been nearly 25 years since three members of legendary Southern rock band
Lynyrd Skynyrd were killed in a plane crash in Mississippi.
For most bands, the story would end there. But for Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band that recorded such classics as Sweet Home Alabama and Freebird, the drama continues to this day through a tangled web of lawsuits, consent decrees, power struggles, accusations, and broken friendships.
In this one-hour special, VH1 News Correspondent Jake Tapper interviews band members past and present to find out why Lynyrd Skynyrd is still entrenched in the South’s most bitter feud since the Hatfields and the McCoys. During the process, he uncovers a number of new firsts about the band, which continues to sell $13 million in concert tickets each year while having only two original members.
VH1 was granted the first-ever access to the Magnolia, Mississippi site of the plane crash that killed band members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie Gaines on October 20, 1977. Farm owner Johnny Mote reveals for the first time on camera the exact spot where the plane crashed into his pine forest – a spot still speckled with broken glass and airplane debris.
In another first, band co-founder guitarist Gary Rossington angrily claims that one of the heroic myths surrounding drummer Artimus Pyle after the crash is in fact a lie. Legend has it that Pyle was able to escape the plane after it crashed and run through the Mississippi woods to get help for the others. Rossington claims that Pyle was a coward and just ran away.
In response, an irate Pyle threatens Rossington, who dumped him from Lynyrd Skynyrd, leaving the drummer to lead a quasi-Skynyrd cover band called APB (All Points Bulletin) that brings in $700 a night – versus the $100,000 per night take for Rossington’s Lynyrd Skynyrd.
VH1 was also granted first-time access to Ronnie Van Zant’s new grave by his widow Judy Van Zant Jenness who has emerged as the most powerful member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, even though she’s never on stage. Van Zant’s grave was ransacked two years ago, and has since been moved to a more secure area.
When asked if it upset her that Ronnie’s brother Johnny Van Zant now sings her late husband’s signature song “Freebird” as his replacement in the band today, Van Zant Jenness replied, “It did because he had sad that he would never sing that song and then he changed his mind. But there’s been a lot…Everybody changes their mind. Personally, I don’t ever want to hear anybody else sing it, but, you know, somebody is…” Johnny Van Zant later explains to Tapper why he decided to sing his brother’s song that is now one of rock’s most popular anthems.
And for the first time, keyboardist Billy Powell comments on lies he told in previous interviews, including VH1’s Behind the Music in 1997, about the plane crash. Former guitar player Ed King also weighs in on Rossington’s claims about Pyle after the crash and gives some inside perspective on the dynamics that have almost pulled the band apart.
In addition, Judy Van Zant Jenness, Johnny Van Zant and other band members sound off on the proposal that would have the current version of Lynyrd Skynyrd commemorate the 25th anniversary of the plane crash with a live concert – at the actual crash site in Mississippi.