While the rest of the world was listening to Ronnie VanZant of Lynyrd Skynyrd or his brother Donnie VanZant of 38 Special, a third brother, also extremely talented, was waiting in the wings. Maybe it is coincidence that three of the most talented singers and songwriters of the era have rhyming names; maybe not. But the fact remains that Ronnie, Donnie, and Johnny VanZant are all three extremely talented individuals. Johnny watched the success of his brothers and determined to follow in their footsteps.
Maybe it is coincidence that three of the most talented singers and songwriters of the era have rhyming names; maybe not. But the fact remains that Ronnie, Donnie, and Johnny VanZant are all three extremely talented individuals. Johnny watched the success of his brothers and determined to follow in their footsteps.
In 1980, Johnny burst onto the music scene with the release of No More Dirty Deals, a hard driving, Southern Rock album. Johnny had assembled another unique array of talent in the form of Robbie Gay and Eric Lief Lundgren on guitar, Danny Clausman on bass guitar, and Robbie Morris on drums and percussion. It was an amazing demonstration of talent, but the world took only minor notice. Southern Rock was being dominated by 38 Special, Molly Hatchet, and the Lynyrd Skynyrd spin-off bands.
Round Two, released in 1981, was another amazing display of talent. Compared to his brothers, Johnny's music was harder rock, with a harder beat. Yet he himself was definitely a VanZant. His heartfelt lyrical style was still reminiscient of his brothers, and his talent for songwriting was nothing short of inspired.
1982 saw the release of Last Of The Wild Ones. Johnny's musical style was maturing, now and his songs were smoother, yet his style did not change. He was still the same Johnny VanZant, had the same talent, but now he was more confident. He had two albums under his belt, and while they were not as well-known as his brothers', he had proved to the world that he was every bit as good as they were.
Last Of The Wild Ones would be the last record produced by the Johnny VanZant Band for a while. But Johnny's career was far, far from over. In 1987, at the urging of Ronnie's log-time friend Charlie Daniels, a tribute was planned for the tenth anniversary of the fatal plane crash that had killed Ronnie and devastated the band. Lynyrd Skynyrd would re-form for this memorial event. But one question remained - who could possibly fill the shoes of the late, great Ronnie VanZant? They had tried Dale Krantz-Rossington, and each of the members had tried forming their own band, each with little success.
Well, if you haven't guessed by now, the only possible answer was Johnny VanZant. For the first time since 1977, there was a lead vocalist of the VanZant caliber holding the reins. And the fans knew it. Johnny VanZant was not Ronnie, nor did he want to be. He was different, but he had the style and the ability to once again lead Lynyrd Skynyrd the way his brother once had.
The event was scheduled to be for one night. Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson, Gary Rossington, and Artimus Pyle, the remaining original members, reassembled with Johnny. Replacing Allen Collins, injured earlier in a car crash and now a paraplegic, was Randall Hall, hand picked by Collins to take his place. To replace Steve Gaines, also killed in the 1977 plane crash, was Ed King, one of the original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd. They played. And played. And the fans listened, waiting to hear not a re-formed band, but the true Skynyrd sound they knew so well.
They heard it. One night was not enough. The event was stretched out to one week. Still not enough. Before all was said and done, it turned into a full-length tour. Lynyrd Skynyrd was back, and this time, Johnny Van Zant was leading the stage.
But the Johnny VanZant band was not through yet. While the new Skynyrd band was getting ready for their comeback, Brickyard Road was released in 1990. The band had changed slightly since their last recording eight years earlier. Danny Clausman was replaced on bass by Jim Wheat, and Robbie Gay's position on guitars was filled by Robert Paul. The title track, while not specifically dedicated to him on paper, was an obvious dedication to Ronnie VanZant. His daughter Melody VanZant, now grown up, is mentioned as Johnny speaks to him through the music. A touching tribute, perhaps the most moving one ever, with the possible exception of Charlie Daniels' "Reflections".
In 1994, The Johnny VanZant Band released their final album. The Johnny VanZant Collection was a compilation of their greatest hits. For a band that had only produced four albums, the very fact that there was enough material to warrant a greatest hits release is in itself amazing. But this release is packed with true Southern Rock at it's best and brightest. A fitting tribute to a phenomenally talented band.
Johnny VanZant's career continues with Lynyrd Skynyrd. No doubt his name will go down in history as one of their two great lead vocalists. But let's all hope that, beside this one accomplishment, history also remembers the Johnny VanZant Band.