Jacksonville’s historical role in the founding of Southern rock

Jacksonville, Florida. – Their names are world famous: Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, 38 Special, Molly Hatchet.

However, it is not very well known that those bands were among many who together pioneered a new kind of music for nearly 60 years in Jacksonville. As the city celebrates its bicentennial, southern rock continues and continues to thrive to this day.

During a recent visit to Friendship Park, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s guitarist Ricky Medlock recalled with News4JAX anchor and reporter Tom Wells about playing drums with the original Lynyrd Skynyrd during the band’s free concerts in the park on Sunday afternoon.

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Tom Wells and Ricky Medlock visit the Friendship Garden. (for WJXT)

The band’s leader, Ronnie Van Zant, sang with the old Gulf Life Building in the background.

Watch: 1977 Documentary “I Need All My Friends”

Ronnie van Zant can be seen signing with the old Gulf Life Building in the background. (for WJXT)

Pat Armstrong, who became Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first manager, first heard the band at a free outdoor concert.

“What I saw was a squad of 2,000 people coming to see them, and the squad had 200 before that, and when they left all of a sudden it went down to 200 again,” Armstrong said. “They, Lynyrd Skynyrd, have a name and a reputation in Jax that must be shared with the rest of the world.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd Party (for WJXT)

The band became world famous, both before and after the tragic Mississippi plane crash in 1977, and reformed in 1987 with Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny as the new lead singer and currently playing concerts across the country.

Related: Lynyrd Skynyrd Monument unveiled in Mississippi | Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash survivors, families and fans pay respects to the site | Rescuers, Mississippi locals behind the memorial at the Lynyrd Skynyrd crash site

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Scene of the 1977 Mississippi plane crash (for WJXT)
Johnny Van Zant (for WJXT)
Donnie Van Zant (for WJXT)

Van Zant’s middle brother, Donnie, also became a rock star with his southern rock band, 38 Special.

The Westside home where the three grew up is now preserved. It’s an Airbnb with a historic sign along Woodcrest Road.

Previous story: Historic sign placed in the childhood home of Lynyrd Skynyrd

The Westside house where Ronnie, Johnny and Donny Van Zant grew up is now preserved. This is an Air B&B with a historic sign along Woodcrest Road. (for WJXT)

Another band with Jacksonville roots, the German Brothers band also has a historic roadside mark. It’s on Riverside Street in front of a house called the Gray House.

Another band with Jacksonville roots, the German Brothers band also has a historic roadside mark. It’s on Riverside Street in front of a house called the Gray House. (for WJXT)

It is said that Duane Allman founded the band after a jam session in the living room.

German duan (for WJXT)

According to Mildred Price, the home’s current owner, Allman’s brother Greg wrote one of the band’s most popular songs in the house.

Greg German (for WJXT)

“Whipping Post, he didn’t have anything to write with, so he lit matches and used charcoal on the ironing board to write ‘Whipping Post,'” Price said.

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Mildred Price is the current owner of the house called The Gray House. (for WJXT)

The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd are just two of the most famous pioneers of a group of bands listed in a book by local author and historian Michael Fitzgerald, “Jacksonville and the Roots of Southern Rock.”

Michael Fitzgerald’s book “Jacksonville and the Roots of Southern Rock” (for WJXT)

They also include Cowboy, Blackfoot, 38 Special, Molly Hatchet, Alias, Johnny Van Zant Band, The Rossington Collins Band, The Allen Collins Band, Derek Trucks and Mofro.

Why Jacksonville?

Tom Wells talking with Michael Fitzgerald. (for WJXT)

“I think one of the main reasons was that this was a blue collar town and these guys didn’t want rudimentary jobs, and they were intent on getting out of this grind and doing something more fun and exciting with their lives,” Fitzgerald said.

“There’s something in the water here,” Medlock joked when asked, “Why Jacksonville?”

However, it also refers to the city’s remarkably rich heritage of African-American blues music, which he and other Southern rock stars listened to growing up.

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The photos show Mississippi John Hurt and Huddie William Ledbetter, better known by stage name Lead Belly. (for WJXT) (for WJXT)

Artists such as Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, and Led Bailey performed at the Ritz Theater that opened in La Villa, a neighborhood in Jacksonville that became known as South Harlem. Some argue that Harlem was the Lavilla of the North.

According to author and historian Ennis Davis, the city’s blues history goes back even further

Tom Wells talks with author and historian Ennis Davis. (for WJXT)

“In 1910, Jacksonville actually became known as the first documented venue where blues music was performed live on a public stage,” Davis said. “If we go back to the 20th century, we had African American artists also performing for white individuals in the city.”

“Music has no color,” Davis added.

Medlock would agree. Music has been his life since he was a child.

He appeared with his grandfather, the Bluegrass star, shortly after Medlocke, on “Country Frolics” directed by Toby Doody when Channel 4 was WMBR-TV in the early 1950s.

Ricky Medlock appeared with his grandfather, the Bluegrass star shortly after Medlock, in Toby Dowdy’s “Country Frolics” when Channel 4 was WMBR-TV in the early 1950s. (for WJXT)

His grandfather taught him to play a mini banjo.

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Ricky Medlock plays the banjo. (for WJXT)

Decades later, he’s still playing.

Ricky Medlock was seen playing guitar. (for WJXT)

As the pioneer of Southern rock with Blackfoot and Lynyrd Skynyrd, he was asked if he thought of all his fellow pioneers who are now gone.

“Yes, I miss them,” he said. “Do I think of them every night, every night of my life I stand on that stage and play the guitar? Yes, I think of them.”

“And hopefully when I see them again one day when I get there, I hope I don’t get punched in the face because I didn’t do a good job,” he continued, laughing. “I hope to get a handshake and a hug, you know what I mean, but I’ve always been willing to take my licks, I’m fine, I’m from the West Side.”

Ricky Medlock laughs. (for WJXT)

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