Remembering the Free Birds of Southern Rock
Email this review


One for the fans as Odom, security manager for Lynyrd Skynyrd and longtime buddy of lead man Ronnie Van Zant, chronicles the boozy ascent and abrupt crash of the hugely popular band.

They certainly burned bright for a few years, with a “hellfire boogie played at a quickfire pace.” In this admiring biography, Odom follows the band through its early manifestations as the Noble Five and the One Percent, playing gigs off the back of a flatbed truck at church socials while adding and subtracting members. This was a bunch of gents who liked fishing, fighting, girls, and singing: rednecks and proud of it. But, Odom says, they—and Van Zant in particular—were perfectionists, rehearsing and noodling with their songs until they ultimately attracted the attention of Al Kooper, who further helped shape their sound. Sketches are afforded of each of the band members and a good number of their entourage, but it’s Van Zant who commands Odom’s affection. A talented songwriter who made the most of his limited vocal skills, Van Zant was a Jekyll-and-Hyde drinker, unpredictably violent when drunk (and drunk most of the time, as were most of the band members). Yet, despite all the drinking before the shows, the band had enormous stage presence, and their neatly choreographed performances crackled with energy. Odom bravely tries to make a case for their distinctiveness within Southern rock (including the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Marshall Tucker), but it was their knack for “quotation music”—carefully measured appropriations of Hendrix, Clapton, Jethro Tull, and others the band respected—that steams off the page here, second only to their gift for hellraising.

Following several attempts at a reunion, the band died with Van Zant and three other band members in a plane crash in 1977, an accident handled with tact here and easily the most disturbing and electrifying part of this tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd. (Photographs)

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2002
ISBN: 0-7679-1026-5
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Broadway
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2002