August 24 – Well, Jacksonville’s Not Too Far From Alabama

The unofficial anthem of Southern Rock, if not of the South in general, hit the top 40 this day in 1974. A band from Florida, recording in Georgia put Alabama on the musical map this day. Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Sweet Home Alabama” hit the top 40 and would go on to be their only top 10 hit and only gold single in the U.S.

Ironically, most of the band haled from northern Florida, although they did have members from Rhode Island (Leon Wilkeson), Texas (Billy Powell) and California (Ed King)…but no one from The Yellowhammer State. Likewise, they recorded much of the album out on the West Coast but this actual song at the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s Studio One. No matter what its origins, the single (which preceded their other arena rock classic, “Free Bird”) was from their Second Helping album, appropriately enough their second, which went double platinum at home.

The band’s origins stem from a pretty musical family, the Van Zants. At the time, Ronnie Van Zant was the lead singer – he, guitarist Steve Gaines and four others unfortunately died in a plane crash in ’77 and was then replaced by younger brother Johnny Van Zant. Meanwhile, another brother, Donnie, started the band 38 Special!

The song was inspired by some anger at Neil Young’s songs “Southern Man” and “Alabama” which portrayed the South as a racist, KKK-run backwoods – you hear them diss “Ol’ Neil” by name in the song. For all that, there’s no animosity between them, believe it or not. both say they’re fans of the other, have worn each other’s T-shirts on stage and played the same gigs. Young now says “I don’t like my words when I listen to them…I richly deserved the shot (they) gave me.”

Although the song only got to #8 on Billboard, it remains one of the most-played of the era on Classic Rock stations. Not to mention it loosely-inspired a Reese Witherspoon movie and has been used in advertising by the state itself. Wonder if Mississippi’s hoping Ol’ Neil will write something nasty about them?

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12 thoughts on “August 24 – Well, Jacksonville’s Not Too Far From Alabama

  1. Absolutely love the band, and the song. I was lucky enough to see them ‘live’ a couple times back in the mid-Seventies. But this (and the Kid Rock sampled song), must be the most played / aired rock song on radio and is in danger of becoming just a bit too familiar.

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    1. I would cautiously say it’s already there … in my estimation, from both Canada and US, it might be the single most-played song on ‘oldies’ and ‘classic rock’ stations, bar none. Not that it’s a bad song in anyway, but a bit too overplayed. I’ve always heard they always were a really good live act to see, and that didn’t change much through the years.

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  2. Yes, it’s a great song. (Only got to 8 at the time)? These days, with it a no-brainer standard selection on every oldies station in the world, that does not seem possible. And Neil and the band even got to play nice!

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    1. it would be interesting to find out how much it’s been played worldwide and how much money its generated that way… I read that Gerry Rafferty was making about 125 000 pounds a year, if I remember right, just off royalties from ‘Baker Street.’ And I hear ‘Sweet Home Alabama” a whole lot more everywhere I go.

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  3. For the longest time I only had known Lynyrd Skynyrd for that tune. While it certainly hasn’t suffered from underexposure, it remains a classic, and I’m still not tired of it. I’ve since come to appreciate Skynyrd though I’m not an expert.

    I did see them in June 2018 in New Jersey during their “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour”. It was a fun show. Apparently, the farewell tour has morphed into “Big Wheels Keep On Turnin’ Tour”, and the band is still on the road! The schedule is at http://lynyrdskynyrd.com/tour

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