Sixteen years after a group of country music's "Skynyrd Frynds" paid tribute to Southern rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd, another batch of artists is doing the same.
Randy Houser, Jamey Johnson, Eric Church and Uncle Kracker are among those who have recorded tracks for "Sweet Home Alabama -- The Country Music Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd," which comes out July 20 exclusively at Wal-Mart. Produced primarily by Jay Joyce (Church, Miranda Lambert, Leann Rimes, Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights), the eight-track collection mixes an assortment of Skynyrd classics -- "Simple Man" by Houser, "Gimme Three Steps" by the Eli Young Band, "Call Me the Breeze" by Shooter Jennings, "Tuesday's Gone" by Randy Montana and "Sweet Home Alabama" by Joyce protege Ashley Ray -- with more obscure cuts such as "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" (Church), "Four Walls of Raiford" (Johnson) and "All I Can Do Is Write About It" by Uncle Kracker.
"It's all these young country bucks doing Skynyrd songs, which is pretty cool to us," Skynyrd frontman Johnny Van Zant tells Billboard.com. "It gives me great pleasure, because they're doing older stuff...my brother (Ronnie Van Zant) wrote while he was still alive. People still love that stuff. They did what he did. He was a poet for the common people, and it's always great when other people are interested enough to re-do the songs."
Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington, the group's soul surviving founding member, executive-produced the 1994 "Skynyrd Frynds" album, which featured covers by artists such as Alabama, Travis Tritt, Steve Earle, the Mavericks, Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams, Jr., and Wynonna, who handled "Free Bird." That album peaked at No. 8 on the Top Country Albums chart and No. 56 on the Billboard 200, while Alabama's version of "Sweet Home Alabama" reached No. 75 on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
Skynyrd had no involvement in "Sweet Home Alabama," which Joyce recorded mostly in Nashville with a house band. Jennings recorded and co-produced his track, partly in Billings, Mont., while Johnson performed "Four Walls of Raiford" accompanied only by Cowboy Eddie Long on dobro.
Skynyrd is currently on a summer tour that lasts until Sept. 3, mostly with Bret Michaels and .38 Special. The group releases "Live From Freedom Hall," recorded at a 2007 concert in Louisville, Ky., on June 22, and Van Zant says Skynyrd is hoping for a quick follow-up to last year's studio set, "God & Guns."
"We're always writing," he explains, "and there's some (songs) that we've recorded that we've never put out, too. We could sit back and play the old stuff and make money, but for us as artists, hell, we've got to be creative, too. Lynyrd Skynyrd has always been about writing songs and talking to people through them. That's what we do, and that's what we'll keep doing for as long as we can."
The full track listing for "Sweet Home Alabama -- The Country Music Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd" includes:
"The Ballad Of Curtis Loew," Eric Church
"Simple Man," Randy Houser
"All I Can Do Is Write About It," Uncle Kracker
"Call Me The Breeze," Shooter Jennings
"Four Walls Of Raiford," Jamey Johnson
"Tuesday's Gone," Randy Montana
"Gimme Three Steps," the Eli Young Band
"Sweet Home Alabama, Ashley Ray