They took the name of one of their teachers, modified it, and made it the name of their band, and a household name. One has to wonder at what could have been if a tragic plane crash had not cut short the lives of Ronnie Van Zandt, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines. The new, reunited version of the band, featuring little brother Johnny, it great, but the early version of the band had some special that can never be matched.
Skynyrd’s first two albums, the self titled “Lynyrd Skynyrd” and “Second Helping” were absolutely jam-packed with hits and classic favorites. Among them are:
- Tuesday’s Gone
- Free Bird
- Simple Man
- Gimme Three Steps
- Sweet Home Alabama
- Call Me the Breeze
- Swamp Music
- Needle and the Spoon
One More From the Road, recorded live at the Fox Theater, Atlanta, Georgia in July 1976, captured the band’s live energy at it’s best, and includes many of the above songs as well as other classics. Favorite moments from this album are Gary Rossington’s bird calls at the start of ‘Free Bird’ and Billy Powell’s keyboard solos in ‘Free Bird’ and ‘Tuesday’s Gone’. The way that the band could blend hard driving rock with the mellower tunes is what Southern Rock is all about. How many bands have attempted to mimic the success of Free Bird, with its beautiful and lyrical start and its hard rock ending, and not even come close?
On October 20, 1977, five shows into their most successful headlining tour to date, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s chartered Convair CV-300 ran out of fuel near the end of their flight from Greenville, South Carolina LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The pilots attempted an emergency landing on a small airstrip, but the plane crashed in a forest in 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 (Collins, Rossington, Wilkeson, Powell, Pyle, and Hawkins) tour manager, Ron Eckerman and road crew suffered serious injuries.
In 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited for a full tour with five members of the pre-crash band: crash survivors 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 and primary songwriter.
Among some of the band’s more recent releases (recent being a relative term) are “The Last Rebel” and “Edge of Forever”. On “Edge”, there is a beautiful ballad called Tomorrow’s Goodbye, that, in my opinion, ranks up there with early ballads, and is a cry for our environment. This is typical of some of the socially conscious songs that have been part of Skynyrd’s lineup, like “Saturday Night Special” and one of my biggest favorites, “That Smell”.
Update Jan 28,2009. Keyboardist Billy Powell passed away, of an apparent heart attack.