classic rock bassist

SWEET HOME ALABAMA BASS LESSON

classic rock bassist

“Sweet Home Alabama” has one of the most famous intros of any rock song.  Could you name it in four notes or less?

For me, I can’t help but feel good when I listen to it. People love to sing along and it’s so well-known you should incorporate it into your repertoire.

SONG HISTORY

First a little trivia about the band name, LYNYRD SKYNRD.

The band chose this name when recalling their high school gym teacher, Leonard Skinner. Apparently, he didn’t like long hair and sent one of the band members to the principal’s office. I read that later on he said he wasn't really mad at them but he was just doing his job and long hair was against school policy.

Sweet Home Alabama was released in 1974 on their “Second Helping” album.

Gary Rossington came up with the famous lick and finished the music with Ed King and Ronnie Van Zant wrote the lyrics.  None of these three guys were from Alabama.

The song was a response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and “Alabama” and Ronnie wanted to show how the real Alabama is.  Neil Young later said he didn’t like his lyrics and didn’t think they were fully thought out.

WHO PLAYED THE BASS?

The bass was played by one of my favorite bassists, Leon Wilkeson. Nicknamed the “Mad Hatter” because of the hats he’d wear on stage.

Many of my favorite basslines were created by Leon.  Like “Gimme Three Steps” and “I Know A Little”. 

classic rock bassist

Leon was a huge Beatles fan and took up the bass because of Paul McCartney. He also loved the lead bass styles of Jack Bruce, John Paul Jones, Jack Casady, Phil Lesh and Berry Oakley.

You can hear the Paul McCartney influence in his melodic lines.

In 1977, the band was in a terrible plane crash in Mississippi and three members died. Leon survived after being thrown face first into the plane’s bulkhead. He suffered a broken leg and arm, six broken ribs, a punctured lung, broken jaw, a broken face, and he lost most of his teeth. His left arm never fully recovered and he had to play with his bass nearly vertical.

Amazingly, he also survived having his throat slashed in a mysterious attack on a tour bus.

Leon died in 2001 at the age of 49 from liver and lung disease.

HOW TO PLAY IT

Much of the verse bassline is pretty simple. The chorus starts with a famous lick that is doubled by the bass.  The first solo is mainly the verse bassline, but the second and third solos are busier.

It’s wonderful that a lead bass player can fit in so well with three guitars and not sound like they are stepping all over each other. That is the genius of Leon.

Enjoy learning to play this song.

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