Thursday, October 20, 1977

Lynyrd Skynyrd members died in a plane crash

October 20, 1977

Lynyrd Skynyrd members killed in plane crash.

Lynyrd Skynyrd formed in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1964 as My Backyard. Singer Ronnie Van Zant played in high school with guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins. They changed the group’s name to Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969, naming themselves after the Robert E. Lee High School’s physical education instructor Leonard Skinner as a means of getting even. He was not a fan of long hair and loud music and he played a hand in getting them suspended from school. From 1973 to 1977, the group released five albums that all reached at least gold status. They churned out classic-rock staples such as “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” on their way to becoming the premiere Southern rock band.

On October 20, 1977, the band chartered a twin-engine, propeller-driven Convair 240 out of Texas. They were headed from a Greenville, South Carolina show to a scheduled show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The plane crashed in a wooded area near Gillsburg, Mississippi – reportedly due to fuel shortage.

Of the 26 passengers on board, six were killed. They included Lynyrd Skynyrd’s singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and his sister and backup singer Cassie Gaines. They were all 28 years old. The group’s assistant road manager, Dean Kirkpatrick was also among the dead. Walter Wiley McCreary and William John Gray, the pilot and co-pilot, were also killed. Others were critically injured.

The tragedy sidelined the band for a decade. In 1987, five of the members launched a full-scale reunion tour with Ronnie Van Zant’s brother Johnny taking over vocals. While intended as a one-time tribute, the band ended up returning to the studio in 1991 for a new album. While they endured many lineup changes over the years, Lynyrd Skynyrd would end up releasing nine more studio albums through 2012.

For more important days in music history, check out the Dave’s Music Database history page.

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First posted 10/20/2011; last updated 10/6/2023.

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