MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Tourists traveling into Alabama on interstate highways will soon be greeted by signs strengthening the state’s official connection to the Lynyrd Skynyrd song title “Sweet Home Alabama.”
“Alabama The Beautiful” signs that have stood at the state line since 2003 will be replaced with green and white signs saying “Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama.” The new signs will be erected during the next few months, with the first of the 15-feet-by-18-feet signs likely on Interstate 85 at Lanett in east Alabama, state Transportation Director John Cooper said at a news conference Friday.
Smaller 3-feet-by-4-feet versions of the signs will be on the grounds of the eight state welcome centers to serve as backdrops for travelers’ photos, state Tourism Director Lee Sentell said. The total cost for the new signs is $61,000, he said.
Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded several songs in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, but “Sweet Home Alabama” was recorded in Doraville, Georgia, in 1973. Band members wrote the song as a response to two Neil Young songs that were critical of the South, “Southern Man” in 1970 and “Alabama” in 1972.
Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie Van Zant made the intent clear when he sang, “Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her. I heard ol’ Neil put her down. Well I hope Neil Young will remember, a Southern man don’t need him around, anyhow.”
The song quickly became a party anthem. The Reese Witherspoon movie “Sweet Home Alabama” in 2002 and the Kid Rock hit record “All Summer Long” in 2008 added to the recognition of the song. Acknowledging the popularity of the song title, the state of Alabama began using it on car tags and in tourism promotions several years ago.
Alabama has a five-year, $75,000 agreement with Universal Music to use the song title in tourism promotions, Sentell said.
Sentell said tourism slogans have been important for states ever since Virginia came up with “Virginia is for lovers.” “‘Sweet Home Alabama’ works for our state because it is a very popular song, and it is a very popular phrase,” he said.
Sentell said his agency is negotiating with Universal Music to try to sell “Sweet Home Alabama” shirts and caps in gift shops.
For a five-year period through 2013, Alabama’s standard car tag said “Sweet Home” at the top and “Alabama” at the bottom. The 2014 tag doesn’t use the phrase. Sentell said the state Department of Public Safety wanted the state name at the top of the tag to make it easier for law enforcement to recognize, and there was no way to make “Sweet Home Alabama” work with the state name at the top of the tag.