1987, one thing was clear: not only he could fill the shoes of his deceased brother, he actually sang better than him in a live situation. As a matter of fact, Ronnie himself always said that the best singer in the family was Johnny.
Of course there was still a question lingering in the shadows: it was OK that he could sing, but what about write? Ronnie Van Zant was the main songwriter of some of the greatest songs in Rock history and practically the whole Southern Rock songbook. And Johnny proved that this was also something not to worry about.
Obviously Johnny never wrote (or ever will write) classics such as “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Simple Man”, “What’s Your Name?” and so many others. But that’s because no one will. However, how can you argue against songs like “Home Is Where The Heart Is”, “Preacher Man”, “That’s How I Like It”, “Red White And Blue”, “Simple Life” and “Skynyrd Nation”?
He is unarguably super-talented and a walking charisma as anyone who had the privilege to watch Skynyrd’s live can attest. The way he walks about the stage with that mic stand and the Confederate flag hanging from it, it’s a sight to behold.
And how about when he announces “Sweet Home Alabama” with the phrase: “It’s time for the south to rise again”. Wherever your political position about it, you just need to enjoy it because of how fun it is.
Therefore, Mr. Johnny Van Zant, gimme three steps and walk into the Hall Of Idols.
Be sure to check out my book “Straight And Lethal”.
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