The Story Behind The Song: Saturday Night Special by Lynyrd Skynyrd
It was the anti-gun tirade that belied the southern rock kingpins’ pistol-packin’ image. Except things weren’t quite that black and white.
In art, as in life, some things are not always what they seem. So it is with the song that gave Lynyrd Skynyrd a US Top 30 hit in 1975.
The song in question has always been perceived as an anti-gun protest song. Actually it’s more complicated, more nuanced than that.
Saturday Night Special was a protest song with a caveat. In the words written and sung by Ronnie Van Zant, the leading figure in the band’s first great era, there was a question that went to the heart of America’s gun culture: ‘Why don’t we dump ’em, people, to the bottom of the sea?’ But the truth was that Ronnie Van Zant was no anti-gun campaigner.
On the contrary, at the time when he wrote the song he owned a .22 calibre pistol. He used it when hunting for rabbits and squirrels in the woods around the band’s home town of Jacksonville, Florida. What Ronnie was advocating in the song was greater control of illegal handguns – specifically a type of gun that was freely available on the black market in 1970s America, and could be bought for as little as 20 dollars; a gun commonly known as a Saturday Night Special. As Ronnie stated in the song’s chorus: ‘Mister Saturday Night Special, got a barrel that’s blue and cold/Ain’t good for nothin’, but put a man six feet in the hole.’
GIVE ME BACK MY BULLETS
In 2015, the issue of gun control has once again been debated across the US in the wake of shooting tragedies in** **Oregon and Tennessee. For Gary Rossington and Johnny Van Zant, like many Americans, the subject of gun control is a complex issue.
“I’ve got guns myself,” Van Zant says. “I live in the swamps of Florida, there are water moccasins and rattlesnakes around, and I want to kill those things if they’re on my land. And if somebody breaks into your home at four in the morning, you want to be able to protect your family. So I own a Winchester rifle, and I’m not giving that up, you know?
“But what’s going on in America with all these shootings is so terrible. Believe me, I have kids and grandkids, so I worry about it every day. The bottom line is I would like to see more rules on owning guns. People could still get them underground, man. But you gotta start somewhere.”