Sunday 28 May 2017

Lynyrd Skynyrd teacher who inspired band name dies

Lynyrd Skynyrd performing at the 2006 CMA Music Festival. Photo: Getty Images
Lynyrd Skynyrd performing at the 2006 CMA Music Festival. Photo: Getty Images

Alastair Jamieson

Leonard Skinner, the school basketball coach who inspired the name of Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd after telling its members their hair was too long, has died aged 77.

Mr Skinner died in his sleep at the St. Catherine Laboure Manor in Jacksonville, Florida, where he had been living for about a year. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's.

He was a PE teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville in the late 1960s when he sent a group of students to the principal's office because their hair was too long. they were suspended and told to get their hair cut.

Those students later formed a band under Mr Skinner's name, but with a spelling that gave a nod to Southern pronunciation.

The band became popular in the mid-1970s, with hits such as Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird. Three of the band members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, were killed in a 1977 plane crash. The band regrouped and continues to perform.

Mr Skinner's surviving children said their father was never completely comfortable with being linked to the band but did grow to embrace it.

"He made a lot of new friends," his daughter, Susie Moore said. "That in itself really brought a lot of wonderful people in our family's lives, simply because they were Lynyrd Skynyrd fans, and they wanted to meet Dad. They loved him. They're part of our extended family now."

In a 1996 interview, Mr Skinner said of the band's backhanded tribute: "I just went along with the flow. There was not a much I could do about it."

He later changed jobs, becoming a property salesman. He gave the band permission to use a photo of his 'Leonard Skinner Realty' sign for the inside of their third album, Nuthin' Fancy, in 1975.

The band played up its image as redneck outsiders, with Mr Skinner depicted as its brutish nemesis but in reality it was only the school's principal who had the power to suspend pupils with long hair.

"I don't like to consider myself an evil guy and I don't think I was," Mr Skinner said.

The band's keyboard player Billy Powell, who was seriously injured in the 1977 plane crash, died in January 2009.

Telegraph.co.uk

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