“As many times as I've heard this song this is the first time it made me tear up”: Listen to Dolly Parton's epic 10 minute 50 seconds version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird, featuring Ronnie Van Zant and one of Gary Rossington's final guitar solos

Dolly Parton
(Image credit: Christopher Polk/Penske Media via Getty Images)

Rockstar, Dolly Parton's much-anticipated rock n' roll album is finally with us, affording music fans across the world the chance to hear the Queen of Country - and current Classic Rock magazine cover star - tackle a host of timeless rock anthems, from her second recorded cover of Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven, this time featuring Lizzo and her flute, to Queen's We Are The Champions, to a take on The Beatles' Let It Be, featuring not only Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, but also Peter Frampton and Mick Fleetwood).

Perhaps the most talked-about song on the record is Parton’s album-closing 10 minute 50 seconds version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird, featuring the voice of late singer Ronnie Van Zant and one of the last ever recorded guitar solos from the late Gary Rossington. As Parton explain in Classic Rock, the song came to her via her bandleader and producer Kent Wells, though it had initially been earmarked for another project.

“Kent Wells has been my guitar player, arranger/producer and bandleader for thirty-some years,” Parton tells Classic Rock’s Rob Hughes. “When I was getting ready to do Rockstar, he was busy producing an album for Lynyrd Skynyrd. They knew Kent worked with me, so they asked if I would sing on a new version of Free Bird. And it turned out really good.

“Later on I said to Kent: ‘What about putting Free Bird on my rock album too, if we get permission from them to do it?’ So that’s what we did. Then Ronnie Van Zant’s widow said that she’d let us use his voice on the track. She wouldn’t allow Lynyrd Skynyrd to do it, but she said: ‘I’ll do it for Dolly!’ So we got to use Ronnie on there. We had already recorded it, but his phrasing was so simple that they just dropped his vocal in.”

Parton’s epic rendition of the Southern Rock standard now serves as an epitaph for guitarist Rossington, who passed away this March, aged 71.

“We were so heartbroken when that happened, because we’d done that track with Gary not long before,” she says. “Right now, some of my crew are trying their best to see if we can actually get some footage of Gary and Ronnie Van Zant and try to incorporate that into a possible video. I’d love to make that work. Wouldn’t that be something?”

Listen to Dolly's version of Free Bird below:

Reactions to the cover on YouTube have been overwhelmingly positive.

“Ima light my lighter,” writes TaniaLynn444. “Dolly I simply am out of words. Tears. Smiles. Greatful to be on this planet with you at this time. We love you.”

“OMG I got chills when I heard Ronnie's voice for the first time in over forty five years," posts Jamielee97. “I love you Dolly Parton. Thank you for this song. My God keep blessing you for many more years.”

“As many times as I've heard this song in my bartending days this is the first time it made me tear up,” adds virginiawilliams7282. “RIP the members of Skynyrd who have crossed over. You live on.”

Buy the new issue of Classic Rock here.

The cover of Classic Rock 321

(Image credit: Future)
Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.