“I can’t remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride. Something touched me deep inside. The day the music died”. Don McLean wrote these lyrics about the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. But he could have just as easily been singing about Lynyrd Skynyrd.
It’s been 43 years since the tragedy that shocked southern rock fans everywhere. On Oct. 20, 1977, a plane crash killed several members of the band and its entourage. Founder and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant were among those killed.
In the Fall of 1977, the band was in the prime of its career. Started in 1964, the band toured under several different titles before settling on Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969. The band had recorded a number of hits including “Free Bird,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Gimme Three Steps.”
They had departed on a tour to promote the release of a fifth studio album called Street Survivors. In an eerie coincidence, the album’s original cover featured the band standing on a street covered in flames. According to Grunge.com, the studio changed the cover after the accident out of respect.
The Plane Lynyrd Skynyrd Was Flying In Ran Out of Gas
The band flew on a Convair CV-300 twin-engine plane. Originally, Aerosmith considered hiring the plane but decided against it. Lynyrd Skynyrd flew on the plane from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Lousiana for a concert. Reportedly, the plane ran out of fuel before it could reach its destination.
The pilots attempted an emergency landing in a small airstrip. But the bottom of the plane struck trees during the landing, causing the plane to crash as a result.
Van Zant died on impact. In another bit of eeriness, Van Zant was three months shy of his 30th birthday. He often told his family he didn’t believe he’d live past 30. Guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, back-up vocalist Cassie Gaines, also were killed in the crash. Additionally, road assistant Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray were among the casualties.
The Band Took a 10 Year Hiatus After the Crash
The others survived but were severely injured. Artimus Pyle, the drummer for the band, escaped the plane with two others. They crawled out of the aircraft. They then had to hike through the wooded area until they found help from a local farmer.
Many thought the crash was the end of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band went on indefinite hiatus for 10 years after the crash. In the aftermath of the tragedy, their album Street Survivors went platinum and No. 5 on the charts.
In 1987, Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny helped resurrect the band as its lead singer. The band continues to perform and record music in memory of those who died. In 2006, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
[H/T: Taste of Country]