Straightforward biography of the Southern rock band.
Though staples such as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird” have kept Lynyrd Skynyrd’s brand alive through recordings and reunion tours for almost three decades, Ribowsky (The Last Cowboy: A Life of Tom Landry, 2013, etc.) makes a convincing case that the band died with the plane crash that took frontman Ronnie Van Zant and other passengers. However, the author overstates most of what he claims for Van Zant and the hard-drinking, rabble-rousing band, who “unwittingly but inexorably…found a place among the artistic giants of the American South, their thematic content deceptively simple but as soul deep as any Faulkner novel or Tennessee Williams play.” Of Southern rock in general, Ribowsky asserts that the “songwriters had become the modern southern literati, and in their pens lay the definitions of a new reconstruction of the South and southern manhood.” Perhaps such writing is an attempt to compensate for lack of access and primary sources, as most of the quotes are from other books and articles, while those few who agreed to talk to the author—former manager Alan Walden, booking agent Alex Hodges and guitarist Ed King—come across much better than the many who didn’t (Van Zant’s widow, the remaining, surviving band members, original producer Al Kooper). Ultimately, it’s surprising that the band lasted as long as it did, even before the tragic crash, for the musicians seemed bent on destruction, fighting and drinking and drugging beyond any bounds of self-restraint. Praised for the sensitivity of his songwriting, Van Zant would throw punches without provocation (beating at least one woman in these pages) and once tried to toss a roadie from a plane—at 30,000 feet.
Serviceable but often floridly overwritten. Though Ribowsky accuses the band’s current incarnation and those who market the legacy of “mercenary profit motive,” the same charge could be leveled at the book.