Lynyrd's legacy

"Play 'Free Bird'!" It used to be a sarcastic, damn-near argumentative cat-call — one that threw the finger at obsolete Southern boogie-rock of the '70s by mocking the genre's most famous, arguably most symbolic, song. But those days are starting to seem as dated as Klan cross burnings. This year, a brewing rebirth of interest in Lynyrd Skynyrd's music bubbled over. Spurred by an aggressive reissue campaign, a new generation began to discover the art and heart in those raggedy Southern rockers.

All six of the original band's albums saw re-release, embellished with extensive liner notes, classy remastering and extra tracks. One More From the Road, Skynyrd's landmark live recording captured on a particularly hot weekend at Atlanta's Fox Theater, got the deluxe treatment in an elaborate $30 package that's "doing better than expectations," says a label spokesman. And, of course, there's the Drive-By Truckers' sprawling Southern Rock Opera, perhaps the most passionate statement ever made about both Skynyrd and the '70s South.

The death of original Skynyrd bassist Leon Wilkeson, along with the band's steady touring schedule (albeit a bastardized group fronted by the late Ronnie Van Zant's younger brother, Johnny) kept Skynyrd's profile high even though the group's last new release was a lackluster Christmas album. Nobody goes to a Skynyrd concert to hear the new stuff anyway. They go because the group's still pretty damn legitimate.

Now three generations strong, fans are still flying the rebel flag, testifying to the world that an army of boy bands can't stand up to a trio of dueling guitars and a sledgehammer boogie crunch, no matter how old. Kid Rock lauds Skynyrd as an influence, and most Star Bar bands owe the boys at least a beer for shattering Southern rock's glass ceiling — nand for personifying its excesses of bad clothes, bad hair and bad attitude.

No wonder Skynyrd's brand of gritty, swampy guitar rock and working-man's poetry resonates with fresh authority nearly three decades later. Skynyrd's gradual rise to superstardom after years of playing trashy dives — only to be curtailed as they were hitting their stride — is a VH-1 "Behind the Music" wet dream. The band epitomizes "the duality of the Southern thing," as the Truckers aptly describe it. And in the madness of 2001, their crusty, ballsy, soulfully uplifting rock 'n' roll aches for simpler days and resonates with hope for tomorrow.??