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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Play Freebird! Did a Heckle Actually Originate in Wapella?

The Chicago Tribune has a long-winded and typically screechy article dissecting Lynyrd Skynyrd's rock anthem "Freebird" with particular attention to the yell "Play Freebird" and its use at concerts to distract the performers.

I'll give the Trib a C+ for at least starting the conversation, but the thought that "Sometime in the late '80s" a talk radio caller originated the practice of yelling "Freebird" as an absurd request at a musical concert (Florence Henderson, in the caller case) is about 10 years too late.

Lynyrd Skynyrd made quite a bit of their act as a rebel band, playing country-rock with a hard edge while the Eagles were drifting away and Neil Young was at his most grating. Skynyrd were no slaves to fashion, and stuck with their act till many of the band were killed in a tragic plane wreck in 1977.

By all memory Skynyrd was a band of great cheer and loved to boogie, and could joyfully take a joke and dish another one out. So when some of their legion of fans in Hog City would shout "Play Freebird" (generally led by Tom Mollett during halftime performances at away basketball games) there was both a enjoyment of Skynyrd and a good natured desire to throw the performers off their game. A taunt? Sure, but one that only made sense if you were a Lynyrd Skynrd aficionado to begin with (and I'll take odd that the stage band at Deland Weldon etc were all Skynyrd fans). Did it do any good? Nah, just tormented the band for a bit, till the athletic roster had to get back on the basketball court doing their double duties, but still lit it up a bit on an otherwise quiet road trip.

A quote from an overwrought performer (Patterson Hood, leader of the otherwise pretty good Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers) in the Trib "To be truthful, it didn't even occur to me there might be irony in 'Freebird' until I moved from my small town to a city."

What? Do you really think that people in small towns don't develop a quirk here and there to keep the comedy going when things get slow? Then you must never have played in the Kickapoo conference when the Wapella Wildcats were in town.

Here Lynyrd Skynyrd (pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd) doing what they did best. Play Freebird.


sempleman said...

There is a big discussion about this article on the message board for The Bottle Rockets band. Brian Henneman declared Skynyrd his favorite all-time American band and makes a pretty strong case for them being the best all-around American band of all time. Hard to argue. Lots of other people chirping in with their suggestions...Creedence Clearwater Revival holding close at second.

Anonymous said...

Ghost Riders in the Sky is a close second. Hasn't anyone ever been to the Prairielands in Thomasboro?


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Brad said...

Levon Helm claims that somebody shouted "Play freebird!" at the Last Waltz, which was in 1976. That is in his book somewhere, but I don't have it handy, so I cant cite.

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