Billy Powell, the keyboardist for the seminal southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd died yesterday at the age of 56! He apparently had heart issues for quite some time but still, 56! Gary Rossington once told Ronnie Van Zant’s widow that three of the group’s longtime members would have to be present to be able to tour under the band’s name and Billy will be the third one to have died since the plane crash (Leon Wilkerson died in 2001 and Allen Collins in 1990). Some in the southern rock world have claimed Gary is a scheming bastard and he’ll tour under that name until he dies himself. At least now we know why Ed King isn’t in the current lineup, he’s probably afraid for his life.
In regards to the Skynyrd legacy – they never reached the instrumental depths of the Allman Brothers or Marshall Tucker, but they had more than their share of classic riffs and Ronnie Van Zant’s lyrics often belied his rough n’ tumble stage persona. And speaking of the stage, they play with fire live. Listening to the One More From the Road discs right now and on both the originals and covers they build an impressive roar without forgetting about dynamics. And Billy Powell was capable of either a delicate touch or stomping out the honky tonk to anchor those three brawling guitars. It’s worth getting past the cliches of Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird to hear this band with fresh ears.