J. Countess / Getty Images file
Lynyrd Skynyrd members, from left, Johnny Van Zant, Mark "Sparky" Matejka, Rickey Medlocke and Gary Rossington perform during a "FOX & Friends" concert in New York in August.
To many above the Mason-Dixon line, the Confederate flag is a symbol of a divided country and an empathy with slavery and racism. To many below it, however, the "Rebel" flag is a symbol of unity, heritage and standing up for state's rights. To Lynyrd Skynyrd, it's all part of the band's brand -- good-time Southern rock ("Sweet Home Alabama") made by men with flowing locks and cranked-up guitars -- and it's made an appearance at virtually every one of their shows since they formed in the 1960s.
But as band members learned recently, it's not so easy to lower the flag.
It all started on Sept. 9, when three members of the band (Gary Rossington, Rickey Medlocke and Johnny Van Zant) appeared on CNN to discuss their new album, "Last of a Dyin' Breed." Toward the end of the discussion, interviewer Fredricka Whitfield asked about the band appearing to disassociate themselves from the flag.
"It became such an issue about race and stuff where we just had it in the beginning because we were Southern, and that was our image back in the'70s and late '60s ... but I think through the years, people like the KKK and skinheads and people kind of kidnapped the Dixie or Rebel flag from the Southern and the heritage of the soldiers," explained guitarist and sole original band member Rossington. "We didn’t want that to go to our fans or show the image like we agreed with any of the race stuff or any of the bad things.”
That didn't go well with some fans; messages left on the CNN board indicated they felt that leaving the flag out of the routine was a slap in the face and kowtowing to political correctness. "By ignoring and denying the flag that is part of their history, they are leaving a large segment of their fan base behind," wrote G.D. Smith on the boards. "It's a shame that money is now more important than honor or heritage."
"We hope you never come back to 'Sweet Home Alabama,'" wrote another fan, L.E. Thompson.
Well, never let it be said that Skynyrd isn't responsive to its fans; last Friday, Rossington posted a message on the band's website to "clarify the discussion of the Confederate Flag" in the interview, writing:
"Myself, the past members and the present members (that are from the South), are all extremely proud of our heritage and being from the South. We know what the Dixie flag represents and its heritage; the Civil War was fought over States rights.
"We still utilize the Confederate (Rebel) flag on stage every night in our shows, we are and always will be a Southern American Rock band, first and foremost. We also utilize the state flag of Alabama and the American flag as well, ‘cause at the end of the day, we are all Americans. I only stated my opinion that the confederate flag, at times, was unfairly being used as a symbol by various hate groups, which is something that we don’t support the flag being used for. The Confederate flag means something more to us, Heritage not Hate…"
And based on the comments left on the website following that post, this is an issue that remains still unresolved -- but many are backing up his decision to try and find a balance.
"I think all of us do well to let our conscience be our guide, and Mr. Rossington has given an example," wrote Walk In My Shadow.
And, added Toolbox, "Lynyrd Skynyrd is a true American band and are proud of their Southern heritage. Do you think for one minute that they would denounce their Southern roots?? Your wrong. Just listen to their music."
More in NBCNews Entertainment:
- Insane Clown Posse sues FBI for labeling fans a 'gang'
- Katy Perry named Billboard's Woman of the Year
- Lady Gaga: I've battled bulimia and anorexia since age 15
- Best songs ever? A new list pics the top 100