“Simple Man” is one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most beloved tracks, combining two elements the band is best known for: meaningful storytelling and impressive guitar tracks. The song was first released on August 13, 1973, as the fourth track on the band’s debut album, Lynyrd Skynyrd (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd).
Now, nearly 50 years later, it is not only one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most recognizable songs but a classic rock anthem. “Simple Man” has been featured in movies like Almost Famous, as well as TV hits like The Sopranos and Californication. The song also still dominates people’s playlists, currently holding over 290 million streams on Spotify.
The Writing Process.
“Simple Man” was written by band members Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington. Van Zant’s grandmother and Rossington’s mother passed away around the same time, so the two got together at Van Zant’s apartment to share memories of them. As they talked, the stories they passed back and forth suddenly began to form into a song.
Rossington grabbed a guitar and started playing a chord progression. Van Zant took the advice that these influential women passed down to them and worked it into the lyrics. They had “Simple Man” written within an hour.
In a later interview, Rossington recalled the songwriting experience fondly. “We just put down in a song what our mama or grandma had said to us. They really wrote it. We just played it,” he said.
Mama told me when I was young
“Come sit beside me, my only son
And listen closely to what I say
And if you do this, it’ll help you some sunny day”
While working on their debut album, “Simple Man” was a song the band strongly felt needed to be included. However, their producer Al Kooper believed it was too weak to make the final cut. The band and Kooper could not come to an agreement about what to do with “Simple Man,” so Van Zant took Kooper out to his car and instructed him to stay there until they finished recording.
Kooper later recorded the organ part for the song but was still against releasing it. Clearly, he had no idea how iconic the song would later become.
Tribute to Ronnie Van Zant.
In 1977, Van Zant and fellow band members Steve and Cassie Gaines were killed in a now-infamous plane crash. Van Zant was only 29 years old. After his tragic and untimely death, “Simple Man” remains one of the greatest marks of his legacy.
In addition to the words of wisdom from his grandmother and Rossington’s mother, Van Zant incorporated many of his personal values into the lyrics. He is still remembered for his prioritization of friends, family, and his own joy over money and fame. When the band went on a reunion tour in 1987, they dedicated the song to him.
Oh, take your time, don’t live too fast
Troubles will come and they will pass
You’ll find a woman, yeah, and you’ll find love
And don’t forget, son, there is someone up above
Legacy of “Simple Man.”
While “Simple Man” is full of valuable life advice, what it comes down to is the hook: Be a simple kind of man / Oh, be something you love and understand. Even after rising to celebrity status, Van Zant held onto and stayed true to these values.
Van Zant’s life sincerely reflected the lyrics he wrote in “Simple Man.” Through his influential songwriting, he is still able to share that message with listeners half a century later.
Boy, don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh, baby, if you try
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied
Listen to “Simple Man” below.
Photo by Richard McCaffrey/ Michael Ochs Archive/ Getty Images