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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ronnie & Neil, Again

Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie VanZant Wearing Neil Young T-shirt

Some things here at Thrasher's Wheat never cease to amaze us. Like last month when we posted on the song "Powderfinger" being the most analyzed Neil Young song of all time and then proceeded to be bombarded by another round of opinions. Which just goes to prove that no one knows what the song "Powderfinger" is really all about afterall.

Curiously, the song "Powderfinger" was written by Neil to give to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Sadly, the band never recorded it because of the band's tragic end.

So all of this brings us back to the enduring legacy of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd which is encapsulated by their hit "Sweet Home Alabama". For our friends outside of the United States, it is hard to convey just how ubiquitous this song is and how it has been appropriated for so many causes -- both justly and unjustly. The song still receives widespread airplay, is used in commercials regularly, is covered by any number of bands, just to name a few points on it's legendary status. (Here is a prime example of just how weirdly universal the song has become "Sweet Home, Jerusalem" on YouTube.)

Similar to "Powderfinger", we receive a very considerable amount of mail and comments on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama". While this may not seem surprising given the lyrics reference Young and his songs "Southern Man" and "Alabama", it just astonishes us to this day how so many are so grossly clueless about the true connection between Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Sweet Home Alabama", "Southern Man" and "Alabama".

Of course, we tried to set the record straight long ago by deconstructing the myth of Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. But alas, ignorance is so hard to fight here on the internets.

Probably the most infuriating thing we see nearly everyday is when Neil's name pops into the news and his detractors start slamming him for his past "transgressions" like being a hippie and writing "Ohio". The radical right wingers just love to bash Neil with the "Sweet Home Alabama" line "I hope Neil Young will remember, a Southern man don’t need him ‘round, anyhow."

This happens over and over, like on this discussion on the
Charlie Rose interview. It is not uncommon to see folks put ol' Neil down because Lynyrd Skynyrd sang about a southern man not needing him around. You know, case closed.

But, as we know, Neil and Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie VanZant were actually friends as we documented long, long ago. In fact, several years after completing the previously linked page, Patterson Hood of Drive By Truckers wrote in his album notes for 2001's Southern Rock Opera for "Ronnie & Neil":
I wrote this song to tell of the misunderstood friendship between Ronnie VanZant and Neil Young, who were widely believed to be bitter adversaries, but were in truth very good friends and mutual admirers.

While we've found that even with as persuasive and widely heard a song as "Ronnie & Neil", the angry right still drags out the feud canard to dismiss Neil's music and politics.

And you may ask, why bother Thrasher? Well, for one thing, it's because of the volume of mail and comments that we receive on this subject that we're always having to point to. I mean take a look at the comments here or here and you can see just how angry folks are at Neil Young for apparently no other reason than their perception that if Lynyrd Skynyrd dissed him he must be worthless. Or here.

So The Archives notwithstanding, it will hardly be surprising that part of Neil Young's legacy will be as a footnote in the notorious song "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Oh, and he also wrote that song "Powderfinger" that no one seems to know what it means.

Though my problems are meaningless, that don't make them go away.

Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant wearing Neil Young "Tonight's The Night" T-shirt
Oakland Coliseum Stadium, July 2, 1977

Photographer: Michael Zagaris on Wolfgang's Vault

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At 10/01/2008 08:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where you can get hold of those t-shirts here in the UK?

At 10/01/2008 10:41:00 AM, Anonymous thom said...

yes, i´d love to have a shirt like this - but an original one from the 70s..


At 10/01/2008 11:39:00 AM, Blogger Derrick Raymond said...

Wasn't 'Walk On' from On The Beach a reply from Neil towards 'Sweet Home Alabama'?

At 10/01/2008 12:49:00 PM, Anonymous Terry David said...

Thrasher, I know exactly what you're talking about. I live in Jacksonville and the ignorance of the people here as to the real story of friendship and respect Ronnie and Neil and their bands had for one another is amazing. The truth about them has been out for decades and yet the misperception persists. I've told people the reality of the story so many times to the point of just realizing, that for some (many), the facts just don't matter. They just want to hang on to their petty criticisms and resentment of Neil Young because they're too fucking stupid, narrow minded, and hard hearted to recognise and appreciate the greatness of his talent and accomplishments. I just pray to God that he works things out that I can go see Neil this December in either Philly or New York City.

At 10/01/2008 01:40:00 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

I recently saw Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd sing "Sweet Home Alabama" on some awards show. Kid Rock delivered the Neil line with conviction, but I don't think he meant it. He's really from Michigan anyway.

At 10/01/2008 02:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without trying to sound like some sort of pretentious bore, can't one interpret "Sweet Home Alabama" from another angle such that Ronnie Van Zant was very deftly bashing the rednecks without them knowing it?

"does your conscience bother you, tell the truth?" as in, Wake up - it ought to!

"In alabama they love the governor.." yeah right, like who could love ol' George Wallace

and the famous line about Neil,
"I heard ol' Neil put her down; well I hope Neil Young will remember, a southern Man don't need him around anyhow" Yes, and Neil doesn't need southern rednecks either...

anyway, it's a stretch, but since they were friends I kind of think the whole thing was an inside joke between them.

Come to think of it, this isn't pretentious, but rather obvious and probably observed many times before...

At 10/01/2008 09:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 10/02/2008 05:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

who really give a jolly duck?

At 10/02/2008 06:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i always wondered if the song "Big Waves", which we know to be an unreleased song from the early 70s, is an earlier version of "Powderfinger".

At 10/02/2008 06:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Due to production issues, not economic or slow blu-ray adoption, the Archives have been again delayed until Jan or Feb of 2009.

Meanwhile, on 11/28, Sugar Mountain, a 22 track set recorded in Nov 1968 in Ann Arbor, Michigan will be released.

Audio CD (November 25, 2008)
Number of Discs: 2
Label: Reprise Records
Ships from and sold by

At 10/02/2008 07:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ARCHIVES??????????????? 2
Well, that's what I have been thinking for a while.
There's still no marketing for the archives. Only Neil drinking beer in a garage and a US and Canada tour. Plus the BBC documentary. Check out the Dylan marketing machine at the moment. And besides that Sugar Mountain Live is on Amazon for a while. So it has not been removed like previous albums (Toast) in the past.

1) JAVA is still getting better and changing everyday. NY doesn't want the Archives to be outdated by Xmas 2009.
2) BluRay discs gives you the possibility to include more archive material >>> more work to be done.
3) Sugar Mountain Live is a good alternative for the Riverboat since that one will be on the Archives. NY fans will be happy with it.

There's also some delay at LincVolt but our beer drinking host believes they still will make it to drive to San Francisco within a couple of days.

At 10/02/2008 10:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has this Archives delay been officially confirmed?

At 10/02/2008 01:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, it's still unofficial.
All those shakey archives rumors will continue until the one day...

At 10/02/2008 08:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Sugar Mountain live isn't just another rumor then I'll be happy if that comes out instead of the Archives. I loved the 'Sugar Mountain' take on Decade, which is apparently from one of the shows included on the CD. Will there be a DVD like Fillmore East and Massey Hall? I liked looking at the extra content.

At 10/03/2008 02:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since I'm from Alabama, I "may" have some insight concerning why Neil wrote the song for Ronnie, and "some" of the meaning(s) that I can glean.

My husband and I travel the world to see Neil, since he doesn't like to visit "Dixie" -- whatever! :-)

My husband was somewhere in New England years ago to see Phish, and he yelled for them to sing, "Freebird". Most called him a redneck in the audience; however, it was a blistering cover according to Robert.



At 10/04/2008 04:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Curiously, the song "Powderfinger" was written by Neil to give to Lynyrd Skynyrd." " just astonishes us to this day how so many are so grossly clueless about the true connection between Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Sweet Home Alabama", "Southern Man" and "Alabama". Of course, we tried to set the record straight long ago by deconstructing the myth of Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. But alas, ignorance is so hard to fight here on the internets."

Then why perpetuate it then Thrasher? Powderfinger wasn't "written by Neil to give to Lynyrd Skynyrd". He offered it to them before he'd released it himself, but he'd started it many years before he'd ever met the band and it certainly wasn't written for them...

At 10/05/2008 06:14:00 PM, Blogger July Archives said...

i,ve always had a problem over the Neil Young so called offer of Powder finger to another band. I have never heard of any evidence of Young doing anything like this with any body else in 40 years .Seems devisive to me.

At 10/06/2008 03:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He gave Nicolette 'Lotta Love' before releasing it himself...


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