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Today marks the 45th Anniversary of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s tragic plane crash

Written by Tony Ghaul

On this day, Oct. 20, 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd bandmates killed in horrific plane crash. Three days after they released an album called Street Survivors.

Three musicians from the iconic American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, plus three other people, were killed in a terrifying plane crash on the Louisiana-Mississippi border on this day in history, Oct. 20, 1977.

Lead singer and founding member Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines, were all killed on impact. The crash also claimed the lives of assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray.

Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Steve Gaines and founder and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. Both were killed when the band’s plane crashed on Oct. 20, 1977. Photo courtsey of Ed Perlstein/Redferns

The chartered Convair CV-300 was taking the band from the gig they’d just played in Greenville, North Carolina to their next gig in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A faulty engine and then a fuel shortage led the pilot, Walter McCreary, to attempt an emergency landing. Twenty people survived.

The plane ran out of fuel at about 10,000 feet and crashed violently into a wooded area. “The only reason so many survived is that there was no fuel left on the plane. So there was no fire,” said Gene Odom, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s security manager, and one of the survivors of the crash.

Lynyrd Skynyrd remains one of the biggest acts in music history and is arguably the top American rock band of all time.

Singer-frontman Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd is shown performing at the Omni Coliseum on July 5, 1975, in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo courtsey of Tom Hill/WireImage

“Sweet Home Alabama,” one of the band’s signature songs, an ode to “the Southland.” It is often called the National Anthem of the South, a cry of Southern pride. The song boasts nearly 1 billion plays on Spotify, nearly 50 years after it was recorded in 1974.

The band’s signature tune, “Free Bird,” from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut 1973 album, is a rock epic. The song’s impact has expanded beyond music and embedded itself in pop culture. A video of the band performing the song in Oakland in July 1977 has generated tens of millions of plays on YouTube.

This the best version of “Freebird” that I have ever heard. Billy Powell’s keyboard solo is absolutely amazing and Allen Collins leads are epic. They all get to showcase their talent on this legendary performance. The date of this show is 7/2/1977, a little over three months before the tragic plane crash.

The legendary band founded by Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns and Gary Rossington in Jacksonville, Florida popularized the southern rock genre after the release of their 1973 debut album, (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd).

That debut album featured songs that are still massive hits today – songs like “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Tuesday’s Gone” and of course, “Free Bird.”

Their popularity only grew over the next few years, especially after their biggest hit “Sweet Home Alabama” was released on their sophomore album, Second Helping.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Lynyrd Skynyrd had on southern rock music, and even today’s country music. Ask your favorite country artist who inspired them, and I’m betting that Lynyrd Skynyrd would be on a lot of those lists.

Photo courtsey of Far Out Magazine

In my opinion, Lynyrd Skynyrd is the greatest American rock band of all time. The music that made was timeless and still resonates today. Ronnie Van Zant was a amazing songwriter and frontman. The guitarists, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Ed King and Steve Gaines, who replaced King, were awesome. They each contributed legendary leads to epic songs. Leon Wilkerson on bass, Billy Powell on keyboards, Artimus Pyle on drums, who replaced Bob Burns, all contributed to round out a kick ass rock roll band.

Crack open a cold one and blast “Freebird” today and salute the greatest band of all time, Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Ronnie Van Zant, Garry Rossington and Allen Collins of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Photo courtsey of Whiskey Riff

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About the author

Tony Ghaul