Ronnie Van Zant was an important member of Lynyrd Skynyrd with his contributions — he was the primary lyricist, lead vocalist, and founding member of the band. He had been enjoying great success with Lynyrd Skynyrd, especially in the 1970s when they were at the peak of their career. The band helped popularize the Southern rock genre with numerous hits, the most successful ones being ‘Free Bird’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’
However, Ronnie couldn’t enjoy Lynyrd Skynyrd’s popularity for long. The horrific plane crash in 1977, which resulted in the deaths of Ronnie, Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines, changed everything for the band. They didn’t want to continue after this tragedy and decided to go on an indefinite hiatus. Ten years later, they returned with Ronnie’s brother Johnny Van Zant as lead vocalist. Since then, Johnny has sung the songs his brother used to sing, but it’s no doubt that it sometimes gets a bit difficult.
Johnny admired what Ronnie did for Lynyrd Skynyrd since the beginning: he appreciated his brother’s songwriting talent and felt proud about continuing his legacy throughout the years. As a musician himself, Johnny had a dream many might have guessed: to perform a duet with Ronnie. Sadly, this ended up being impossible after the tragic plane crash. However, the singer found a clever way around it and used Ronnie’s pre-recorded vocals from 1976 to rerecord ‘Travelin’ Man.’
‘Travelin’ Man’ originally appeared on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1976 live album ‘One More From The Road,’ but the band hadn’t gotten in the studio to record it as a song. Although the track didn’t make it to an album, it remained an essential part of the band’s setlist during live shows until the plane crash.
Years later, guitarist Ricky Medlocke came across ‘The Beatles Anthology,’ where he saw that the band used John Lennon’s vocals and piano tracks from the 1980 demo tape to complete their song ‘Free As A Bird.’ This made him realize they could do the same with Ronnie’s vocals.
Ricky approached Johnny with the idea, saying that ‘Travelin’ Man’ deserves a proper studio recording. As Johnny always dreamed of doing a duet with Ronnie, he accepted Medlocke’s offer to use his brother’s vocals from ‘One More From The Road’ to record the song. According to their plan, Johnny would sing parts between Ronnie’s vocals.
“I thought Johnny was either going to punch or hug me when I suggested the idea,” Ricky Medlocke said in a 1997 interview, revealing he had doubts about how Johnny would react to his suggestion. “By the fact that it’s on the album, you can see which one he chose.”
Following the recordings, ‘Travelin’ Man’ ended up in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1997 album ‘Twenty.’ During live shows, Johnny Van Zant sang his parts while his brother appeared on the screen beside him, singing his own vocals perfectly in sync. So, it’s safe to say that Johnny’s dreams finally came true with ‘Travelin’ Man.’