"But did 'Freebird' truly start with the KevHeads? Longtime Chicago Tribune music writer Greg Kot says he remembers the cry from the early 1980s. He suggests it originated as an in-joke among indie-rock fans 'having their sneer at mainstream classic rock.'
Other music veterans think it dates back to 1970s audiences' shouts for it and other guitar sagas, such as 'Whipping Post,' by the Allman Brothers Band, and 'Smoke on the Water,' by Deep Purple.
They may all be right: It's possible 'Freebird' began as a rallying cry for Skynyrd Nation and a sincere request from guitar lovers, was made famous by the live cut, taken up by ironic clubgoers, given new life by Mr. Matthews, and eventually lost all meaning and became something people holler when there's a band onstage.
But as with many mysteries, the true origin may be unknowable -- cold comfort for bands still to be confronted with the inevitable cry from the darkness. For them, here's a strategy tried by a brave few: Call the audience's bluff. Phish liked to sing it a cappella. The Dandy Warhols play a slowed-down take singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor describes as sung 'like T. Rex would if he were on a lot of pills.' And Dash Rip Rock has performed the real song in order to surprise fans expecting the parody. For his part, Mr. Doughty suggests that musicians make a pact: Whenever anyone calls for 'Freebird,' play it in its entirety -- and if someone calls for it again, play it again.
'That would put a stop to 'Freebird,' I think,' he says. 'It would be a bad couple of years, but it might be worth it.'
So what do the members of Skynyrd think of the tradition? Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie's brother and the band's singer since 1987, says 'it's not an insult at all -- I think it's kind of cool. It's fun, and people are doing it in a fun way. That's what music's supposed to be about.'
Besides, Mr. Van Zant has a confession: His wife persuaded him to see Cher in Jacksonville a couple of years ago, and he couldn't resist yelling 'Freebird!' himself. 'My wife is going, 'Stop! Stop!' he recalls, laughing. 'I embarrassed the hell out of her.'"
- Jason Fry, WSJ article, via Waxy.