ON THIS DATE (34 YEARS AGO)
October 20, 1977 – The Freebird Has Flown.
Three band members and the assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick were killed along with the pilot, Walter McCreary and co-pilot, William Gray when the band’s rented plane, a Convair 240, ran out of fuel and crashed into a swamp in Gillsburg, Missouri.
Ronnie Van Zant (January 15, 1948 – October 20, 1977)
Steve Gaines (September 14, 1949 – October 20, 1977)
Cassie Gaines (January 9, 1948 – October 20, 1977)
“We like to call ours “Southern Raunchy Roll” Ronnie Van Zant once said of his musical group Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“The other bands are just as bad, but we go to jail more”. Van Zant and his fightin’ Southern band prided themselves on that battling image and a hard driving blaring sound which they rode to sold out concert tours and million selling albums. They had just begun a tour on the heels of a new album when a charted plane they were on went down near McComb Mississippi, Thursday night en route to Baton Rouge, Louisiana from Greenville South Carolina.Van Zant, the groups lead vocalist and one of its founders, died along with guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie in the crash. All three were 28. Two other members, Gary Rossington another who helped form the group, and Leon Wilkeson were reported in critical condition after the crash. The other four members of the group were in stable condition.
The band came from Jacksonville Florida in the early ’70’s with Ronnie Van Zant, Rossington and Allen Collins playing together in high school and adding other members later. That school Robert E. Lee, also allegedly produced their strangely spelled group name. It seems a physical education teacher named Leonard Skinner didn’t cotton to long hair and loud music. A run-in with him helped get the boys suspended. Vowing to get even, they named there group after him, changing the vowels to avoid a lawsuit and becoming famous enough to make the story a rock legend.
Lynyrd Skynyrd first hit national prominence in 1974 with a single called “Sweet Home Alabama” which extolled the virtues of the South in general and Alabama in particular. A huge Confederate Flag became one of the bands symbols. The group went on to have two gold and three platinum albums and numerous run ins with the law on tour. “Were kind of like an old dog that ain’t housebroke” Van Zant said in a 1976 interview. “I don’t know…born under a bad sign, I guess. The band’s most recent hometown performance ended in an uproar with 16 persons getting arrested. Police later estimated that 15,000 persons took part in the disturbance at the Jacksonville Coliseum and caused $14,000 in damage.
The band included Van Zant, Gaines, Rossington and Allen Collins guitarist; Leon Wilkeson bass; Billy Powell keyboardist; and Artimus Pyle drummer. Gaines sister and Leslie Hawkins were backup singers. All were from Florida except Pyle, from Spartanburg South Carolina, and the Gaines were from Seneca Missouri.
The bands million-sellers were “Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-erd”, “Second Helping”, and “One More from the Road”. The bands latest album “Street Survivors” was released October 17 (1977)