It’s surely one of the cruellest twists of fate in rock history, as well as one of the greatest tragedies. On 20 October 1977, three days after they released an album called Street Survivors, Lynyrd Skynyrd were involved in the terrible plane crash that claimed the lives of three band members and left all the others, and their crew, with serious injuries.
A chartered Convair CV-300 was taking the band from the gig they’d just played in Greenville, North Carolina to their next gig in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A faulty engine and then a fuel shortage led the pilot, Walter McCreary, to attempt an emergency landing, but he was killed on impact along with Skynyrd’s vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backing singer Cassie, the co-pilot and the band’s assistant road manager.
Lynyrd Skynyrd had had huge success with their first four albums from 1973, although the last of those, Gimme Back My Bullets, had had more modest sales than its predecessors. Street Survivors, recorded in studios in Florida and Georgia, was their first to feature guitarist and vocalist Steve Gaines. It became a massive album, reaching the band’s career peak of No. 5 in the US, turning gold in ten days and, ultimately, double platinum. The album featured a cover of Merle Haggard’s ‘Honky Tonk Night Time Man’ and gave them a top 20 single in America with the Gary Rossington/ Ronnie Van Zant composition ‘What’s Your Name,’ one of the pair’s four co-writes on the record.
The cover image of Street Survivors, showing the band emerging from a fire, was, of course, withdrawn after the crash, but it was restored for the album’s deluxe reissue. Skynyrd disbanded after the tragedy, but reformed in 1987, featuring four of the crash survivors and guitarist Ed King, who had left two years earlier.
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