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40 Years Ago Today: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Plane Crashes

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It was 40 years ago tonight (October 20th, 1977), that a plane carrying Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed in a swamp near Gillsburg, Mississippi. At the time, the group was en route to its next show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The crash took the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant; guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines; Skynyrd manager Dean Kilpatrick, as well as the plane’s two pilots Walter McCreary and William Gray. Three days before the crash (October 17th), the band released its fifth album, Street Survivors, which featured the soon-to-be classics “What’s Your Name” and “That Smell.” The album cover, which featured the band seemingly engulfed in flames, was eventually substituted with another photo in light of the horrific plane crash. In 2007, the 30th anniversary reissue reinstated the original album cover.

Lynyrd’s Skynyrd’s head of security Gene Odom, who was on the plane and one of the 20 survivors, spoke to filmmaker Tony Beazley and recalled the state of Ronnie Van Zant’s body after the fatal crash: “Ronnie Van Zant had an eight-inch little nick and a fractured bone in his leg. His own father, when he went to identify the body the next day — October 21st — said also, that when they pulled Ronnie out, Ronnie looked like he was asleep. No injuries. He said that he just had a little bump right here behind his ear — a little cut. And Lacy (Van Zant) didn’t know his leg was broke. He says, ‘He just looked like he was laying there asleep.'”

Out now is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Pronounced Leh-nerd Skinnerd’ & ‘Second Helping’ – Live From Jacksonville At The Florida Theatre on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital formats. The collection, which was recorded in 2015, features the band performing its first two studio albums, 1973’s Pronounced Leh-nerd Skinnerd and 1974’s Second Helping, live in their entirety for the first time, at two specially staged concerts at the Florida Theatre in their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.
Lynyrd Skynyrd next performs on November 4th at Lakeland, Florida’s RP Funding Center.

FAST FORWARD
Back in August, former-Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle’s biopic on the band’s infamous plane crash was shut down. Last June, Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington — along with the estates of the band members that perished in the group’s 1977 plane crash — Ronnie Van Zant along with Steve and Cassie Gaines — sued to stop production on Cleopatra Records and Pyle’s movie, Street Survivors: The True Story Of The Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash. This followed a cease and desist letter to Pyle last summer, which claimed that Pyle had “violated a 1988 consent order governing the use of the band’s name.” The script is based on Artimus Pyle’s recollection of band’s plane crash on October 20th, 1977.

On August 28th, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet ruled in favor of Gary Rossington and the heirs of the band stating, in part: “Cleopatra is prohibited from making its movie about Lynyrd Skynyrd when its partner substantively contributes to the project in a way that, in the past, he willingly bargained away the very right to do just that; in any other circumstance, Cleopatra would be as ‘free as a bird’ to make and distribute its work. . . Cleopatra is free to make a movie about Lynyrd Skynyrd and/or about the plane crash. What Cleopatra is not free to do, however, is to make such a movie in concert and participation with Pyle in violation of the restrictions imposed on him by the Consent Order.”

The ruling went on to say: “Cleopatra’s consultations with Pyle were important because the Film incorporates, in substantive part, the depictions of Van Zant, Gaines, and the rest of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band, as well as major bits of their history. Cleopatra argues that their Film is Pyle’s story, as no part of the Film depicts the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd without Pyle and which is permitted under the terms of the Consent Order. To an extent, this is true: there is no doubt that Pyle plays a central role in the Film. However, the inverse of Cleopatra’s claim is true too: no part of the Film depicts Pyle outside his time with Lynyrd Skynyrd. As such, there is also no doubt that the Film is a film about the Lynyrd Skynyrd band. As the facts have demonstrated, none of the Defendants received the requisite authorization under the terms of the Consent Order in depiction of Van Zant or Gaines or in the use of the Lynyrd Skynyrd name, and therefore all have violated the Consent Order.”

Last summer, when the biopic was announced, Pyle told Deadline.com: “When that plane crashed, we were at the top of the world man. I mean, we could play with any band — any band, whether it was the Rolling Stones, anyone, and we would hold our own or better. I think of that accident every day and what we might have accomplished if we’d have ten more years. But I’m very proud of the band; I love the music and I love playing it still. I love hearing the stories, every time I play a gig now and meet people. And I know the only reason people know my name is because of Ronnie Van Zant. We want this to be a good movie that tells a very passionate, intimate story about the music and the band and a rise and fall that happened so suddenly.”

Photo Courtesy of PRPhotos.com

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