Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young were two of the most well-known figures that helped to lead this revolution in rock music during the 1970s. Both performers turned become cultural icons of the time, proving the ability of music to unite people and create new trends.
While they both had respect for each other as artists, they often had feuds. Neil and Lynyrd Skynrd had two different worldviews which contradicted each other. Before their rants towards each other, the late frontman of Lynyrd Skynrd was a huge fan of Neil. However, when Young’s song ‘Southern Man’ came out it all changed.
The song featured racism in the American South. It repeatedly alludes to the region’s historical association with slavery and its connections to the Ku Klux Klan. Overall, it didn’t present a favorable impression of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s hometown. He also talked about it and tried to explain his part of the story. He stated that the song was about Civil Rights Movement than the South.
There was the same subject on ‘Alabama’ two years later. He made another attempt to defend the song by claiming that the term “Alabama” wasn’t intended to be specific to the state but rather to convey the theme of the song. He explained, “Actually, the song is more about a personal thing than it is about a state, And I’m just using that name and that state to hide whatever it is I have to hide; I don’t know what that means.”
Ronnie Van Zant of Lynryd Skynrd later admitted to Rolling Stone that he felt compelled to speak up for his people. He said, “We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two. We’re southern rebels, but more than that, we know the difference between right and wrong.”
In addition to talking about it in the media, he also opened up about his hometown pride in the recording studio, which led to the creation of the classic song and go-to song for wedding receptions, “Sweet Home Alabama.” Shakey was even mentioned in the song as Van Zant triumphantly sang, “I hope Neil Young will remember, a southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”
These remarks made Young reflect on his actions. He even wrote about it in his 2012 biography ‘Waging Heavy Peace’ and apologized for both tracks. He wrote, “‘Alabama’ richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record, I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”
Young had also talked about his feud with Lynyrd Skynyrd with Mojo Magazine. It was 1995 and he said, “Oh, they didn’t really put me down! But then again, maybe they did! But not in a way that matters. Shit, I think ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is a great song. I’ve actually performed it live a couple of times myself.”
Following their reconciliation, Young sent the band a demo of “Powderfinger” as an apology and eventually agreed to let them use it on their upcoming album. But, tragic events would follow as Van Zant and other band members perished in a plane crash before they got the chance to make the now-famous song.
Young paid tribute to the band by performing an emotional mashup of “Alabama” and “Sweet Home Alabama” at a charity concert in Miami a few weeks after their passing in 1977.