Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 5 Best Live Collaborations

Lynyrd Skynyrd aren’t exactly known for their collaborations in the recording studio. In fact, over the course of fourteen studio albums and counting, the Southern rock pioneers have only had a single guest artist on a song.

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The band is much more prone, though, to sharing the stage for thrilling live collaborations. Dating all the way back to their ‘70s heyday, the rockers have welcomed family, contemporaries, and artists of the next generation for renditions of their most famous songs, from “Free Bird” to “All Summer Long” to lots (and lots) of “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Below, we revisit five of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s greatest live collabs.

1. “Free Bird” with Charlie Daniels Band

Unfortunately, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legacy is defined as much by the 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of three band members and three others as by their music. (Original singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist—and Steve’s older sister—Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, and both pilots all perished.) The band didn’t officially reform until 10 years later, under the guidance of Van Zant’s brother, singer Johnny Van Zant.

However, 15 months after the fatal crash, the surviving members of Skynyrd made their return to the stage at the Charlie Daniels Band’s Volunteer Jam V. With help from CDB, the group performed “Free Bird” for the first time since the accident at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium with John Prine, Dobie Gray, the Henry Paul Band, Link Wray, and others all present for the powerful moment. (Volunteer Jam V is also notable as the first time the Charlie Daniels Band performed their signature hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which would become a major smash on the Billboard charts just a few months later.)

2. “Sweet Home Alabama” with Donnie Van Zant

In the summer of 1976, Lynyrd Skynyrd played three consecutive shows at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. The magical back-to-back nights eventually became the band’s live album One More for the Road, and subsequently helped save the historic venue from demolition.

Nearly three decades later, the new iteration of the group returned to the theater for 1993’s “Lyve at the Fox” concert, where they had a surprise up their sleeve. “We’ve got two microphones out here now,” Johnny Van Zant told the whistling, rapturous crowd that evening. “I’d like to introduce you to somebody who’s not only my best friend in the world, he’s my brother. Donnie Van Zant is gonna help us sing this one.”

From there, the .38 Special frontman traded lyrics with his younger brother in a raucous rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama.”

3. “All Summer Long” and “Sweet Home Alabama” with Kid Rock

Kid Rock landed a global hit in the summer of 2008 with “All Summer Long.” The country-rock crossover successfully frankensteined together samples of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” to create a feel-good jam that was at once new and yet very familiar.

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The long-haired singer, born Robert Ritchie, has had a longstanding connection to Lynyrd Skynyrd. In 2003, he collaborated with the band on a new version of their classic “Gimme Back My Bullets,” and the result ended up as a bonus track on their 12th studio album, Vicious Cycle.

Naturally, Johnny Van Zant & Co. were the perfect surprise guests for Rock’s performance at the 2008 edition of Fashion Rocks, the concert kick-off to New York City’s fashion week. After playing through a portion of “All Summer Long,” Rock introduced the rockers and they launched into “Sweet Home Alabama,” much to the delight of the assembled crowd.

4. “Country Must Be Country Wide” with Brantley Gilbert

At the risk of this list being made up of nothing but varied performances of “Sweet Home Alabama,” let’s add something entirely different to the mix. Back in 2015, Lynyrd Skynyrd was paired with Brantley Gilbert for an episode of CMT Crossroads. During the show, they, of course, performed “Sweet Home Alabama” with the country star, but also went outside the well-trod comfort zone of their own discography to duet on Gilbert’s 2011 single “Country Must Be Country Wide.”

From his Wranglers to his boots
He reminded me of Chris LeDoux
And that Copenhagen smile
Country must be country wide

Johnny Van Zant growled the verse lyrics of the song—Gilbert’s first to top the Hot Country Songs chart—before duetting with the Georgia country singer to name drop everything from the pioneering quartet of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings, to “foreign cars and four-wheel drives.”

5. “Sweet Home Alabama” with 3 Doors Down, Hank Williams Jr. and Bo Bice

Here’s one more epic performance of “Sweet Home Alabama.” In 2006, Lynyrd Skynyrd took over Atlantic City’s Etess Arena inside the now-shuttered Trump Taj Mahal for a special performance filmed for VH1 Classic’s Decades Rock Live! concert series.

The show paired iconic bands like Skynyrd with artists they’d influenced. On this night, the band’s special guests included alt-rockers 3 Doors Down, Hank Williams Jr., and American Idol Season 4 finalist Bo Bice. For the grand finale, Skynyrd trotted out all three support acts for truly unforgettable renditions of “Call Me the Breeze” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Then (of course), they took the show home with “Free Bird.” 12 years after the show, the band released the entire set as the album Live in Atlantic City, with Bice, 3 Doors Down, and Williams Jr. each tackling multiple songs.

Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

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