Long before “Rock’s oldest joke” was an annoying staple at every show, “Free Bird” was just an epic rock song. Today, fans of southern rock giants Lynyrd Skynyrd (and attentive concert-goers) might sneer at even the mention of the famous nine-minute tune, but back in 1977, it was second only to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” in its status as a legendary closing song.
Lynyrd Skynyrd wrapped their show taped on this day (July 2) in typical fashion, with a sprawling, searing rendition of “Free Bird,” which you can watch below. Billy Powell plays a keys solo for the ages, one that’s exclusive to the live version, while Allen Collins takes care of the five-minute guitar part. The band also takes a generous six minutes to play another of their biggest hits, “Sweet Home Alabama,” also below.
This concert, taped at the Oakland Coliseum, was just one from that summer, which would end up being their last run of shows with this lineup. A few months later, in October 1977, the band changed forever after a tragic plane crash killed members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and his sister/backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, marking the end of a decade of groundbreaking success.
The band was later revived and still tours with original member Gary Rossington and Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny. Just last month they played a show in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where “Sweet Home Alabama” is something like a secondary national anthem.
Watch Lynyrd Skynyrd perform “Free Bird” followed by “Sweet Home Alabama” below. Further down, watch an entire concert taped a few weeks later on July 13, 1977.