Ronnie Van Zant’s Wish For Brother Johnny
via Ronnie Van Zant / Youtube
Who is Ronnie Van Zant?
In 1964 there is an American rock band called My Backyard. This band successfully built up their name spending five years touring in small venues. After various names and with several lineup changes, they decided on sticking with the name Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969. Known for the songs such as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird,” the band was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. One of its founding members who also stands as the lead vocalist is Ronnie Van Zant. Along with him is Gary Rossington who plays the guitar like Allen Collins, Larry Junstrom doing the bass guitar, and Bob Burns as the band’s drummer.
The tragedy that ends their popularity
Although the singer made a huge contribution to the growth and success of the band, he didn’t have much time to enjoy it. When Van Zant and the rest of Lynyrd Skynyrd boarded the plane on October 1977, the aircraft ran out of fuel, thus, striking a tree over Mississippi ending the life of Ronnie Van Zant and several others on board.
The band were supposed to perform in Louisiana the following night. Aside from Van Zant, the guitarist and vocalist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines (Steve’s older sister), assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, Captain Walter McCreary and First Officer William Gray all died because of the deadly plane crash. Unfortunately, Lynyrd Skynyrd disbanded after the tragedy. Ten years after, the band reunited in with five principal band members for an extensive tour. The man who stepped in and took initiative to this reunion was his younger brother, Johnny. Shortly before Van Zant’s death, he had a small request for Johnny.
Continuing the legacy
Only few know for a fact that Ronnie Van Zant was not the only member interested in music in the Zant family. His younger brothers, Johnny Van Zant and Donnie Van Zant, also developed an interest in the field from a young age. Although they didn’t take an active role in Lynyrd Skynyrd during Ronnie’s lifetime, Johnny became the band’s lead vocalist and chief songwriter after their reunion. Just like the early times, the band has undergone some lineup changes over the years while still managing to perform in occasional live shows.
In a 2019 interview, Gary Rossington, Rickey Medlocke, and Johnny Van Zant reflected on the band’s long musical journey by discussing some turning points in their career. They also shared that reaching the end of Van Zant’s career, he wasn’t actually sure about continuing to perform as the band’s lead vocalist. He still wanted to be a part of the band, but preferred to get involved in other occupations as he wanted to take a step back from handling the vocal duties due to his throat issues.
While on the other hand, the band’s long-term guitarist Gary Rossington revealed in the interview that Ronnie would always point out Johnny as the most accomplished singer in the family. He also wished his younger brother to be sent to the Juilliard School to get a formal education in music if he died. Rossington said:
“He always said: ‘Johnny’s the best singer in the family.’ He also said: ‘If I die, y’all send him to Julliard.”
Fortunately, Johnny Van Zant considered the request and decided to continue the legacy of his late legendary brother by reviving Lynyrd Skynyrd.