Tribute: Lynyrd Skynyrd
Welcome to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Tribute. This page includes information about and photos of the band members and the 1977 plane crash.
Lynyrd Skynyrd were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Information for this Tribute was gathered from various web sites, print publications, and television programs. I have done my
best to research the events, corroborate the facts and combine the information. If anyone is certain that something I have posted is
incorrect, or has information to add, please feel free to e-mail me. Thank you.
"Classic" Lynyrd Skynyrd (roughly 1971-77)
Left: founder, songwriter and singer, Ronnie Van Zant.
Center: founder, songwriter and guitarist, Allen Collins.
Right: founder and guitarist, Gary Rossington.
Left: keyboardist Billy Powell.
Center: original drummer, Bob Burns (second from left).
Right: drummer Artimus Pyle (who replaced Bob Burns in 1974).
Left: guitarist Ed King (1972-1975).
Center: guitarist Steve Gaines (joined in 1976, replacing Ed King).
Right: bassist Leon Wilkeson (at left, "The Mad Hatter").
Backing vocalists, The Honkettes: Cassie Gaines, Leslie Hawkins and Jo Jo Billingsley.
Billy Powell, Allen Collins, Ronnie Van Zant (top), Artimus Pyle (center),
Leon Wilkeson (bottom), Steve Gaines and Gary Rossington.
"Sweet Home Alabama"
"Gimme Three Steps"
"Saturday Night Special"
"The Ballad of Curtis Loew"
"What's Your Name"
"Gimme Back My Bullets"
"Don't Ask Me No Questions"
"Truck Drivin' Man"
"Call Me the Breeze"
Back: Artimus Pyle, Cassie Gaines, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson.
Front: Allen Collins, Leslie Hawkins, Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant, Jo Jo Billingsley, Steve Gaines.
20 October 1977, 6:55 pm. While flying from Greenville, South Carolina to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Lynyrd Skynyrd's
chartered Convair 240 aircraft crashed in a Mississippi swamp. The plane was carrying 24 passengers and 2 crew members. The band
members on board were: Allen Collins, Cassie Gaines and her brother, Steve Gaines, Leslie Hawkins, Billy Powell, Artimus Pyle, Gary
Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant, and Leon Wilkeson. Rumour has it that several of those involved had misgivings about flying on the
plane, and that they planned to get rid of it once they had reached Baton Rouge. Cassie Gaines lacked confidence in the aircraft and
Jo Jo Billingsley (who was not on the plane) had a dream that the plane had crashed. She called Allen Collins, asking him to tell the
others not to get on it. Stage manager, Clayton Johnson, remarked afterwards that, "There had been a lot of mistrust of that
airplane since we chartered it."
Skynyrd's chartered Convair 240
The following account is from keyboardist Billy Powell:
"The right engine started sputtering, and I went up to the cockpit. The pilot said they were just transferring oil from one wing to
another, everything's okay. Later, the engine went dead. Artimus [Pyle] and I ran to the cockpit. The pilot was in shock. He said,
'Oh my God, strap in.' Ronnie [Van Zant] had been asleep on the floor and Artimus got him up and he was really pissed. We strapped
in and a minute later we crashed. The pilot said he was trying for a field, but I didn't see one. The trees kept getting closer, they
kept getting bigger. Then there was a sound like someone hitting the outside of the plane with hundreds of baseball bats. I crashed
into a table; people were hit by flying objects all over the plane. Ronnie was killed with a single head injury. The top of the plane
was ripped open. Artimus crawled out the top and said there was a swamp, maybe alligators. I kicked my way out and felt for my hands
-- they were still there. I felt for my nose and it wasn't, it was on the side of my face. There was just silence. Artimus and Ken
Peden and I ran to get help, Artimus with his ribs sticking out."
Leon Wilkeson (left) and road manager, Dean Kilpatrick.
Artimus Pyle remembers strapping Ronnie Van Zant into his seat and trying to put a velvet cushion under his head. They crashed into a
swamp in McComb, Mississippi, and the plane was destroyed by the impact. There was no fire. Two crew members and four of the
passengers were killed; twenty others were injured. Those who were not killed lay for hours, awaiting rescue. Pyle, despite
suffering a broken sternum and several broken ribs, ran for help. About a mile away, he came upon a farmhouse and ran, raving,
towards it. The farmer, Johnny Mote, frightened by Pyle's dirty, bloody appearance, mistook him for a madman and shot him in the
shoulder. (The shotgun blast was not fatal.) Once Mote realized that Pyle was a refugee of the plane crash, he called for help.
Read the National Transportation Safety
Board's (NTSB) report about the cause and damage of the crash.
The effect of the crash was devastating. In addition to general cuts and bruises...
- Allen Collins
suffered two cracked neck vertebrae and an arm amputation was recommended. (His father refused.)
- Leslie Hawkins
endured a concussion, broke her neck in three places, and had facial injuries which required plastic surgery. She was partially
paralyzed and suffered permanent neurological damage.
- Billy Powell
sustained severe facial lacerations. (Powell was the only band member well enough, on crutches and with his face in bandages, to
attend the funerals of those who perished.)
- Artimus Pyle
suffered a broken sternum and several broken ribs.
- Gary Rossington
broke both legs and both arms and sustained a concussion.
- Leon Wilkeson
broke his jaw and had most of his teeth knocked out, suffered a crushed chest (with a punctured lung), almost needed an arm
amputated, and he sustained internal injuries. (Wilkeson reportedly coded at the hospital and had to be revived.)
Those were the fortunate ones.
In addition to the pilot (Walter McCreary) and co-pilot (William Gray), Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and Dean
Kilpatrick (Skynyrd's road manager) were killed.
According to Billy Powell on VH1's Behind The Music, Cassie Gaines's throat had been cut from ear to ear and she bled to
death in his arms. He also stated that Ronnie Van Zant had sustained a severe head injury, which was the cause of his death.
Powell's account of events scandalized many associated with the band, and was contradicted by Artimus Pyle and Judy Van Zant Jenness
(Ronnie's widow). In 1998, the widow Van Zant posted Ronnie's autopsy on Lynyrd Skynyrd's website to prove the truth of his injuries.
(It is no longer available on the internet.) Ronnie died from blunt head trauma, reportedly from sustaining a bruise about the
size of a quarter on his temple.
Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines
When the plane crashed, Steve Gaines was 28. Cassie Gaines and Ronnie Van Zant were 29.
Steve and Cassie Gaines were laid to rest on 23 October 1977 in Jacksonville Memory Gardens, Orange Park, Florida. A private ceremony
was held for Ronnie on 25 October, who was also buried in Jacksonville Memory Gardens. Among those who attended were Ed King, Bob
Burns, Billy Powell, Dickey Betts (Allman Brothers Band), Charlie Daniels, Al Kooper (founder of Blood, Sweat & Tears), and Tom Dowd
(producer/engineer who had worked on the Manhattan Project). Merle Haggard's "I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am" and David Allan
Coe's "Another Pretty Country Song" were played. Charlie Daniels read a poem, and with .38 Special, performed "Amazing Grace". Ronnie
Van Zant was buried to the left of Steve Gaines and in front of Cassie. Van Zant's and the Gaines' resting places were moved in 2000
after Ronnie's and Steve's grave sites were broken into and vandalized. The monuments (shown below) remain as memorials for the fans.
Ronnie Van Zant's memorial.
Steve and Cassie Gaines' memorials.
The band's fifth album, Street Survivors, was released three days before the crash. The cover showed the band engulfed in
flames. After the crash, the album was pulled from stores and re-released with new artwork, showing the band against a plain black
background. Street Survivors went on to become the band's second platinum album, and reached #5 on the U.S. album chart.
The single "What's Your Name" reached #13.
Also included on the album is the song, "That Smell." It was penned by Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins, at a time when the band
had been heavily into alcohol and drugs. Van Zant was inspired to write the piece when Gary Rossington, drunk and high, crashed his
new car into a tree. Van Zant supposedly said, "I had a creepy feeling things were going against us, so I thought I'd write a
morbid song." Oddly enough, as of July 2009, Gary Rossington is the only surviving founding member of Lynyrd Skynyd still playing
with the band.
Author's note: What I find eerie is that, on the original cover of Street Survivors, Steve Gaines is positioned in the middle,
consumed by flames. He perished in the crash. Next to him are Ronnie Van Zant (who also perished) and Leon Wilkeson (who seems to
have received the worst injuries of the survivors and reportedly coded at one point). As you fan out, the injuries seem arguably less
life-threatening - the next two are Gary Rossington and Artimus Pyle, then Allen Collins and Billy Powell - who sustained "merely"
facial lacerations and general cuts and bruises. Cassie Gaines, not in the photo, but "close" to Steve because they were siblings,
also perished in the crash.
The original cover of Street Survivors and the re-released, post-crash version.
In 1980, Allen Collins's wife, Kathy, died of a hemorrhage following a miscarriage. In his grief, Collins embarked on a campaign of
reckless behavior, culminating in a 1986 drunken car crash. His girlfriend was killed and he was paralyzed from the waist down.
He died on 23 January 1990 from pneumonia, a result of decreased lung capacity from the paralyzation. He was 37. Allen Collins
(Larkin Allen Collins, Jr.) is buried in Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife, Kathy Evelyn.
During the early '90s, Ed King found Leon Wilkeson on the group's tour bus, sleeping, but with his throat cut and bleeding. Wilkeson
was taken to the hospital and recovered. It is still a mystery as to who was responsible - Ed King blames Wilkeson's
girlfriend-at-the-time. Leon Russell Wilkeson passed away from liver disease on 27 July 2001 at the age of 49. He is buried in
Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida. "Fly on proud bird you're free at last"
Hughie Thomasson (Hugh Edward Thomasson, Jr.), founder of The Outlaws, played guitar with Skynyrd from the mid-1990s until 2005. He
died of a heart attack on 9 September 2007. Thomasson was 55.
Billy Powell (William Norris Powell) suffered a fatal heart attack on 28 January of 2009; he was 56. Powell had called 911
complaining of difficulty breathing. Paramedics found him in his bedroom unresponsive, still holding the telephone. Powell was
cremated and his ashes were returned to his family.
On 6 May 2009, Donald "Ean" Wayne Evans, a bassist who joined the band in 2001 after the death of Leon Wilkeson, succumbed to cancer.
He was 48.
Jo Jo Billingsley, the Honkette who had a dream about the 1977 plane crash prior to the accident and therefore avoided that
fatal ride, died on 24 June 2010. She had been battling cancer and was 58.
On 3 April 2015, Bob Burns, original drummer for the band and Hall of Fame inductee, was killed in a
single-car accident in Georgia. He drove off the road when approaching a curve and struck a mailbox and a tree.
He was not wearing a seatbelt. Burns was 64.
Interesting aside: Leonard Skinner (Forby Leonard Skinner), the high school gym teacher from whom the band took its name, died
20 September 2010. He was 77. The New York Times referred to Skinner as "arguably the most influential high school gym
teacher in American popular culture".
In 2006, Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The honorees were: Bob Burns, Allen Collins, Steve Gaines, Ed King, Billy Powell, Artimus Pyle,
Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant, and Leon Wilkeson.
The 2006 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction:
Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Artimus Pyle, Ed King, and Bob Burns.