Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll bands in America—then the unthinkable happened

Southern rock ‘n’ rollers Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose iconic songs “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird” have become cross-generational anthems, were riding high in October 1977.  The addition of Steve Gaines to their three-guitar army had energized the band as they shook off the hangover of Labor Day 1976, the day co-guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington wrecked their cars in separate incidents while impaired by booze and pills.

With Street Survivors, the band’s fifth studio album, frontman and mastermind Ronnie Van Zant aimed to turn things around, and he didn’t mince words. The title itself is a nod to their rough, brawling past—which Van Zant hoped was behind them—while the lyrics to “That Smell” redressed Collins and Rossington for their reckless behavior that derailed a lucrative tour.

On October 27, just ten days after the release of Street Survivors, the album was certified gold. In December, it was awarded platinum certification for shipments of one million copies and hit number five on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart—the band’s fastest-selling album yet. But by then, there wasn’t a band left to celebrate. 

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Published by Delta magazine, May/June 2021