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Out of all the rock groups to ever exist, Lynyrd Skynyrd has one of the most extensive histories. It is a history filled with hit songs, electrifying shows, and unspeakable tragedies.
Following the plane crash of 1977 that claimed the lives of backup singer Cassie Gaines, guitarist Steve Gaines, and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, it took Skynyrd ten years before they finally set foot on stage again. Now, Skynyrd is still going strong, but they’ve continued to experience painful losses over the years.
Guitarist Hughie Thomasson made significant writing contributions to what would go on to become Skynyrd’s 2009 album God & Guns. However, Hughie passed away in 2007, and never got the chance to see his work in its finished form.
While making God & Guns, Skynyrd suffered another loss when their bass player, Ean Evans, passed away mere months before its release. The album is also the last in Skynyrd’s collection to feature original keyboardist Billy Powell, who passed away in January 2009.
The amount of loss Skynyrd experienced while creating God & Guns makes it a particularly emotional album, especially for those who have been longtime fans of the group. During an interview in 2009 shortly after the album’s release, lead singer Johnny Van Zant and guitarist Rickey Medlocke spoke about the challenges they faced as they tried to finish an album while mourning three of its band members:
“We just had to get our spirits back up to make this record. We didn’t know what was gonna happen with the band…There’s a spirit about Lynyrd Skynyrd, and there was two spirits that just went on up to rock and roll heaven, and that’s pretty heavy to have to deal with, and still is to this day. Those were friends, those were people that you spent probably more time than you do your immediate family…that’s a big part of you that you lose.”
Despite all of the pain they experienced, Skynyrd pushed through so they could release God & Guns in honor of their departed bandmates. The album ended up peaking at the 18th spot on the Billboard charts, proving Skynyrd’s ability to overcome all obstacles in order to make great music, as Johnny summed up perfectly.
“This band’s been built on surviving, it really has,” he said.
You can watch Johnny and Rickey’s full interview here. While you’re at it, enjoy listening to one of the tracks from God & Guns, called “Still Unbroken.”
R.I.P. to all the “Free Birds” in Skynyrd who have left us.