Published on October 16th, 2014 | by TLV News1
“LYNYRD SKYNYRD: Thirty-Seven Years of Hard Luck” by Rafael Alvarez
Fatal Plane Crash in Amite County, Mississippi
Nearly Four Decades Ago this Month
John Lewis, the sage music writer who once wore Ike Turner’s pajamas during an interview sleepover at the R&B singer’s house, was in middle school in October of 1977.
Back in the Carter Administration, Lewis was a 13-year-old kid obsessed with rock and roll, no way of knowing that he’d grow up to befriend Jim Dickinson and write the introduction to the memoir the visionary music producer was working on when he died in Memphis in 2009.
All young John knew were the drums and guitars raging in his head. And who but Skynyrd came at you and your Mama with a phalanx of three lead guitarists peeling off notes like good ole boys skinnin’ gators in their native Florida?
“I drew the logos of my favorite bands on my binder,” remembered Lewis from Baltimore. “Zeppelin, the Stones, Aerosmith, and of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
He’d just bought the Street Survivors LP—“with the original flames cover” —on the day it was released and loved, loved, loved it. With FM radio hits “What’s Your Name?” and “That Smell,” the album peaked at No. 5 on Billboard, spending 34 weeks on the charts.
“I was especially excited because Skynyrd was supposed to be my first-ever concert on December 6th at the Capital Centre” in suburban Washington, D.C., said Lewis.
On October 20, three days after the release of Survivors – the band’s fifth album—the 30-year-old Corvair-240 plane they had chartered to fly from Greenville, North Carolina, to Baton Rouge crashed into a forest some five miles northeast of Gillsburg, Mississippi, in the far southwestern corner of the Magnolia State.
“The crash scuttled my plans,” said Lewis. It also ended the life of one of the most thoughtful and courageous Southern Rock songwriters of the era [who else but Van Zant would have the guts to write an anti-gun anthem?] and, despite re-grouping and another thirty years of tours, ended a great band.
Mick and Keith were able to reach greater heights after Brian Jones met his death by misadventure but not so for Dixie: No Duane, no Allmans. No Ronnie, no Skynyrd.
Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Memories of the band and that wild, cheap wine and Mexican reefer era when rock and roll bands could still sell out hockey arenas endure far beyond “Free Bird” on your father’s oldies station.
“We used to practice bad versions of Stones and Skynyrd songs in the basement of a house near a Jewish cemetery on East Baltimore street,” remembered Gary Gately, like Lewis a writer who can play an old Olivetti the way founding Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins played his Gibson Firebird.
“We didn’t know what we owed the blues back then,” said Gately, who loves telling the story but likes it even better when his mother adds the part about sending Uncle Michael down to that basement to grab his skinny ass and bring him home.
When John Lewis is itching for the sensation that the original Skynyrd band gave him nearly 40 years ago—when he wants tight, kick-ass Southern rock with the smarts and insight of Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again—he goes to the shelf and takes down Southern Rock Opera by the Drive-By Truckers.
Released in 2001, the double-album digests and spits out a world of love, politics, and trouble through the International Harvester that was Lynyrd Skynyrd.