After hearing the shitty news that Gary Rossington, the last surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd had died, I wanted to do a tribute to him. I wanted to review a Skynyrd album, but which one. I have the infamously banned and relatively rare “flames” version of Street Survivors on vinyl(the album cover was issued with a photo of the band engulfed in flames 3 days before the band was in a fiery plane crash that claimed the lives of some of the band members and crew and was quickly recalled), but I couldn’t bring myself to look at that while listening. It’s a bit painful even almost a week after his death. Maybe some more obscure stuff such as Rossington Collins Band, or his solo albums from the ’80’s. Then I remembered I had this 3 cassette set I had bought a while back at Mike Ladano’s old record store that I had never listened to. It seemed like the perfect time to rectify that.
This set has 47 songs, so for the sake of not boring you even more than my writing usually does I will focus on the demos, unreleased and what some may consider b sides.
Free Bird (demo, previously unrealeased) – The first song on cassette one is definitely not the version we are used to. In 1970, the band had been together for 5 years, mostly touring non-stop. Their new manager arranged a recording session at Quinvy Studios in Alabama. It’s more raw, but showed the talent was there early on.
Junkie (demo, previously unreleased) – Holy crap. This sounds nothing like Skynyrd. I would say a Hendrix, Cream, Blue Cheer mix that sounds awesome. Who knew Skynyrd played heavy, wah pedal filled psychedelic guitar blues?
He’s Alive (demo, previously unreleased) – Another winner here with some more tasty guitar licks
Gimme Three Steps (original, previously unreleased) – Muscle Shoals Sound Studios sound producer Jimmy Johnson heard the above 3 demos recorded at nearby Quinvy Studios and he offered the band free recording time at his studio so that he could shop the recordings around and hope to get a percentage of album sales. Those recordings never had any takers. Obviously they didn’t know a good thing when they heard it. This version is pretty close to the album version we all know and love. It didn’t take Al Kooper much to clean up the sound a bit and open up Ronnie’s vocals a bit.
Was I Right Or Wrong ? (1974/1991, previously unreleased) – Al Kooper was the band’s producer at this point, and this song was part of the Second Helping album recording process. For whatever reason, this song was cut from that album. In fact, the song wasn’t actually finished until this compilation started to come together and this song was mixed and completed. Thankfully this happened. It’s a great song that could probably slide right onto a Bad Company album. The theme of the song is about a man that leaves home to find fame and fortune in rock n roll against his parents wishes, and when he finally achieves it, he returns home only to find the tombstones of his parents. The guitar riff is quite obviously the one that was used in Gimme Three Steps, so it is kind of like if Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd had went into the studio together to do a Papa Was A Rolling Stone themed song. I still wish they would have found a new riff, or changed it to make it onto an album. Oh well, at least it eventually showed up.
Four Walls Of Raiford (undubbed demo, previously unreleased) – 38 Special guitarist Jeff Carlisi often jammed with Ronnie into the wee hours of the morning helping him write new songs for the band. It has a Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues/Long Black Veil feel to it. Another one that should have made it onto an album.
What’s Your Name (alternate mix, previously unreleased) – This one starts off with a Mel Tillis stutter, and has a a weird section that thankfully was removed from the album version.
The Ballad Of Curtis Loew – This is the plain old studio album version, but since it’s my favourite Skynyrd song, I just had to throw it in. I played it 7 or 8 times today and belted the lyrics out full force. If ever I do a karaoke song, this will be it. The only problem is this is one of a handful of songs that literally make me cry tears of joy every time I hear it.
This boxset focuses on the 1977 and earlier, pre-plane crash version of Lynyrd Skynyrd that we all remember so fondly. However, it isn’t just another greatest hits collection. The booklet included along with this boxset is one of the better ones I’ve seen, and the inclusion of so many variants, demos and unreleased songs make this worth the price of admission alone. It was also available as a cd version and the prices are reasonable. I am so glad I chose to review this boxset, and that I went in cold without even looking at the track list. I heard tons of songs/versions I had never heard here, and it was an absolute joy to listen from start to finish. No fast forwarding, just a lot of rewinding. I strongly recommend to buy this boxset, especially if you thought you had all the Skynyrd you would ever need. Hint, you were wrong.
R.I.P. Gary you were strong enough to survive a major plane crash but old age and health eventually catch up to even the best of us.