One of the biggest rock bands of all time, Lynyrd Skynyrd made history in the 70s with amazing albums that gave us great tunes like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird” that became rock anthems.
But the band had a tragic chance when a plane crash killed almost the whole band.
Following a performance at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium in Greenville, South Carolina, on October 20, 1977, the band boarded a chartered Convair CV-240 bound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they were scheduled to appear at LSU the following night. After running out of fuel the pilots attempted an emergency landing before crashing in a heavily forested area five miles northeast of Gillsburg, Mississippi.
Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, along with backup singer Cassie Gaines (Steve’s older sister), assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray were killed on impact; other band members (Collins, Rossington, Wilkeson, Powell, Pyle, and Hawkins), tour manager Ron Eckerman, and several road crew suffered serious injuries.
The accident came just three days after the release of Street Survivors. Following the crash and the ensuing press, Street Survivors became the band’s second platinum album and reached No. 5 on the U.S. album chart. The single “What’s Your Name” reached No. 13 on the single charts in 1978. The original cover sleeve for Street Survivors had featured a photograph of the band engulfed in flames, with Steve Gaines nearly obscured by fire. Out of respect for the deceased (and at the request of Teresa Gaines, Steve’s widow), MCA Records withdrew the original cover and replaced it with the album’s back photo, a similar image of the band against a simple black background. Thirty years later, for the deluxe CD version of Street Survivors, the original “flames” cover was restored.
Lynyrd Skynyrd disbanded after the tragedy, reuniting only on one occasion to perform an instrumental version of “Free Bird” at Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam V in January 1979. Collins, Rossington, Powell, and Pyle were joined by Daniels and members of his band. Leon Wilkeson, who was still undergoing physical therapy for his badly broken left arm, was in attendance, along with Judy Van Zant, Teresa Gaines, JoJo Billingsley, and Leslie Hawkins.