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Remembering The 'Free Birds' Of Lynyrd Skynyrd & The Day That Changed Southern Rock Forever

Lynyrd skynyrd Songs | Remembering The 'Free Birds' Of Lynyrd Skynyrd & The Day That Changed Southern Rock Forever | Country Music Videos
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The year was 1977. For four years, a group of Florida rockers had been taking the music industry by storm. Their songs ranged from bluesy tunes to rock and roll masterpieces, and they quickly became American anthems. 

The group was named Lynyrd Skynyrd. What started as a group of young kids who just loved playing music eventually turned into one of the most popular rock bands to ever exist. With songs under their belt such as "Sweet Home Alabama," "Simple Man," and the iconic "Free Bird," Skynyrd was poised at the top of the music world in 1977.

But one tragic day in October changed all of that in the blink of an eye.

The date was October 20, 1977. Three days prior, Skynyrd had released their fifth studio album, Street Survivors. But for some members of the group, it became the final album they would ever record.

With new music out, Skynyrd was traveling around for various performances. On October 20th, they had just wrapped up a show in South Carolina and were all set to head to their next performance in Louisiana. The band and crew all loaded up on their chartered Convair CV-240, completely unaware of the life-altering event that would occur only moments later.

The plane carrying Southern rock's shining stars started to run out of fuel as they neared the end of their flight. While the pilots attempted to make an emergency landing, they were unable do so. The plane crashed in the forest outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi, and the course of Southern rock was changed forever.

The number of lives lost was six. 

The pilot, Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray both died in the crash. The band's assistant road manager, Dean Kilpatrick, was also killed.

Cassie Gaines, who was a part of Skynyrd's group of background singers known as The Honkettes, also lost her life on that day.

The previous year, her brother, Steve Gaines, had joined the group as a guitarist. Steve penned four of the songs on Street Survivors, and had a future full of potential. But it was a potential he never got to realize, because his life was also taken on that sad day.

Ronnie Van Zant, Skynyrd's fearless leader and main vocalist, often told family and friends that he would never live past the age of 30. They all dismissed him, but Ronnie knew his fate.

The age Ronnie was on October 20, 1977, was 29 years old. He was three months shy of turning 30 when he passed away in the crash.

Miraculously, the other 20 passengers on the plane survived, although many were severely injured. 

Following the crash, Skynyrd went on a ten-year hiatus, during which the various members pursued side projects. They finally decided to come back together for a tribute tour in 1987, this time with Ronnie's younger brother, Johnny Van Zant, leading the charge.

The tribute tour turned into so much more. It proved Skynyrd's unshakeable strength in the light of tragedy, showing they could carry on despite the heartbreak they had endured.

In the years since 1977, Skynyrd has released nine more studio albums. They've penned and recorded many more Southern rock anthems. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And they continue to keep the memory of their lost sister and brothers alive by performing their classic hits for crowds of people around the world.

In the opening to "Free Bird," Ronnie sings, "If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?" The answer to his question would be a resounding "yes."

The world still remembers those Skynyrd lost on that fateful day in October. The world still remembers Cassie, Steve, and Ronnie. 

The year is 2016. For 43 years, a group of Florida rockers has been taking the music industry by storm. And they still are...

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