In 1977, following a show at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium in Greenville, South Carolina, Lynyrd Skynyrd chartered a Convair CV-300 to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where they were scheduled to appear at Louisiana Stae University the following night. Due to a faulty engine, the airplane ran low on fuel and the pilots were diverted to the McComb-Pike County Airport. The plane ran out of fuel and they attempted an emergency landing before crashing in a heavily wooded area five miles northeast of Gillsburg, Mississippi. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray were killed on impact. The other band members, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Leon Wilkeson, Billy Powell, Artimus Pyle, and Leslie Hawkins, tour manager Ron Eckerman and members of the road crew suffered serious injuries. This would come at a time in Skynyrd’s career when they were fast becoming major stars !! They had just released the album “Street Survivors” three days earlier, following the success of the live album “One More From The Road” !!
Following the crash and the ensuing press, “Street Survivors” became the band’s second platinum album and reached No. 5 on the U.S. album chart. The single “What’s Your Name” reached No. 13 on the single airplay charts in January 1978. The original album cover for “Street Survivors” featured a pic of the band, particularly newest member Steve Gaines, engulfed in flames. This album also showcases the incredible guitar playing of newest member Steve Gaines !! Out of respect for the deceased, and at the request of Teresa Gaines, Steve Gaines widow, MCA Records withdrew the original cover and replaced it with a similar image of the band against a simple black background. The album also contained the song “That Smell”, which was about drug use and it’s consequences !! Thirty years later, for the deluxe CD version of “Street Survivors” the original “flames” cover was restored !!
Lynyrd Skynyrd broke up after the crash, reuniting just once to perform an instrumental version of “Free Bird” at Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam V in January 1979. Collins, Rossington, Powell and Pyle performed the song with Charlie Daniels and members of his band. Leon Wilkeson, who was still undergoing physical therapy for his badly broken left arm, was in attendance, along with Judy Van Zant, Teresa Gaines, JoJo Billingsley and Leslie Hawkins !! In 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited with five surviving members of the pre-crash band Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Artimus Pyle, along with guitarist Ed King, who had left the band two years before the crash. Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny, took over as the new lead singer !! Due to Allen Collins’ paralysis from a 1986 car accident, he was only able to participate as the musical director, choosing Randall Hall, his former bandmate in the Allen Collins Band, as his stand-in. As part of his plea deal, Collins would be wheeled out onstage each night to explain to the audience why he could no longer perform usually before the performance of “That Smell”, which had been partially directed at him. Collins was stricken with pneumonia in 1989 and died on January 23, 1990. RIP
The reunited band was meant to be a one-time tribute to the original lineup, captured on the double-live album Southern by the Grace of God: Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour 1987 !! This included an instrumental version of “Free Bird” with a spotlight pointed at an empty mic on stage as a tribute to Ronnie Van Zant !! When asked why no one sang that song, the reply was “Because no one else can sing that fucking song” !! Amen to that !! Lynyrd Skynyrd continues to tour and record to this day !!
Every band has a song that is the bible according to their fans. The song for Lynyrd Skynyrd is and always will be “Free Bird”
which was dedicated to the memory of Duane Allman by the band at their live shows
!! An amazing song that is half ballad, half guitar solos !! Three different and distinct guitar solos happening at the same time that mold into one magical sound !! One of the greatest and most amazing songs of all time !!
“Free Bird” is included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and at number 193 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2009, it was named the 26th best hard rock song of all time by VH1 !! It’s in my Top 5 of all time !! Here is some incredible video from 1977 featuring the pre crash Skynyrd lineup, in my opinion the BEST !! If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me ? ALWAYS & FOREVER !!!
Play it pretty for Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Caissie Gaines, Billy Powell, Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson !! RIP
Keep on ROCKIN !!