Many music lovers have considered Lynyrd Skynyrd a guiding light through tough times, a friend with open arms when there's no place else to turn for comfort. Shinedown think of the Southern rock legends as more like family. In fact, if Ronnie Van Zant were alive today, Shinedown guitarist Jasin Todd's 3-year-old daughter would call him Gramps.
The rocker is engaged to Van Zant's daughter, Melody, and the two will marry in October. That explains why Skynyrd helped Todd and singer Brent Smith find musicians when they were working on the demos for their debut album, which was recorded at Made in the Shade, a studio owned by Ronnie's widow, Judy Van Zant. Smith even stayed in Judy's guest house during the recording of what became Shinedown's Leave a Whisper.
Now that Shinedown are making a roar at rock radio with their single "45," the group hopes to pay tribute to the Van Zant family by releasing the Skynyrd song "Simple Man" as the next single. "It's my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd song," Smith said. "From the first moment I heard it, I thought it would be good to do as a rendition. I felt like we do the song justice, and it represents us as a band and what we're about."
Shinedown played the song for the first time early this year at Judy Van Zant's Freebird Cafe as a nod to the owner for all the help they'd received. It sounded so good that they played it live on the air at WAAF-FM in Boston about a month later. Soon after, the song wound up on the Net, where it's been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, according to Smith. "We felt the rest of the country might want to hear it," he said, "so me and Jason went to a studio in Orlando and recorded it acoustic."
They also recorded acoustic versions of "45" and "Burning Bright," which may be released along with "Simple Man" later this year. If "Simple Man" is not released as the band's next single, the album track "Burning Bright" likely will be, a record company spokesperson said. "That's a song about triumph in the darkest moments of your life," Smith explained. "It's just about shining and understanding who you are, and accepting you're not perfect but you have to be yourself. It's just about shining through and making sure you believe in yourself."
The theme of hanging on in the face of adversity is a recurring one for Shinedown, and it echoes throughout the video for "45." The clip was shot last month in Los Angeles by Glenn Bennett (Seether, Trapt) for a mere $50,000.
In the video, Smith sulks in existential pain, then his girlfriend enters and tries to ease his sorrow by being affectionate. He rejects her advances and the couple start fighting. Then she throws a fit, flings a vase at his head and storms out. Throughout the clip, Smith gazes at a closed gun box. The ominous tone is heightened by the chorus "Staring down the barrel of a .45." Even so, Smith insists, the song is one of hope.
"By no means does it glorify suicide," he explained. "That's where the significance of the box comes in. I wanted people to understand that the box is never opened. I might have lost the girl, but at the end of it all I'm still there. Basically I wanted to show the struggle between someone contemplating [ending] their life and staying on earth, and how that struggle can absolutely turn people's lives upside-down."