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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

October 20, 1977

Welcome to another edition of the Tuesday Timeline portion of this blog!  Before I go any further though, I will extend my congratulations to Justin Trudeau for winning the majority government in the Canadian federal elections.  I'm not entirely convinced that he was the right person for the job, but I will say that Canada did need a change.  Thankfully, he's got the next four years to prove himself.

For now, we should take a look at other events that took place on this date in history on the twentieth day of October.

1803 - The United States Senate ratifies the Louisiana Purchase

1818 - The United States and the United Kingdom sign the Convention of 1818, which permanently fixes the U.S./Canada border along the 49th parallel

1873 - Politician/activist Nellie McClung (d. 1951) is born in Chatsworth, Ontario

1882 - Actor Bela Lugosi (d. 1956) is born in Romania

1883 - The Treaty of Ancon is signed by Chile and Peru

1904 - Chile and Bolivia sign the Treaty of Friendship

1913 - Singer/banjo player Grandpa Jones (d. 1998) is born

1927 - American psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers (d. 2013) is born in Brooklyn, New York

1931 - Baseball player Mickey Mantle (d. 1995) is born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma

1935 - Actor Jerry Orbach (d. 2004) is born in The Bronx, New York

1941 - The Kragujevac Massacre takes place in German occupied Serbia, killing thousands of civilians

1944 - 130 people are killed and a portion of Cleveland is destroyed following a natural gas explosion

1947 - The House Un-American Activities Commission investigates communist activity in Hollywood which spawns the infamous Hollywood blacklist

1951 - The "Johnny Bright" incident takes place in Stillwater, Oklahoma

1968 - Jacqueline Kennedy marries Aristotle Onassis

1973 - The Sydney Opera House in Australia opens to the public

1982 - Sixty-six people are crushed to death at a UEFA Cup match in what would come to be known as the Luzhniki disaster

1991 - Out-of-control wildfires consume portions of Oakland, California killing 25 people and causing over two billion dollars in damage

1994 - American actor Burt Lancaster dies at the age of 80

2014 - Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta dies at the age of 82

And for celebrity birthdays, we have the following people turning one year older; Robert Craft, Colin Jeavons, Timothy West, Sandra Dickinson, Tom Petty, William Russ, Melanie Mayron, Keith Hernandez, Bill Nunn, Steve Orich, Thomas Newman, Danny Boyle, Jane Bonham-Carter, Mark King, Viggo Mortensen, Eric Scott, Mark Little, Julie Payette, Elizabeth Carling, Susan Tully, Snoop Dogg, Dannii Minogue, Dan Fogler, John Krasinski, Katie Featherston, Jennifer Freeman, and Hunter King.

Okay, so let's take a look back through time and see what date we'll be looking at this week.

Ah, October 20, 1977.  A date that...I wasn't around for.  But for someone who is a huge fan of music as I am, maybe it's a good thing I wasn't around to experience it.  After all, it was the year that one band had the ultimate tragedy happen.

You know, just doing a quick Google search, 1977 was a year in which many musical legends passed away.  I mean, in one year we lost Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo, and of course, Elvis Presley.  I know people cite that day in February 1959 as the day the music died, but 1977 seemed to be the year that music died.

And in the case of this band that originated out of Jacksonville, Florida, the band had to deal with losing three of their members in a fiery plane crash on this date thirty-eight years ago.

I'm sure you know which band I'm taking about.  If not, have a listen to this.

ARTIST:  Lynyrd Skynyrd
SONG:  Sweet Home Alabama
ALBUM:  Second Helping
DATE RELEASED:  June 24, 1974

Yes, we're talking about the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.  And let me tell you, I had to actually look up the proper way to spell Lynyrd Skynyrd for this piece, I'm ashamed to say.  But then again when I was little, I couldn't even pronounce the band's name.  For years, I kept referring to the group as "The Lanyard Band". 

Getting back on topic, the song above could be easily considered the band's signature song, released a little over three years prior to the plane crash.  And at the time of the plane crash, the band was at an all-time high.

Three days earlier, on October 17, 1977, the band released their fifth studio album, "Street Survivors", and the word on the street was that it was set to be the band's best effort yet.

It was the band's first album featuring their brand new guitarist/vocalist Steve Gaines, who was hired to replace departed member Ed King.  At that time, Steve's sister, Cassie, was one of the backup singers for Lynyrd Skynyrd - a group affectionately nicknamed "The Honkettes", had put in a good word for Steve and insisted that he was perfect for the group's sound.  Of course, the band would have to be in complete agreement, and lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant would have the final say.

Well, the time for Steve Gaines to prove himself came on May 11, 1976 when the band asked Gaines to join them on stage to play.  And when he got up on stage that night, his guitar picking and playing skills blew everyone away, and he officially became a member of the band not long after.

Gaines' abilities certainly got the attention of Ronnie Van Zant, who was blown away by his talent.  Privately, he once remarked that the band would be in HIS shadows one day.  Van Zant believed in Gaines' abilities so much that for the first time since the band got together, Van Zant let Gaines take lead vocals on the song "Ain't No Good Life" - one of the few songs that featured someone other than Van Zant on lead vocals.

When "Street Survivors" was released, it was the first time that Gaines would be featured on an album, and it seemed as though his future, as well as the future of the band would be unstoppable.

The band had already embarked on a tour five days prior to October 20, 1977, and on that day, the band had just finished performing in Greenville, South Carolina and was due to arrive in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that same day for the band's next gig.

They never made it.

The plane that the band chartered had run out of fuel midway through the flight, and while the crew of the plane tried to make an emergency landing, it wasn't enough to stop the plane from crashing in the middle of a forest near McComb, Mississippi.

The news was grave.  The pilot and co-pilot were dead.  The band's assistant road manager, Dean Kilpatrick was also deceased.

And three of the members of the band - Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines perished in the crash.

The rest of the band and crew survived the crash, but all of them had serious injuries.  And without a lead singer and guitarist, the band was essentially finished.  The group broke up shortly after the crash, likely not feeling up to playing concerts following the deaths of three of their members.

Eerily, Ronnie Van Zant seemed to have a premonition about his death.  He always talked about mortality and how he felt his time in the world was limited, which creeped those who knew him best out.  He even predicted that he would not live long enough to see his thirtieth birthday.

At the time of the plane crash, Van Zant was 29.

The album that the band promoted at the time of the crash, "Street Survivors" had to be re-released.  After all, the original cover showed the band standing in a fiery background with Steve Gaines in particular covered in flames.  The record company released the album with a solid black background instead, to make it more respectful.  And in spite of the tragedy, the album's sales skyrocketed and the lead single, "What's Your Name", reached #13 on the Billboard Charts.

But the band didn't release any more music - at least not for another ten years anyway.

In 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited for a tour with many of the band's original members (including original guitarist Ed King) coming back to release and record new material.  As for the lead singer role, Ronnie Van Zant's brother, Johnny took over.  And while the band has gone through several personnel changes as members left or passed away, Lynyrd Skynyrd still performs and records music - their last album, "Last of a Dyin' Breed" was released in the summer of 2012.

Still, I don't think anybody who was around that time will forget October 20, 1977 - the day that Lynyrd Skynyrd was changed forever.

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