Shortly after Ronnie Van Zant's grandmother and Gary Rossington's mother died, they got together in Van Zant's apartment and started telling stories about them. Rossington came up with a chord progression, and Van Zant wrote the lyrics based on advice the women had given them over the years. They wrote it in about an hour. Even though the lyrics state, "Sit beside me, my only son," Ronnie was not the only son. He had 2 younger brothers along with one older sister and one younger sister.
Skynyrd producer Al Kooper didn't like the way this was coming out, so the band recorded it without him and had him add his organ part later. He didn't think they should release it, but realized he was wrong when it went over so well with their fans.
When Skynyrd toured in 1987, they dedicated this to Van Zant. The studio and live versions of this song are tuned to different keys. The studio is in Ab while the live is the key of A.