35 years ago last night, a twin engine plane carrying the members of the “Southern Rock” band “Lynyrd Skynyrd” took off from Greenville, South Carolina following their concert there.
Riding high on a string of hits including “Freebird”, “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Saturday Night Special”, they were touring to promote a just released sixth album, which would spawn future hits “What’s Your Name?” and “That Smell”.
But their flight, destined for Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the next night’s gig at LSU never made it, crashing into a wooded swamp in Mississippi.
Lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt, guitarist Steve Gaines and back up singer Cassie Gaines died on impact along with a member of the road crew and the pilot and co-pilot. The only uninjured passenger, drummer Artimus Pyle, stumbled from the wreckage to find help and was shot by a farmer who mistook him for a prowler.
Pyle and the others survived. But the band named after a Florida gym teacher who forbid male students to wear hair that touched their shirt collars was no more.
Ten years later, the survivors decided it was time to launch a comeback. But their numbers were then further diminished by a series of events reminiscent of one of the “Final Destination” movies.
A car accident left lead Guitarist Allen Collins paralyzed from the chest down and dead of pneumonia two years later.
Bass player Leon Wilkeson died of liver failure while on tour and Keyboardist Billy Powell was discovered dead in his home of undetermined causes.
Today, guitarist Gary Rossington is the only founding member still playing and touring with the band.
Despite the tragedy that ended its short, four year career, “Skynyrd” as it is affectionately known in the musical community, left a legacy that continues to inspire.
Not long ago, a tribute album was released featuring some of Country music’s youngest stars, none of whom was even born when “Lynyrd Skynyrd” fell to earth. Yet, their versions of their classics reveals the band is part of their DNA.
And walk into any country bar on a Saturday night like last night and there’s always a voice calling out “Play Freebird” before the band or the jukebox gets unplugged.
Enjoy Your Sunday.
And the original incarnation…
Those who want more might like this.