The story began not in Alabama
It doesn’t matter where you come from. You know the song “Sweet Home Alabama.” The lyrics are probably burned in your brain, and we doubt you can resist the urge to dance when that main guitar riff starts up. The story of “Sweet Home Alabama” began not in Alabama but in Jacksonville, Florida. That’s where, in 1964, five teenagers formed what would eventually become the iconic rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. It wasn’t until five years after getting together that they finally settled on the name Lynyrd Skynyrd though, after their former P.E. teacher Leonard Skinner penalized guitarist Gary Rossington for his long hair because it was against the high school’s policy.
In 1972, the band, then comprised of lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, drummer Bob Burns, guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, bassist Leon Wilkeson, and keyboardist Billy Powell released their first self-titled album, followed by another, Second Helping, in 1974. The first track was a huge hit. Called “Sweet Home Alabama,” the single reached number eight on U.S. charts.
A song for Neil Young
The song is anything but the cuddly picture of ‘authentic’ southern life that suits what you believe. It was actually written in the summer of 1973, partly as an indignant rebuke to Neil Young for a couple of his songs that had irked Skynyrd’s fearsome leader and lyricist, Ronnie Van Zant. Young’s Southern Man and Alabama had attacked the perceived bigotry of the south, with lyrics such as ‘crosses burning fast’ and ‘weight on your shoulders’. Van Zant was having none of it.
“We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two,” he told Rolling Stone. “We’re southern rebels, but more than that we know the difference between right and wrong.”
What really propels Sweet Home Alabama is its burning guitar riff. Ed King had become intrigued by a guitar rhythm that Rossington had been tinkering within the studio.
“Gary was playing a pattern that you can hear behind the verses,” King says. “I put my guitar part on top of his as a counterpoint. But Gary’s part was the catalyst that started the ball rolling.”
King says the song took just half-an-hour to write, but the solos had an altogether more mystic origin:
“I used to sleep with my guitar next to the bed. The night after we wrote Sweet Home Alabama I had a dream in which I played both the short and long solos. I immediately woke up, got the guitar and started playing what I’d seen in the dream. At rehearsal the next day I just plugged the solos into the spots where we had rehearsed them and they fit perfectly.”
National Review says
The National Review placed this song at #4 on their list of the 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs of All Time.
They wrote: “A tribute to the region of America that liberals love to loathe, taking a shot at Neil Young‘s Canadian arrogance along the way: “A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”