First recorded (as a demo) by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1970).
Hit version by Lynyrd Skynyrd (US #19 1973 |UK #31 1976).
From the wiki: “‘Free Bird’ was first recorded in 1970 as a demo. Allen Collins’s girlfriend, Kathy, whom he later married, asked him, ‘If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?’ Collins noted the question and it eventually became the opening line of ‘Free Bird’. According to guitarist Gary Rossington, for two years after Collins wrote the initial chords, vocalist Ronnie Van Zant insisted that there were too many chords for him to create a melody in the mistaken belief that the melody needed to change alongside the chords. After Collins played the unused sequence at rehearsal one day, Van Zant asked him to repeat it, then wrote out the melody and lyrics in three or four minutes.
“‘Free Bird’ quickly became a part of Skynyrd’s live set. The guitar solos that finish the song were added in originally to give Van Zant a chance to rest, as the band was playing several sets per night at clubs at the time. Soon after, the band learned piano-playing roadie Billy Powell had written an intro to the song; upon hearing it, they included it as the finishing touch and had him formally join as their keyboardist.
“Following the plane crash in 1977 in which several band members were killed, all the songs played by surviving members were performed as instrumentals beginning with the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam V in 1979. When “Free Bird” came up, a solitary microphone with a single spotlight would be at center stage while the band played the instrumental version. This tradition lasted until 1989, when an almost-rioting audience coerced Rossington to urge Johnny Van Zant to sing the song for the first time – something he had vowed never to do on stage during the Tribute Tour. ‘Free Bird’ is included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and at #193 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2009, ‘Free Bird’ was named the 26th Best Hard Rock Song of All Time by VH1.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Free Bird” (1973):