In the not-too-distant past, I created and took a self-guided tour of the various sites associated with the Lynyrd Skynyrd band. They and their music have always played a big role in my life. And the music was all I played while learning guitar and for the first 25-30 years of my musical life.
I have posted a few pictures here and there, always with the promise of one day publishing all of them, along with the stories history behind them. This is that day. It’s October 20, 2020–the 43rd anniversary of the plane crash.
This is a very lengthy, detailed post. I have placed it behind the “read more” link (but like most things WordPress, it’s probably not working right). Go get yourself a six-pack, kick back, and start reading.
The former site of "Hell House," is the holy grail among Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. The band couldn't rehearse in Jacksonville because the police would get called about "noise disturbances." The guys in the band pooled their money and rented a tiny wooden cabin out in the woods and next to a creek, some 20+ miles away from Jacksonville. Although the cabin had electricity and running water, in had NO air conditioning. Because of the constantly loud music from dawn to dusk, as well as the sweltering Florida heat, the band nicknamed the cabin, "Hell House." They used the cabin as their rehearsal space for several years, not relocating until late 1975. They would drive there together every morning, set up their equipment, practice, and leave in the evening. A small boat dock behind the cabin gave the band a place to fish when taking breaks, and Ronnie Van Zant a place to sit and write song lyrics while the band was practicing inside the cabin. The band wrote their first three albums at "Hell House." Fan favorites such as "Gimme Three Steps," "Swamp Music," "Comin' Home," "Saturday Night Special," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Freebird," and many more were conceived, written, and worked up at the "Hell House." The house burned down many years ago. Since then, the land has been partially cleared and a gated residential community, Edgewater Landing, occupies the area. The tract where "Hell House" stood, including the dock, has not been built on. It is lot #129. Fortunately, the real estate developer was a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. He named some of the streets after Lynyrd Skynyrd songs. All that's left of the "Hell House" now are a few water pipe ends sticking up out of the ground (see photos). Also, over the years, a few fans have "excavated" the land there to some extent, and found very old cigarette packs and Budweiser beer cans several inches below the ground. I wonder when and how they got there.
Ground Zero: The Van Zant House, at the corner Woodcrest and Mull streets on Jacksonville's "West Side," which Ronnie Van Zant unaffectionately called "shanty town." This house was the boyhood home of not one, not two, but THREE rock stars, the Van Zant brothers. Ronnie of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny of the current Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Donnie of .38 Special. Also living here were two Zan Zant girls, along with the parents, Lacy and Marion "Sister" Van Zant. Lacy was a truck driver before an injury retired him in the late 1960s. After that, he stayed home and worked on other people's trucks in a small garage on the right (facing) side of the house, which has since been enclosed. Marion was a stay-at-home mom for all of the children, and a big supporter of her sons' music careers. Lacy, on the other hand, thought they were nuts and needed to find real jobs (until they made it big). The last Van Zant family member to live in this house was Lacy, who died in 2004. He was 89.
Where it all started. This is the ballpark where Ronnie hit a fly ball that knocked Bob Burns out. Ronnie and his friend Gary Rossington rant to check on Burns, who woke up soon thereafter. The three started talking, the subject of music came up, and Ronnie advised the other two that they were going to start a band, and that he (Ronnie) would be the leader and singer.
The former home of guitarist Allen Collins (the one who played the long solo in "Freebird"). Around 1975, after the band had become successful, Allen had this house built on Julington Creek Rd. The big room on the left side was the garage for his massive collection of antique and classic cars. Behind the house was another garage and a fully-equipped recording studio. This was where the Rossington-Collins Band did some of their writing and early rehearsals. Allen lived in this house until his death in 1990 from pneumonia, which was a complication from massive injuries and paralysis he sustained when he and his girlfriend had a tragic car accident on January 29, 1986. His girlfriend was killed, and Allen would never be able to play the guitar again--at least not on a professional, touring basis. The house is MUCH larger than it appears in the photo.
The small culvert on Plummer Grant Rd, less than a mile from Allen's home, that he hit going an estimated 80 miles per hour, causing the 1986 wreck.
Words from Charlie Daniels on a bench at the original tomb of Ronnie Van Zant at Jacksonville Memory Gardens.
Ronnie Van Zant's original tomb at Jacksonville Memory Gardens. In June 2000, the graves of Van Zant and Steve Gaines were vandalized. Van Zant’s family decided to relocate his remains to Riverside Memorial Park cemetery in Jacksonville. The original tomb remains in place.
The grave of bassist Leon Wilkeson at Riverside Memorial Park. Allen Collins, his wife, Billy Powell, and Leonard Skinner himself are buried at this cemetery.
At the time of his death, Ronnie Van Zant, his wife Judy, and baby daughter Melody lived about a quarter-mile down this rural, secluded lane off Brickyard Road and by the lake. The train track parallels the road on its left. After Ronnie's passing, the house was sold to Robert Nix of The Atlanta Rhythm Section. It has since been torn down and replaced.
The End of the Line