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Boomer Anthems: Free Bird — Then — Between Then and Now — Now

Face it, when Boomer music hits the groove tsunamis of socks are blown off around the globe.

File Under: Tout le monde desir le’ crescendo

Then: Freebird – 7/2/1977 – Oakland Coliseum Stadium

This concert was, sadly, a flash before the crash: From ‘Free Bird’ still flies high by Chuck Stinnett

The July 2, 1977 concert featured Peter Frampton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Santana and The Outlaws. The show began at 11 a.m.; the gates opened at 9 a.m. Tickets cost $11 — less than the cost of three record albums at the time. It was a bargain nearly beyond comprehension today.

Fortunately, a professional film crew captured Skynyrd’s performance. There’s lot of footage of pretty girls in their halters or bikini tops, some of them perched on the shoulders of their boyfriend. They’re grandmothers now.

The closing song began, as always, with Billy Powell — who had worked for the band as a roadie for a year or more before Ronnie Van Zant discovered that he was a gifted keyboardist — opening with a few sweet notes from his white grand piano. A can of Budweiser sat within easy reach.

Within seconds, the fans realize what song is coming up; it’s unmistakable, really.

Slide guitarist Gary Rossington kicks in seconds later with the first guitar solo of song. By then, girls in the crowd are swaying with the music. It’s a tribal celebration.

At the 1:09 mark, Ronnie Van Zant takes the microphone and sings the opening lyrics:

“If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?”

While Van Zant is credited with writing the lyrics, those particular words came from Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins, who crafted the original chords of the song. The words reportedly had been uttered by Collins’ girlfriend, Kathy, during a fight.

While those words originally were accusatory, Van Zant turned them on their ear as he created — in mere minutes, by at least one account — a song about a man explaining to a lover that he’s not ready to commit to her:

“For I must be travelin’ on now
There’s too many places I got to see
If I stay here with you, girl,
Things just couldn’t be the same”

For the opening minutes, “Free Bird” is a gentle ballad — a melancholy breakup song.

But at the two-minute mark, it turns defiant. As Van Zant sang:

“Cause I’m as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change
Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
And this bird you cannot change
And this bird you cannot change
Lord knows, I can’t change”

Things settle down for a bit as Rossington plays another brief slide guitar solo, followed by Powell on piano.

But the tension is building. Van Zant’s lyrics underscore that he is about to leave, forever:

“Bye and bye, baby, it’s been sweet love”

At the 6:10 mark, the ballad switches to a series of grinding up-tempo guitar solos — some of the greatest butt-rocking rifts in the history of rock — and the crowd of 100,000 or so goes nuts.

Allen Collins absolutely shreds a solo on the Gibson Explorer electric guitar he had purchased from Eric Clapton. Powell pounds out rhythm on the piano, and soon the audience is treated to the climactic triple-guitar solo that cemented “Free Bird” into rock history.

The stadium erupts into Southern rock ecstasy. A camera catches a guy in the crowd kissing his lady, then giving her a hug. Clearly, he knows they have shared a classic rock moment.

It was a triumphant performance. But tragedy soon followed.

On Oct. 20, 1977, just 3½ months after the Oakland concert, the band’s chartered plane crashed in a Mississippi forest after its pilots let it fall out of fuel. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines (Steve’s sister), the assistant road manager and the two pilots died, and 20 other passengers were injured, some gravely.

Allen Collins suffered serious injuries but survived, and three years later he married the girlfriend whose words during a lovers’ spat inspired the opening lyrics of “Free Bird.”

Then, within months, Kathy Collins died from a hemorrhage.

In 1986, Allen Collins was involved in a traffic accident that killed his girlfriend and left him paralyzed from the waist down. Collins, who was driving while impaired, pleaded no contest to a charge of vehicular homicide. He died four years later from pneumonia related to his paralysis, though he did speak out at concerts about the dangers of drunken driving.

There were other members of the band from that concert who suffered premature deaths as well, including Billy Powell, the former roadie-turned-keyboardist.

By and large, there were too many places that members of Lynyrd Skynyrd never got to see.

Between Then and Now:

Now:  Hard to believe but there are still some who are hearing Free Bird for the very first time…. but there are and their reactions are amazing to behold.

If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now
Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see
But, if I stayed here with you, girl
Things just couldn’t be the same
Cause I’m as free as a bird now
And this bird you can not change
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
And this bird you can not change
And this bird you can not change
Lord knows, I can’t change
Bye, bye, baby, it’s been a sweet love
Though this feeling I can’t change
But please don’t take it so badly
Cause Lord knows I’m to blame
But, if I stayed here with you, girl
Things just couldn’t be the same
Cause I’m as free as a bird now
And this bird you’ll never change
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
And this bird you can not change
And this bird you can not change
Lord knows, I can’t change
Lord help me, I can’t change
Lord, I can’t change
Won’t you fly high, free bird, yeah

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • BlogDog August 7, 2020, 7:16 PM

    Best non-Skynerd version of the song I ever heard was at a wedding where the best man (who could easily have been a professional lead player in a rock band) and the head of the hired band who is also a product demonstrator/signature artist for a major East Coast Luthier played it. The build-up from the slow intro to the blazing finish was lifting people out of their chairs.It was awesome. What song!

  • David L Guenther August 7, 2020, 7:20 PM

    My wife and I had to turn it off halfway through because we were both bawling our eyes out. Wife had done so good keeping it together for me because of the stress I’ve been under with my brother in the hospital with the China Virus. There’s no hope for him so today we had to make the decision to transition from keeping him alive with all the tubes and dialysis, to making him comfortable so he could die a natural death.

    What an appropriate song for his memorial service, though.

    Sorry to be such a downer.

  • hooodathunkit August 7, 2020, 7:35 PM

    David – dunno if it’s memorial service appropriate, depends on his other family and friends, but we are all here temporarily. A lot of people believe ‘the end’ is actually the beginning when we are freed from these earthly bonds.

  • Vanderleun August 7, 2020, 8:02 PM

    You are not a downer, David. You are among friends.

  • Terry August 7, 2020, 8:34 PM


    Peace be with you and yours. Your brother is in the hands of God.

  • rabbit tobacco August 7, 2020, 9:30 PM
  • SteveS August 7, 2020, 11:28 PM

    I couldn’t help but notice the confederate flag that was Skynard’s backdrop…in Oakland of all places. How unwoke, how non p/c. My, how far we’ve evolved since then.

  • Anonymous August 7, 2020, 11:49 PM

    You boomers are pathetic. Go smoke another joint before you take your arthritis meds. Oh, and please be nice to your kids when they take you to tour the dementia care facility next week.

  • Gordon Scott August 8, 2020, 12:23 AM

    Hey, thanks for that advice, Anon. Did we tell you how to.keep the power coming down the wires? No? Well, you’re very clever. I am sure you will figure it out.

  • Rick L Homer August 8, 2020, 1:49 AM

    anonymouth: STHU please. The good folks that tread here are from from pathetic and most ‘boomers’ are damn fine people, unlike what you appear to be. The greatest music from those ‘boomer’ decades, years whatever, is the greatest music ever to grace the planet. I refuse to drop myself to your obvious low level. Most of the ‘boomers’ I know and have known, are not stoners and do not do drugs. So we may need some meds, big deal. I have earned my ‘right’ for some pain meds after 52 years of working as logger, wildland fire fighter, mill honkie, machinist and as deckhand until I was able to transition to a career in optics. Oh yeah, somehow I carved out the time to get my degree in American Military history along with degrees in Meteorology and Spanish while working three part time jobs and doing collegiate sports. 16 orthopedic, spinal surgeries and another 11 surgeries for various other injuries, I and we ‘boomers’ have earned our rights. I doubt you can say the same. You are an insolent whelp that needs a good ‘blanket’ party. At least we know how to keep our jeans on where they belong and we do not and will not listen to filthy cop hating rap or hip hop nonsense. BTW; Boomer(s) is also a word or slang for nuclear powered fast attack submarines. So again, STHU.

  • H August 8, 2020, 3:53 AM

    If ignorance was bliss, annony just has to be the happiest troll on the planet. So cut it a little slack. He/her is gonna need it when gets to be our age and THIS song becomes their anthem:


  • ghostsniper August 8, 2020, 4:53 AM

    Looks like the pedo is back.

    The problem with Freebird is that the guitar work is so intense that when you hear it all your senses overload and you sort of turn against it. Don’t need to hear it for a long time after. While LS is my 2nd fav band I cannot listen to FB but very rarely. They have 3, count em, 3 amazing leads going on in that thing. Can you think of any other song that does that? And they switch back and forth so fluidly you almost can’t tell who’s playing what. Strictly from a guitarist perspective it’s an amazing toon.

    FWIW, I’ve been working through all the nuances for “That Smell” for the better part of this year and have a pretty good handle on it. It’s cleverly designed to sound like there’s more going on than meets the eye.

  • Snakepit Kansas August 8, 2020, 5:13 AM

    The rebel flag backdrop, uh-oh. They must apologize then be cancelled.

    What up with those dudes passing around a cigarette? That is how the Chinese flu spreads.

  • CC August 8, 2020, 5:21 AM

    Gutless cowards with no strength of conviction go by anonymous.
    GFY cunt.

  • ghostsniper August 8, 2020, 8:41 AM

    I was in a field exercise in Germany when the crash occurred. Heard about it from a dood at the grub tent that heard about it from another dood that drove the truck back and forth from the post carrying supplies. Everybody fell into a deep blue funk. Music, at that time, was big stuff to army doods as they were all wrapped up in the collecting of BIG stereo equipment of the period, Pioneer, Sansui, Kenwood, Marantz, Technics, etc. There was an elite subset of that group that were into the aspects of making the music and I was a member of that as well. I had a used Gibson LP and a small Marshall combo amp. Maybe we were the stoners in green.

    So about 8 months later I was stationed at Fort Campbell, KY and was getting ready to ETS on 19 June 78 and in the beginning of that month a concert was held in Evansville, IN so a few of us decided on a little road trip in my 70 Camaro SS. It was very hot that day and the crowd was overwhelming for that outdoor event. There was a large lake or pond with an island in the middle and that was where the stage was set up. Thousands of people everywhere. I was barefoot and wearing shorts. That’s it. Had my stuff in my pockets and a frisbee in hand.

    At some point we were throwing the frisbee around and everybody was drinkin’, smokin, and having a good time. Next thing I know a familiar face handed me the frisbee. He was wearing a top hat and had on shades. Leon Wilkeson. Whoa. We chatted, the same ol’ method wasted doods did back then. He was pretty freeky. Couldn’t really hold much of a conversation with him. Spacey. Might have been chemicals, dunno.

    Anyway, I wanted to clear out before the crowd decided the same and headed to the ride, maybe 3 or 4 in the afternoon, with the sun boiling hot. Because of the overwhelming amount of people that went there I had to park a long way out, on a black top road, in a rural area. Maybe 3/4 mile or more. My feets got burned from that million degree blacktop, miserably so. Every now and then I’d stop and sit on the hood of one of the thousands of cars parked along both sides of the road to give my poor dawgz a break. Got to the ride and the soles were almost completely blistered to death. Really bad. It took weeks to heal. Skynyrd wasn’t one of the playing bands that day, obviously, but the word was that some of the survivors were in the audience. I met one.

  • Dank August 8, 2020, 9:36 AM

    Pretty sad when our cultural anthem has changed from “Freebird” to “Stay home, stay safe, wear a mask”…unbelievable.

  • lpdbw August 8, 2020, 9:38 AM
  • ghostsniper August 8, 2020, 10:39 AM

    lpdbw, now THAT was excellent!
    And he has my JS100 hanging on the wall in the background.

  • David L Guenther August 8, 2020, 11:01 AM

    Me and some buddies had tickets to the LS concert that was going to be in Gulfport. I wish I still had that ticket.

    But I still have the ticket stub from the Starship concert at Lorilei on the Rhine, where the Grunts rioted after Starship cancelled their set because Grace Slick was too “F’ed” up to come out.

    Then a few weeks later, we went to Saarbrucken, Germany and saw Genesis, Zappa, Joan Baez, Alvin Lee and The Scorpions, among others at a huge outdoor venue. Tickets were $7 bucks for that extravaganza.

  • Monty James August 8, 2020, 12:01 PM

    I had gotten tired of that song on FM radio, it was played to death decades ago. Then I watched the clip just now, and seeing the girls in the audience reminded me that I was 17 years old, once. A lot of dust in this room, I guess, my eyes are watering.

  • Skorpion August 8, 2020, 12:36 PM

    Call me a contrarian, but this tune — THE best mother-son song of all time — is my favorite LS number:


  • GI-had Joe August 8, 2020, 2:44 PM

    Those concerts were called “Day on the Green,” and were promoted by Bill Graham. I began attending some of these concerts starting in 1976, freshman in HS, having to lie to my folks to get away. They were a great time with the most memorable concert being 1977 DOG 6 with Led Zep, Judas Priest and Derringer. Always remember the announcer telling people to go to the third base dugout if you were ill from alcohol or drugs, or heat sickness.

  • Nori August 8, 2020, 4:29 PM

    The question of:
    If I leave here tomorrow
    Would you still remember me?
    has been answered.
    A resounding Yes,yes we do. And many other great Len-Nerd Skin-Nerd tunes.
    Always with a Stars & Bars backdrop;they were proud to be Southern men.

    After 43 years, Freebird can still blow you away.

  • Elmo August 8, 2020, 4:48 PM

    Skorpion- I absolutely agree. Simple Man is one of my all time favorites.
    I hauled logs from the late ’70s to the late ’80s. I had a Jensen cassette player in the Kenworth and wore a pair of Sony headphones while I drove. Listening to great music like Skynyrd just seemed to make those 17 hour days go just a little bit easier and quicker.
    I always claimed two things back then. 1- Music like Skynryd was log hauling music. It kept a guy awake… and 2- Lynyrd Skynyrd was the best rock band of the day and IMHO, of all time.

  • Ed August 8, 2020, 5:06 PM

    The girl at 3:54 is simply breathtaking.

  • Vanderleun August 8, 2020, 6:31 PM

    Two minds with but a single thought, Ed.

  • dude johnston August 8, 2020, 8:25 PM

    Amazing to see someone who loves music hear “Free Bird” for the first time and ‘get it’….amazing!

  • Ed Foster August 8, 2020, 8:51 PM

    Ronnie Van Zant replied that the song is … “everyone wants to be free…that’s what this country’s all about”.

  • Sid V August 9, 2020, 4:03 AM

    I was barely 10 years old when this concert happened. My brother had “one more from the road”, the double live album, which I guess was released later that year. I remember sitting on the couch in my parents living room, with the album opened up, and the crazy picture and artwork from the fox theater in Atlanta with the confederate flag in the background. Free bird was the third song on the fourth side, right after Crossroads, and before that – The Needle and the Spoon – anther great song. I used to listen to it ALL THE TIME.

    One of the greatest bands of all time – especially because of the guitarists. They never really got there due, because they were from “the south”, and so all the music critics – primarily from New York and LA – hated anything and everything coming out of the south.

  • Greg August 9, 2020, 1:28 PM

    I’ve visited this website since it’s inception for all the diversity, not of color, but of thought. Through the wonderful links posted on this site, I’ve discovered many voices and divergences of opinion, not the least of which was an exploration of Greek philosophy, followed by a close second (IMO) by the site’s owner and creator. I find it sad when a person accidentally stumbles on to the comment section and feels the need to comment on something to prove to others that his/her/she/it’s opinions carry the same weight as helium.

  • Frogdaddy August 9, 2020, 2:54 PM

    I stumbled on this one months ago. It was in England 1976 with the Stones. I thought I read somewhere they were instructed not to go out on to the tongue because it was for the Stones only.
    Well they stuck it up their ass.


  • Snakepit Kansas August 9, 2020, 3:01 PM

    Shut up or we turn loose Ghost on your ass. Go away. Your comment sounds like a generic text which you likely post as a troll a variety of places.

    Sounds like you are a youngster here. You trail me by only a few years. Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Outlaws, Blackfoot, all good southern rock. My Dad took me to a Molly Hatchet show in ~1980 in Wichita. I will never forget the slide guitar mastery of Dave Hlubek playing lead/slide guitar. His trade-offs with other leads and back and forth was unforgettable, even that long ago. Dave would play for a while smoking a cigarette then rest it in the end of a string off a tuner then play some more. I thought he was cool as hell.

  • AbigailAdams August 9, 2020, 8:15 PM

    In the early weeks of this covid thing I started watching YouTube videos of various stuff that I was curious about. After a week of learning how to obtain a mustang from the Bureau of Land Management (the other BLM) and how to break it, I decided to do the deep dive on LS. I was living in the women’s dorm at Lackland AFB/Denver the summer LS crashed. I knew the song “Free Bird” (who didn’t), but LS wasn’t my type of music then, so I didn’t know anything about them. I found a great documentary about the recording studio at Muscle Shoals and it featured quite a bit of info about LS. From there I researched the plane crash, including the FAA accident report and the cause of the crash. What a mess. That any of then survived is a complete miracle. I regret not knowing more about Van Zant sooner. He and his band members were quite gifted. The story of the LS band and their music is worthy of much praise. It’s always a shame that it seems that the most artistically-gifted people need to blunt their gifts with drugs and alcohol in order to deal with the stress of their success and fame.

  • Greg August 9, 2020, 8:26 PM

    I was responding to anon. I apologize for irritating with a comment meant to compliment Gerard. No worries, I will go away and just be a lurker.

  • Ed August 10, 2020, 7:46 AM

    The amazing Ricky Medlocke on the AC version. That man can burn up a fretboard.

  • D S Craft August 10, 2020, 12:17 PM

    I think I just broke some plaque free in one of my arteries.

  • Doug August 10, 2020, 5:12 PM

    In 75 they opened for Loggins & Messina, Fleetwood Mac and Rod Stewart & Faces. Skynard opened up and we were late. Only got to see them sing Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird. Saw only two songs and they blew away everybody else including the new Fleetwood Mac.