Shortly after Ronnie Van Zant's grandmother and Gary Rossington's mother died, they got together in Van Zant's apartment and started telling stories about them. Rossington came up with a chord progression, and Van Zant wrote the lyrics based on advice the women had given them over the years. They wrote it in about an hour.
"We just put down in a song what our mama or grandma had said to us," Rossington told Paul Ingles. "They really wrote it, we just played it."
"Simple Man" epitomized Ronnie Van Zant, who enjoyed friends, family, and a good time far more than anything money could buy. He held true to these values even after he found fame.
Van Zant died in the 1977 plane crash
that also claimed the lives of Skynyrd guitarist Steve Gaines and backup singer Cassie Gaines (brother and sister). When the band reunited and toured in 1987, they dedicated this song to him.
Even though the lyrics state, "Sit beside me, my only son," Ronnie was not the only son. He had two younger brothers along with one older sister and one younger sister. Those younger brothers are Donnie, who formed and fronted .38 Special; and Johnny, who took over as Skynyrd frontman after Ronnie's death.
Skynyrd producer Al Kooper didn't like the way this was coming out, so the band recorded it without him and had him add his organ part later. He didn't think they should release it, but realized he was wrong when it went over so well with their fans.
"Simple Man" is part of the band's first album, which came with a helpful pronunciation guide as a title: Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd
. Like many Lynyrd Skynyrd classics, the song wasn't released as a single so it didn't chart. Skynyrd fans tended to buy the albums; Pronounced
also got you the album cuts "Tuesday's Gone
" and "Things Goin' On
" in addition to the big hit, "Free Bird
Popular covers of "Simple Man" include an acoustic version by the metal band Shinedown in 2003, and a 2005 version by Deftones for their B-Sides And Rarities album.
The only version of the song to reach the Hot 100 was by Sawyer Fredericks, who performed on the April 27, 2015 episode of The Voice. The following week his rendition debuted at #71 on the chart.
Movies to use this song include:
Almost Famous (2000)
Beer League (2006)
The Kitchen (2019)
TV shows to use it include:
The Sopranos ("Cold Stones" - 2006)
Cold Case ("Jackals" - 2009)
Supernatural ("Free to Be You and Me" - 2009)
Californication ("Raw" - 2012)
Frontman Johnny Van Zant discussed this song in a track-by-track commentary to promote the band's 2010 CD/DVD Live From Freedom Hall. He said: "Well that's a great song and something that I think we all live by. I think anybody out there needs to respect their mother, and the words of their mother. It's mama talking to you in that song and I think it's probably one of my favorite's if not my favorite to do live. It's just a great song and that one stays in the set and the crowd always goes crazy on that one."