This song is based on a true story. As Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington tells it, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, who was about 18 at the time, used a fake ID to get in a bar while his younger bandmates Rossington and Allen Collins waited for him in a truck. Van Zant danced with a girl named Linda, whose boyfriend, who was not too happy about it, came up to Ronnie and reached for something in his boot. Figuring he was going for a gun, Van Zant told him: "If you're going to shoot me it's going to be in the ass or the elbows... just gimme a few steps and I'll be gone." He ran to the truck, and he, Rossington, and Collins wrote this song that night.
According to the Freebird Foundation, run by Van Zant's widow Judy Van Zant Jenness, the events of the song took place at a bar called The Little Brown Jug, located on Edison Avenue in Jacksonville, Florida, where the band is from. This explains the lyrics, "I was cuttin' the rug, down at a place called The Jug," which is where Ronnie ran into an angry local man with a gun.
The pace of the chorus is fast, to signify Van Zant running away from the guy he thought was going to shoot him.
This made the cut for Skynyrd's first album. Their producer, Al Kooper
, had them play all their original songs, and out of the 14 they had, picked nine to record for the album.
This was one of the few songs Skynyrd released as a single. It was their first major-label release, and it didn't chart.
The band's name was a mocking tribute to Leonard Skinner, a physical-education teacher at Robert E. Lee High School, who was notorious for strictly enforcing the school's policy against boys having long hair. Despite their high school acrimony, the band developed a friendlier relationship with Skinner in later years, and invited him to introduce them at a concert in the Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum.
Interviewed by the Florida Times Union in January 2009, Skinner said he was just following the rules about hair length. It bothered him that the legend had grown that he was particularly tough on the band members. In fact, he didn't even remember them when they were in high school. He said, "It was against the school rules. I don't particularly like long hair on men, but again, it wasn't my rule."
Though he hasn't been shy of the attention he received because of his name, Skinner never really warmed up to the group's music. "No," he said when asked if he liked their tunes. "I don't. I don't like rock 'n' roll music."
On September 20, 2010, Skinner died at a nursing home in Jacksonville, at age 77 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for several years.