Skynyrd's 'Southern' Is International

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Woods

Elmehdi Zaoui is 22 years old. He lives in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, just up the coast from Casablanca.

He plays in a band with three buddies. And while the classical music of his country is full of stringed instruments that have changed little in centuries -- the rebab, kemanjah and 'oud -- Zaoui prefers a guitar. An electric guitar. Kind of like the ones the guys in Lynyrd Skynyrd played.

"It's the greatest band in the world," Zaoui said.

So far, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voters haven't agreed. There are nearly 150 performers, either individuals or bands, enshrined in the Cleveland building. But despite six nominations and some aggressive campaigns by radio stations and fans, Skynyrd still isn't one of them.

An announcement of the latest class of inductees is expected to come sometime in the next few weeks. And while there's little reason to believe that the seventh nomination will be the charm for Skynyrd, it's worth telling the story of how the band with North Florida roots has at least four fans in North Africa.

Zaoui and his friends weren't alive in 1977, when a small plane crashed in some swampy Mississippi woods, killing three band members, including leader Ronnie Van Zant.

They grew up an ocean away from Jacksonville, closer to Algeria than Alabama. Yet if you ask them what song they want to hear, they'll say Free Bird. Or perhaps Simple Man. Or maybe something from Gimme Back My Bullets.

That's Zaoui's favorite Skynyrd album. It's what he was listening to a few weeks ago when he sent me an e-mail.

Let me backtrack for a moment. I first heard from Zaoui after he went to one of the many Web sites full of Skynyrd information and found a link to a column I wrote last year, shortly before the sixth Hall snub.

"Hello, I'm from Morocco, and I'm a diehard fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd," he wrote. …