Tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of the plane crash that killed several members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I have no good story to tell about it. I was a fuzzy-cheeked high school senior with, apparently, other fish to fry that night. My pal Shark, whom I had yet to meet, was a freshman radio broadcaster at WSUP, the campus station at UW-Platteville, doing news and sports on the late shift (back when a radio station would still do news and sports on the late shift). At most radio stations today, even bigger ones in larger markets, people tend to wait for the wire service to provide details, or just repeat whatever CNN’s got. But when the plane-crash story broke on that night in 1977, Shark and another staffer at WSUP decided not to wait for somebody else to provide details—they went out and got ’em themselves:
We got hold of a newscaster from that station [in McComb, Mississippi, near the crash site] and he gave us a few reports. I’ll never forget his Southern drawl and his words, “I know for sure that the pilot is dead and there are several othes who are dead.” In all, six people were killed in the plane crash . . . Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines, along with the pilot, co-pilot, and the road manager. Several others were critically injured. The magnitude of the plane crash really didn’t hit me until the next day when I read about it in the paper, and the gruesome nature of the fatalities and injuries sustained by the survivors. Soon after, we were playing “What’s Your Name,” the first single from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s newest album, Street Survivors (of which we had an original release featuring the band on the album cover engulfed in flames). At the time, WSUP had jingles and positioning liners that said, “The Best Rock . . . FM 91, WSUP.” I remember that we played “What’s Your Name” on cart and our music director labeled the cart with the song title and a comment: “the epitome of what we are . . . the Best Rock.”
That was 30 years ago? I’m surprised I even remembered that. I can barely remember what I did 30 MINUTES ago!
I heard that, my friend.
I am not a big Southern rock fan. Never have been. I’ve spent some time over the last few days trying to figure out why, and how to explain it, and I’ve gotten nowhere. The Southern rock I like is more Allman Brothers-bluesy than Skynyrd boogie, although Skynyrd’s blues roots are just as easy to hear as the Allmans are. Whatever the reason, I haven’t dug too deeply into the Skynyrd catalog beyond the dozen-or-so tracks that the band has contributed to the classic-rock canon. Which means that if I were to list five Skynyrd tracks I have dug, it wouldn’t be a very interesting list. It might look like this:
1. Call Me the Breeze
2. Simple Man
3. Sweet Home Alabama
4. Gimme Three Steps
5. Gimme Back My Bullets
My radio station is playing Southern-rock classics by Skynyrd and others at the top of every hour all weekend, from today at 5 through Sunday night, so stop by. I’ll be on the air Saturday afternoon from 3 to 7 (US Central) and Sunday from 10AM to 2PM.
Jeff at AM, Then FM, shares his memories of Skynyrd and the plane crash here.