Monday, February 09, 2009


Geez, I guess I should read a newspaper more often or listen to the news on the radio once in awhile. Just found out during some random surfing that another great R & R musician, Billy Powell of Lynyrd Skynyrd fame has passed on. Talk about a band that's had more than it's share of sorrow, man. I guess that leaves Gary Rossington as the sole remaining survivor of one of the greatest bands of the 70's.
I had tickets to see 'em live for the first time in '77 in Kalamazoo. The concert date was unfortunately about 2 weeks after the plane crash. I was bummed for weeks about missing my chance. I did finally get to see the "tribute band" live a couple years ago in Muskegon at a summer festival. Both Rossington and Billy were there with Johnny Van Zant on the vocals. Better late than never I guess.
Billy Powell, a longtime keyboard player for Lynyrd Skynyrd who survived the band's 1977 plane crash, died at his Orange Park condo early this morning (1/28/09), according to police.
Orange Park Police Chief James Boivin said Powell called 911 from his condo in Club Continental and was pronounced dead at 1:52 a.m. after rescue crews performed CPR on him. Boivin said he was told Powell had an appointment with his heart specialist Tuesday but never made it to the appointment.
Current Lynyrnd Skynyrd singer Johnny Van Zant spent 22 years with Powell in the band. He said the band took the news of Powell's death hard."You know, they say they've got one hell of a band up in heaven. My brother Ronnie up in heaven is probably saying, 'Billy, what took you so long?' I'm sure they're catching up on things in heaven."
Powell, who went to Bishop Kenny High School, joined Skynyrd in 1972 after working for the Jacksonville band for a couple of years as a roadie. He was seriously injured in the Oct. 20, 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant and five other people.
Johnny Van Zant said his brother invited Powell to join the band after he heard him playing piano during a rehearsal of "Free Bird." "Ronnie said, 'What's that?' and Billy said, 'That's the introduction to 'Free Bird.' Ronnie said, 'I like that. You're in the band.'"
The piano introduction to the song became a highly anticipated part of the band's live show, though Johnny Van Zant said Powell was sometimes relucant to jump into the spotlight with it.
"He'd say, 'I don't want to do that, I'm embarrassed to do that,'" said Van Zant. "I'd make him do it: I'd say, 'Come on, it'll make their night.' It made mine."
Earlier this month, Powell and the band took a four-day cruise, called the Simple Man Cruise, on a ship out of Miami with "4,000 crazy Skynyrd fans," said Van Zant.
The band had recorded several songs for a new album and had upcoming gigs in Lousiana, Mississippi and Orlando. They will be canceled, said Van Zant.
"We've got to lay our brother to rest," said Van Zant. "That old saying, the show must go on, always counts. Unless you die."
Guitarist Gary Rossington and Powell were the only members of the pre-crash incarnation of Skynyrd who were still playing with the band. As for the future of the band,Van Zant said, "That's really the last thought in my head. I've given 22 years to the band and hope to do it for another 22."
Van Zant he spoke with Rossington, who lives in the Atlanta area, this morning. "He's hurting," he said. "You know, he was very sad and wondering why all us brothers are leaving him, why he's still here."
Rossington's wife, Dale, reached by telephone this afternoon, said her husband was too distraught to come to the phone. "We're just lost," she said, fighting back tears.
She said band members had long been worried about Powell's health. "But he had such a big huge heart of gold, such a huge abiding faith in God and his savior Jesus," she said.
Powell was married to Ellen Vera Powell and had four children.
"For me," said Van Zant, "if anybody reading your article wants to do something, say a prayer for Billy and his family. That would be greatly appreciated."


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