It’s been two decades since a third of the band was killed in a plane crash.
Yet Lynyrd Skynyrd still lives on.
It is the band’s best loved fare from the 1970s - “Free Bird,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “What’s Your Name” - that keeps the old sound alive with regular play on classic rock stations and as cover tunes from nearly every band to take on the classic rock mantle.
But it is the band itself - the second incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd - which has kept the critically acclaimed Southern rock vital with regular touring and a slew of new albums.
Now in the 10th year of its second life, Lynyrd Skynyrd comes to the Gorge on Friday.
“Originally, we were just going to do one show,” says Johnny Van Zant, the current lead singer. He stepped up to the microphone after the original co-founder of the band - his brother Ronnie - died. “But then that became a week’s worth of dates, then a full-fledged tour and then … the next thing I know, I’m in the band full time.”
It wasn’t an easy step for Johnny Van Zant, who had previously been a solo artist.
“In the beginning I was scared,” he admits. “But over the years I’ve come to peace with it, and I think Ronnie’s proud of what we’re doing today.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd was first formed in 1965 by Jacksonville, Fla., high school students Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Bob Burns.
They named the band after the school gym teacher, Leonard Skinner, a guy who antagonized the long-haired students.
By 1977 Skynyrd’s rock songs, rooted in Southern blues, had spawned four gold records, and the band was scheduled to appear at Madison Square Garden.
Skynyrd’s sixth LP, “Street Survivors,” had been released when, three days later, the band found itself aboard a private airplane between shows in South Carolina and Louisiana.
The plane crashed in Mississippi on Oct. 20, 1977, killing Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Gaines’ sister, Cassie Gaines. The rest of the band members were injured. Fuel shortage along with mechanical and personnel problems were blamed for the crash.
In 1987 the band reunited, asking Van Zant’s younger brother to stand in on lead vocals. They have been touring and recording ever since.
In April this year, Skynyrd released its latest album - “Twenty” - named for the 20th anniversary of the original lineup’s tragic end.
The album includes a duet of “Travelin’ Man,” featuring the original master of Ronnie’s lead vocals along with Johnny’s new studio vocals alternating verses.
“We’ve come full circle now,” Johnny recently told Knight-Ridder Newspapers. “We’ve been through all of the ‘Should we be doing this (questions).’ We’ve had people ask us if we’re doing it for the money … la-da-da-da … All the (bull) aside, we’re having fun. We made a record that we’re really proud of.
“We’ll keep doing it as long as the fans want it. If they don’t want it, we’ll have to hang up our holsters.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT Lynyrd Skynyrd will perform at The Gorge Friday. Paul Rogers and Kenny Wayne Shepherd open. Show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets: from $27.80 to $43.55, available through Ticketmaster. Call (509) 928-4700 for locations or (206) 628-0888 to purchase by phone.
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