High school gym teacher who inspired Lynyrd Skynyrd’s name dies



I used to be a huge Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. Back in ’77, just before the crash, when you could still buy the soon-to-be-banned version of Street Survivors with doomed guitarist Steve Gaines’s head on fire, they ruled my turntable. I mean seriously ruled it.

I don’t care much for the current Skynyrd though. In fact, their latest album stinks. But my hipster coworkers in the Straight‘s editorial department still jump at the chance to rag me about my former fondness for “Skinyard Reetard” or whatever funny-sounding name they choose to taunt me with in e-mails.

These Pitchfork-reading intelligenerates despise Skynyrd because they think they’re racist rednecks. Hey, just because the Skynyrd members went to Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida doesn’t mean they’re bad people.

Once when I was interviewing post-crash Skynyrd guitarist Rickey Medlocke I asked him about the whole Confederate flag-waving aspect of the band, and he balked. He said it was more something the band’s management encouraged for image sake early on, and explained that his father was a full Dakota, Sioux Indian and his mother was half Choctaw and half Scottish. Would real racist rednecks invite a person of Native ancestry into their lives?

Okay, case closed. Lynyrd Skynyrd aren’t racists. They just come from the south, are proud of their heritage, and don’t need Neil Young around anyhow.

How did I get on this crazy Skynyrd rant anyway?

Oh yeah. Leonard Skinner died yesterday at the age of 77 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years. He was the coach and gym teacher who used to send certain future members of Lynyrd Skynyrd to the principal’s office because their hair was longer than the school’s long-hair policy dictated. With all due respect, maybe he was the redneck then.

“Coach Skinner had such a profound impact on our youth that ultimately led us to naming the band, which you know as Lynyrd Skynyrd, after him,” wrote founding guitarist Gary Rossington on the band’s website today. “Looking back, I cannot imagine it any other way. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”

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