Freebird: One More From the Road

Lord knows, I can't change.We get a lot of mail at GLONO. A lot of it is junk from labels and bands. That goes for email too. But now and again we get an email from a reader that is just too good to keep to ourselves.

In response to That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore in which we research the origins of yelling “Freebird” at rock shows, Emily Bohannon, a southern girl of good upbringing and class, sent this gem of an email. To her and her father, the song is more than just a lame gag uttered from the lips of a drunken dope. —DP

I am Emily Bohannon, a Southerner newly transplanted to Michigan. I sent your article on “Free Bird” to my father, who was actually AT the concert at the Fox recorded on One More From the Road. I have pasted his response below my own thoughts. I figured you might like to see what someone who heard the cry long before it turned into a cliché thinks about it.

Because of “Free Bird” I almost never existed in the first place. When my parents were in the courtin’ stage of things, my dad used to propose to Mama in wild fits of passion, to which she would reply, “I’ll believe you when you tell your mother.” His reaction to this statement was to listen to “Free Bird,” down some whiskey, and say, “This song is my life. You’d better not get too attached to me — I could be gone tomorrow.” My mother, in her wisdom, said nothing, realizing that other Southern rock anthems (i.e. “Melissa” by the Allman Brothers) would keep him home.

My parents played Skynyrd (as most Southerners call them) when I was too young to know what any of the songs meant, and I’d watch them dancing barefoot on the hardwood floors with the night air floating in the open door. My dad would throw his hands in the air and mama’s ass would jiggle, and they’d laugh and remember what it was like before me, before moving to the middle of nowhere, before Reagan.

It wasn’t until I was 14, however, that I heard the song for the first time. I mean HEARD it, not just listened to it. I was on a Greyhound bus riding through Louisiana, and watching the swamps fly past. I felt for the first time that I was bigger than my hometown, and that one day I would be on my own.

In high school, my standard method of breaking up was to play “Free Bird” — sweetly I would laugh on the ride home, I would smile and suggest the song, I would step out of the car and say goodbye. The boy would never know why I didn’t return his calls.

And in college, I learned that “Free Bird” was also the cry of drunk rednecks on a Saturday night. I’ve seen bands both play the song and ignore the calls (and I have been IN a band who chose to heed the call). It’s a song that you can lose yourself in, that you can let wash all over you. You can stomp your feet and scream and no one will hear you. If anyone hears you, they won’t care. It reminds you that even through all the day-to-day shit you deal with, that there’s a person inside who still isn’t dead yet.

For me that person is still a little girl, laughing and stomping her feet, watching her parents dance.

The call of “Free Bird” from the drunk assholes at the bar is a way (albeit a completely ignorant, misguided, and fuckin’ annoying way) to reconnect with the person inside. If you read my father’s remarks, you will see that the cry has indeed morphed into a bastardized version of what it once was.

My dad’s email:

Hi Em,

The article was interesting, especially from the point of view that people your age have only secondary material to work with when interpreting what for many of us is the immediate past.

The “Free Bird” request thing is something that Van Zant did all the time. Typically, he called for “What do ya wanta hear??” when both he and the crowd were drunk enough to enjoy the elemental pull of the guitar lines.

That the whole song was a rebellious statement against uppity yuppy crap and for personal freedom was not lost on the fans. The whole country was into southern rock in the seventies, so it was not a regional thing, and it did not start at the Fox.

Still fighting taxes and trash, pretty much in that order.


Be sure to read the original article, and let us know what “Freebird” means to you!

18 thoughts on “Freebird: One More From the Road”

  1. Hey people – it’s just a SONG for chris’sakes.

    It’s very cool that “Free Bird” has some special memories for Emily and her dad. But to say (as Emily does) that: “The call of “Free Bird” from the drunk assholes at the bar is a way (albeit a completely ignorant, misguided, and fuckin’ annoying way) to reconnect with the person inside” is a stretch. The reason people holler it out at shows — any show — is because they think it’s funny; they think THEY’re funny; and they want to be the center of attention — for a brief second anyway — rather than the band on stage who’s, well, supposed to be the center of attention.

    And to answer the original article’s question: “And why do some dopes still call for it from bands who have no business covering Southern Rock? Does anyone really expect indie rockers to bust out some Steve Gaines licks?” — it’s because A) it’s easier to yell FREE BIRD than it is to yell STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN and B) there’s more surface-level humor (in America) in taking a stab at southern culture, dude, than at some English pseudo-bluesmen fops.

    Perhaps we should all put FREE BIRD to bed. Next time you’re at a show, shout out WHEN DOVES CRY!.

  2. About a year ago I went to see Hot Tuna (Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady from the Jefferson Airplane playing acoustic country blues). About half way through their set people in the audience started shouting requests which they seemed mroe than happy to play. After playing 2 or 3 requets someone finally shouted out Free Bird. Jorma leaned over and said said “OK Jack, give it to ’em.” Jack Cassady then proceeded to proudly give the finger to the audience. That cracks me up everytime I think about it.

  3. The other thing I often hear shouted at shows, usually small venues like pubs, is “You Suck!”

    Where did “You Suck” get its start? Probably in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

    Peace Out

  4. Yeah, “you suck,” joke or not, is just a mean thing to say.

    I was at a show not too long ago where an audience member yelled “That’s gay!”

    The singer just replied, “What do you mean?”

  5. Being from the south, I really can connect to Skynyrd’s music. I get the feeling that to most people outside the south, the band, and free bird, are just a tired cliche’…a joke.

    One of the reasons I 1st started listening the drive by truckers years ago was that they understood the skynyrd thing and it’s place in the american musical canon.

    And I still think it’s funny to hear someone drunkenly yell out free bird at especialy innapropriate times at shows.

  6. i was born in the south too, and i also laugh when i hear the drunk guy at the bar yell “play some skynard”. but does anyone remember the beavis and butthead episode where butthead is dreaming about being a rock star. classic

  7. I’m not from the south, but I still like Skynyrd. I admit I don’t listen to it much, but in junior high and high school, I listened a lot.

  8. If drunk and given to yelling, I usually yell “Take it off!” Doesn’t have to be a female — in fact, it’s better if it’s not. If I yelled “take it off” at Sleater-Kinney, I’d look like a pig. But to yell it at Tortoise… well, it’s confounding more than anything. I like that about it.

  9. Strange phenomena, I know I’ve heard Free-Bird when I was younger, but my wife and I were cruising and somehow riding a bus in Mexico to some trip to see ruins. It was murderously hot and muggy outside and raining. I was listening to my mp3 and Freebird live came on. I was over 50 and was suprised that my wife, sitting next to me had to get my attention as I was moving ususually in the bus seat. I finished the song and let her listen next. Maybe it was the mood or who know, but it’s as if I’d heard it the first time and she claimied the same. It’s since become a staple in our listening, especially when we run, you can always tell who has had Freebird come on their player, because you move uncontrollably away with the song. It’s a wonder one of us hasn’t had a heart attack. Our 5 year old grandson will yell out FREEBIRD when he gets bored driving with us. When we hear a group playing that has a potential of being able to play Freebird, we’ll yell it out, not to be pissy or anything, but to hear a song we’d like to hear.

    The church choir has learned to ignore us.

    We have Guitar Hero and now can struggle with Freebird anonther way, so maybe we’ll learn why all our requests have been unanswered.

  10. I’ve lived in the South all my life. Rather than “Freebird”, we (me and my social group, I can’t speak for 100 million people) are much more likely to call out to a cover band, “Play sum Skynyrd!”

    It is often said with an exaggerated accent to be taken as a joke, but any cover band in the South can indeed play some Skynyrd. If the band takes you up on it and breaks into Sweet Home Alabama, Simple Man, or Freebird, everybody is happy.

    Maybe not the band, but if their musical sensibilities are more important than entertaining the audience, they’re in the wrong profession (or at least wrong venue).

    I can’t explain it at a concert performance though. It seems to mock the performer. If that’s your thing, more power to you, but it comes off as rude unless the atmosphere seems appropriate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *