More than three decades after the 1977 crash that killed four members of Lynyrd Skynyrd – including legendary songwriter Ronnie Van Zant – Johnny Van Zant (Ronnie's brother) is still carrying on his family's legacy: The Southern rockers have re-teamed with Hank Williams Jr. for another round of the Rowdy Frynds Tour.
Johnny Van Zant spoke with freelance music writer Courtney Devores in advance of the Time Warner Cable Arena concert.
Q. How did this pairing come together?
We're managed by the same company. We went out probably 15 years ago. Back then, our agents said they didn't know if (our) audiences would mix. We were like, “Are you crazy? If you're a Bocephus fan, you like Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
Q. You recently did the CMT “Giants” salute to Hank (with Brad Paisley, Gretchen Wilson, Steven Tyler and others). Has Skynyrd found a new home with country fans?
CMT has made its way to us. We're still doing what we did in the early '70s. Country music has just come around to what we have been doing. … I think (too) if you listen to a lot of the new rock guys that do a lot of acoustic stuff, a lot of that has country and Southern flavor.
Q. You've been singing with Lynyrd Skynyrd for over 20 years now. Was it tough being the new kid back then?
In the beginning. I never wanted to hurt the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd. I was raised on it. If I had my (way), my brother would be here, of course.
Q. As a band, you have had more than your share of tragedy. (Original member and keyboardist Billy Powell recently underwent emergency hip surgery.)
We just carry on. You can look at any family, and people come and go. One thing we all got to do is pay taxes and die. Skynyrd as a family has just been in the public eye.
Q. How much of an influence was the band on you while you were growing up?
It was big. My other brother, Donnie, is in .38 Special. It's like being from a family of doctors and lawyers. I also liked British rock, the Beatles, George Jones. I really didn't notice (their success) until I was in high school and “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” came out – then everybody wanted to be your friend.
Q. Is it frustrating that even though you record new material, fans always want to hear the old songs?
Sure. Usually bands are fighting against other bands, but Skynyrd has to fight against itself. I've never been offended by that, because as a fan, I love those songs, too. We're not trying to write “Free Bird.” We try to stick with what (Skynyrd) was, and that's writing for common people.
Q. Who are you into as far as rock music goes?
I love Nickelback and 3 Doors Down … Daughtry … and “American Idol” (winner) David Cook. I listen to everything. I have four daughters, so I have to listen to everything.
Q. Are your daughters interested in music?
One wants to be a vet or a photographer. The other one is in high school, and the baby is in kindergarten. I did just do a thing with the little one. Her teacher put on a salute to America. Years ago, I (played music for the 1998 movie) “Barney's Great Adventure,” and we actually did “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.” So I performed “Twinkle Twinkle” for her class, with these little kids yelling, “Twinkle! Twinkle!”