to be one of his last at home, Van Zant was visited by his two younger brothers' both lead vocalists

in rock grgYPS

-Donnie and Johnnie with the localAustin Nich-

with the promising 38 Special

ols Band. His brawny ex-trucker dad, Lacy-who first got Young Ronnie hooked on music while highballing up the East Coast to the crackling sound of country (their f avorite: Haggard) stopped bY. Van Zant grew uP -also in a tough shantytown section of Jacksonville, got his first highs singing with the family's Holy Roller church choir. As a teenager he had alreadY formed a primitive precursor of Lynyrd Skynyrd with Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, both guitarists (and survivors of the crash). The title was a corruption of the name Leonard Skinner, who was a hard-nosed high school PhYs ed

The name began to mean something nationally in 1974 with their hit single, Sweet Home Alabama- As for their own Florida home, LYnYrd SkYnYrd was rarely off the road for more than days at a time. That was before this summer, when Van Zant seemed ready to end the disorienting years on the run' He'd bought 29 acres of choice Tennessee hill country where the family had recently camped out for a few days, but Ronnie also pondered a more

devilish grin, "so the road don't matter

teacher.

no more." What did matter to Ronnie Van Zant vias headlining for the first time ever at New York's Madison Square Garden' To him the gig-it would have been next week-represented Lynyrd Skynyrd's official recognition among the rock superelite. He also knew, looking back, that he had given-and taken-a lot to earn the honor. "ln the beginning," he said, "we used to PlaY one joint till midnight for kids; then they in Jacksonfamily-style neighborhood it into a bottle club and we'd go turned wife "My idiom, in his said ville. As he til 6 a.m. lt really tightened us up as a don't want our daughter to grow uP a good band," he recalled. "When you're from for swamp hermit. Other kids'll be the South, man, You learn to work Your rehearstour her." Yet on the eve of ass off, and we did. lt was HELLArestless felt he conceded Zani als, Van TIOUS." He stoPPed and turned to after the unprecedented six weeks hiinvite a lasting eye contact. After a is road "the atus. He could not deny that pause he added: "Hellatious and the crayears. went I 12 you after home to best years of our lives." E zy eight Years ago," he said with a

his life' yan Zant trained Iike an olympian worfting for the tour that he hoped would change, not endr

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