Friday, January 30, 2009

Lynyrd Skynyrd's Billy Powell Dead at 59

The death of Billy Powell this week was another in the sad history of one of Rock n Rolls most accomplished and influential bands. Lynyrd Skynyrd was a critically acclaimed Southern Rock group of the 1970s that rose to great popularity and commercial success. Most Rock groups were only four or five members, but the original Skynyrd had ten members. Their distinctive sound revolved around the three lead guitars. That changed when Powell joined the group.

In 1972 Skynyrd was hired to play the Bolles School prom and while they were setting up, Billy noticed a piano off in the corner. "All of a sudden I sat down and played them my own version of 'Freebird', Billy remembered. "Ronnie VanZant came up to me and said, 'You mean to tell me, you've been playing the piano like that and you've been workin' for us for a year....' And I said, 'Well, you know, I've been classically trained most of my life.' So, right then and there, he said, 'We need a keyboard player.'"
Street Survivors, Skynyrd's 1977 album, showed band members on the cover engulfed in flames. Three days following release of the album, the plane the band had chartered crashed in Mississippi. Lead singer/songwriter Ronnie VanZant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and vocalist Cassie Gaines were killed as were the road manager, pilot and co-pilot. Every surviving member had serious injuries. Billy Powell's nose was nearly ripped from his face and he suffered many other injuries.

Billy Powell was a music major in college and played classical music. His solid roots in music completed the triple up-front guitar attack with his full piano and keyboard sound.

“Freebird” was Billy Powell’s song. He didn’t write it -- Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins did -- but his piano arrangement completely gave that song its identity and its lasting appeal.
The video is from the July 4, 1977 concert in Oakland, California. Three months later their plane would crash on October 20th into a Mississippi swamp. Billy Powell is featured at the beginning and is introduced by VanZant about 3 minutes into Freebird, a rock anthem.

Billy Powell was 59 years old with a history of heart trouble. He died while phoning for help and was found dead in his home with the phone nearby.

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.

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