It's hard to believe that it has been 35 years since one of rock's best-known tragedies occured. On October 20, 1977, a chartered plane carrying the band Lynyrd Skynyrd--in the midst of a headlining tour and fresh off the release of their sixth album--crashed in a Gillsburg, Mississippi swamp.
The toll was dire: Three band members perished; the others were all severely injured. The drummer--who was one of the few able to walk--staggered out for help, and was allegedly shot at by an alarmed farmer.
The band's record label scrambled to replace the new album's cover, which eerily forecasted the accident by portraying the members engulfed in flames.
Trouble began for the hard-partying band a year before the plane crash, when guitarist Gary Rossington plowed his brand-new car into a tree along a Jacksonville, Florida road. He survived the incident and admitted he was under the influence at the time, prompting bandmates Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins to write "That Smell"--an ominous tune warning "Say you'll be all right come tomorrow, but tomorrow may not be here for you." (Ironically, the 60-year-old Rossington is the sole member of the original lineup still performing in the band.)
After the plane crash, the remaining members of Lynyrd Skynyrd disbanded to recover from their extensive injuries. The remaining band members continued to make music through the '80s under various configurations, most notably the Rossington-Collins band--which was cooked up by Rossington and guitarist Allen Collins, who took special pains to distance the new outfit from a "reborn" Skynyrd tag by recruiting a female lead singer, Dale Krantz.
Talk of a Skynyrd-proper reconfiguration had been in the works for some time. By 1987 it seemed solidified: The late Van Zant was replaced by brother Johnny; while crash survivors Rossington, Pyle, Billy Powell, and Leon Wilkeson resumed their former duties.
Collins was felled by pneumonia in 1989, and died shortly after in 1990.
The reunited Skynyrd's lineup has seen time catch up with them over the last two decades, with Wilkeson found dead a hotel room in 2001 at age 49 and keyboardist Billy Powell, who was only 56, found dead at home in 2009. T
Despite the long history of misfortune, the band does one shining strength--its undeniable and enduring longevity. Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Although only one original member remains, Skynyrd continues to have a significant presence in both the rock and country worlds, recently releasing the album Last Of A Dyin' Breed.
And true to their legacy, the band is still embroiled in controversy-over whether or not to continue their long-held tradition of waving the Confederate flag on stage.