On October 17, 1977 "Lynyrd Skynyrd" released their fifth studio album "Street Survivors".
This is the album that was supposed to make this band great, even more than it already was. A year before the album was released, the band introduced guitarist Steve Gaines, who also wrote material and sang. The band sharpens their sound, polishes their playing, and manages to create their best material to date, which was supposed to break the glass ceiling that floated above them.
But in a very unfortunate and chilling way, just three days after the release of the album, on 20/10/1977, a plane leased by the band crashes and suddenly cuts off its musical career, while at its peak. This happened during the grandiose tour that was planned to promote the album, to be exact at the end of the fifth show, when the plane with the band members was on its way from "Greenville" in South Carolina to "Baton Rouge" in Louisiana.
Singer Ronnie Van Zant, lead guitarist Steve Gaines, and his backing vocals sister Cassie Gaines were killed on the spot, while the rest of the band suffered serious injuries. Keyboardist Billy Powell's nose was almost torn from his face, guitarist Gary Rossington broke his leg in several places, guitarist Allen Collins was badly injured in the hand and his cervical vertebrae were fractured, bassist Leon Wilkeson broke six ribs, one of which punctured his lung and he also suffered fractures in his arms and legs.
Drummer Artimus Pyle, who also suffered from broken ribs, managed to extricate himself from the plane and tried to get help, but when he reached a nearby farm he was shot by the farm owner. The owner of the farm who finally realized he was wrong, brought Artimus into his house and called for help. He then noted that there were rumors of inmates escaping from a near jail and that he was trying to fire a warning shot at Artimus. By the way, Artimus claimed that the same farmer missed the warning shot and hit his shoulder, but this was not proven.
The accident was caused after the plane simply ran out of gas. It turns out that the pilots did not calculate the amount of fuel they needed to reach the destination.
But that does not all and there are more disturbing facts about this horrific accident. It turns out that the management of "Aerosmith" was interested in leasing the same "Convair CV-240" aircraft for the band, but after being inspected by them, they decided that it was not suitable due to poor maintenance. What reinforced the band members' decision not to lease the same plane, was the fact that they saw the pilot and co-pilot pass a bottle of Jack Daniels between them during the plaint pre-check.
Another disturbing fact was that just 48 hours earlier, during the band's flight with the same plane from the Lakeland Florida show to Greenville, South Carolina, some of the band members saw sparks coming out of the plane's right engine.
The band members refused to continue the tour with the same plane and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines even said she had already found herself an alternative private flight, but singer Ronnie Van Zant pressured everyone to board the fateful flight, for fear of canceling their next show. Survivor band members later noted that before boarding the plane Ronnie was heard saying to Cassie Gains: "If your time is up, your time is up."
Creepily, one of the great songs from the album "That Smell" includes the phrase: "The smell of death surrounds you!" The song was written by singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins about guitarist Gary Rossington and his drinking and drug problems. Rossington bought a new Ford Torino, got drunk, crashed into a tree, and then into a house. The accident caused an injury that delayed the band's tour and hence the song.
Also, the original cover of the album shows the band surrounded by fire, with Steve Gaines' face partially covered by flames. After Gaines' death and at the request of his wife Teresa Gaines, the MCA record company decided to replace the album cover with the band's picture on a black background. Years later in the reissue of the album, the original cover was returned.
The album cover along with the name "Street Survivors" created a conspiracy theory that anyone who was not touched by the fire "survived" the crash, but a close look at the cover shows that basically, the fire touches all members of the band in one way or another.
"Street Survivors" has become the band's best-selling album and features classic songs like "What's Your Name" based on a real case in which the band members were expelled from a bar after being involved in a brawl and "You Got That Right" written by Gaines Van Zant, who also share singing, both as aforesaid died in the plane crash.
Unfortunately, the album also became the band's last, until the reunion albums two decades later, with Johnny Van Zant replacing his brother Ronnie as singer and original guitarist Ed King.
The story of the album and the disaster even won a Hollywood version of the film was released in 2020 and bears the name of the album. Drummer Artimus Pyle gave direct testimony to what happened on that fateful day and allows us to experience up close the circumstances that led to one of the greatest disasters in the history of music. Watch the trailer here: