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Reconsidering Lynyrd Skynyrd: Live at Knebworth, England 1976, Blu-ray

I see now where I screwed up as a mid-1970s teenager in my appreciation for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Then, “Southern Rock” was almost as big as Prog Rock and Disco (maybe even bigger depending on who you talk to). The kings of the genre were The Allman Brothers Band, and The Marshall Tucker band came up quickly in the ranks as a very popular number two, both prototypes for what later got labeled as “jam bands” in the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

I like both of those bands a real lot, and grew up with them because one of my older brothers was into them, I will admit.

But then this band called Lynyrd Skynyrd happened and everybody was saying that they were the best “Southern Rock” band. Clutching my cherished copy of The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East, I bristled and ignored Skynyrd as much as a teenager could at the time — which means that even if you didn’t own the albums you heard their music everywhere on the radio, at parties, even as walk-in music at other concerts.  

Skynyrd was huge!

Of course, after the tragic plane crash just as they were beginning their ascent to superstardom, I never had an opportunity to give them a second chance, to see them live in concert, to really find out what they were all about. 

None the less, Skynyrd’s hits have set up shop in the back of my mind and in recent years I’ve actually picked up a bunch of their albums. I now appreciate them for what they were: a really solid rock ‘n’ roll band, not really a so-called “Southern Rock” band.

This is never more in evidence than on the great new Blu-ray disc that is coming out soon from Eagle rock entertainment: Lynyrd Skynyrd Live at Knebworth ’76.  

The Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band’s brand of Southern Rock was a heady brew of jazz-inspired country-fried blues rock with a major emphasis on improvisation over long jams. 

Lynyrd Skynyrd is pretty much a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll boogie band (albeit a really tight one!).  They were a big band delivering a rich-but-rootsy wall of classic rock sound — drums, bass and keyboards plus three guitarists and matching backing vocals on stage. Their power is palpable, no doubt. They were a very very tight live band. 

There’s not a lot of slide guitar playing, nor a lot of deep blues and there’s almost no improvisation going on — the solos are great but clearly well crafted and mapped out.

In this fine concert video, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant looks at times a bit unsure of how to handle the giant stage and the massive audience there at the Knebworth Festival, grabbing the microphone stand in awkward rock star poses. But any of his uneasiness is made up for with a strong vocal delivery and — again — the three guitar assault which was a force to be reckoned with.

The other bedrock of this band is the drummer Artemus Pyle who really kick some serious booty driving the sound of this group. 

These guys were tight and well scripted. They knew all their licks, hooks and riffs — so there’s no room for anybody to drop out in creating their big sound. 

The audio on this Blu-ray Disc is generally excellent, presented at 48 kHz and 24-bits in DTS HD Master Audio surround sound. The 5.1 mix is perfectly acceptable for a live concert experience like this with a good sense of ambience and crowd feel. Not surprisingly, most of the music is centered up front and center with a nice stereo separation.

After watching  Lynyrd Skynyrd Live at Knebworth ’76, more than ever I see this group as more of an Americana roots rock band not unlike Northern California’s Creedence Clearwater Revival by way of English groups like Foghat, Savoy Brown, Ten Years After and maybe even Humble Pie. 

They knew how to write some good tunes and they knew how to rock.

There are some exceptions. On Jimmy Rodgers’ “T For Texas” they fall into an Allman’s sound as the song (and arrangement) is very much like “One Way Out.” As soon as the slide guitar kicks in, Van Zant delivers a remarkable Greg Allman-esque performance.  

“Free Bird” of course is another song featuring the slide guitar and it was later dedicated to Duane Allman and Allman’s original bassist Berry Oakley (both of whom were killed in separate motorcycle accidents about one year apart in the early 1970s).

It’s really interesting watching the very English crowd embracing all this American essence of the period — it could have been a festival stage in the U.S.

The video quality on Lynyrd Skynyrd Live at Knebworth ’76 is excellent for a live recording made in 1976. This looks like it was captured on early video tape, so the resolution is what it is —all things considered, even on my trusty old 1080p Panasonic plasma TV it looks pretty darn great. If you’re playing it on a 4K TV it may look a bit more fuzzy (upscaling may help). 

Anyhow, if you are a deep Skynyrd fan, you’ll probably want Lynyrd Skynyrd Live at Knebworth ’76 as it is nice and reasonably priced package. The CD is great too for those times when you just want to hear the music. It also includes a relatively recent documentary film If I Leave Here Tomorrow which I have not had a chance to watch yet as of this writing (but plan to soon!).

Lynyrd Skynyrd Live at Knebworth ’76 is about as close as many of us will get to understanding what this great band was like live in concert.  Worth checking out.

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