One of the all-time Southern Rock staples, Pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd by Lynyrd Skynyrd turns fifty this month, which means we get to share one of the most-requested interviews from the In the Studio vast classic rock archive. My in-depth conversations with Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarists/songwriters Gary Rossington and Ed King plus bass player Leon Wilkeson, all gone now, will tell the origin story framed against the days leading up to, and the making of, the first album Pronounced and “I Ain’t the One”,”Gimme Three Steps”,”Simple Man” which they had to fight to get it on the album, and “Free Bird”.There is a remarkable story to be told even before any of us first heard Pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd a half century ago. Gazing on the cover of Jacksonville FL young bucks Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Pronounced album, lots of little things come to mind which, taken individually, might appear insignificant. The digitally enhanced cover photo and graphics pictured here were not so richly hued on the original, which arrived without fanfare in the mail at my Findlay Ohio radio station. When I first removed the record to audition it, the pale yellow label at the center had a logo which proclaimed “Sounds of the South”, looking a bit hand-drawn, almost amateurish. As the first Lynyrd Skynyrd songs played, including “I Ain’t the One”, “Tuesday’s Gone”, “Gimme Three Steps”, and “Simple Man” on side one, the songwriting appeared strong and the band tightly rehearsed, but honestly the sound from the shallow grooves seemed a little thin, not as muscular and full bodied as we can now hear on hi-rez remastering. Taken as a whole, these small items gave Pronounced an indie “otherness” to the entire package. Lynyrd Skynyrd could not yet be touted as the “Three Guitar Army” because original bass player Leon Wilkeson (pictured far left seated on the cover with sunglasses & trademark cap) had split before recording commenced because he didn’t trust New York producer and Sounds of the South label owner Al Kooper, which forced the only non-Jacksonville member, Ed King, to fill the bass slot. And the epic-length song “Free Bird”, which would one day define this album, this band, and (to many people) the sound of Southern Rock itself, was buried as the last song on side two and, at over nine minutes in length, doomed forever never to be a single for Top 40 consideration.
Over time the perception seems to have become that Lynyrd Skynyrd had a date with destiny, an almost Shakespearean drama of dreams, aspirations, triumph, and tragedy to which all of us were immediately and keenly aware from the moment of Pronounced‘s release, which is no more true than imagining Will Shakespeare did not toil, struggle, and starve in relative obscurity in his time. Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Billy Powell, Bob Burns, and Ed King of Lynyrd Skynyrd had a collective vision even then , but it would be several more years before millions would share it. And that debut album has actually grown in esteem relatively over the decades, with the latest edition of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Albums of All Time bumping Pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd up to #381.Standing outside their Dallas hotel in September 1987 beside the giant gleaming Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour bus, even the drone of the idling diesel engine could not drown out the echoes in my mind of the final notes of the final show which had occurred barely 12 hours earlier. Watching Lynyrd Skynyrd original guitarist Ed King bear hug each departing member of the band and crew as they boarded the bus was a touching moment I will never forget. Later, Ed King sat down with me In the Studio with those powerful emotions still raw in his voice to do this interview, and Gary Rossington (died March 5, 2023) and the late Leon Wilkeson were all here, too in these classic rock interviews. – Redbeard