On Friday, the classic Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd brings the “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour” to Baton Rouge.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s local appearances through the years include the band’s opening date for its 1991 tour. In a way, that performance was a makeup date for the 1977 “Street Survivors Tour” show that didn’t happen at LSU’s Assembly Center.
On Oct. 20, 1977, during a flight from Greenville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s turbo-prop plane descended into piney woods near McComb, Mississippi. The crash killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup vocalist Cassie Gaines. Road manager Dean Kilpatrick and the plane’s two pilots also died. Twenty other members of the entourage were injured.
By 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd was the preeminent Southern rock band. The group from Jacksonville, Florida, had released a succession of hits and future classics: “Gimme Three Steps,” “Simple Man,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Call Me the Breeze,” “Saturday Night Special,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Free Bird.”
MCA Records released Lynyrd Skynyrd’s sixth album, “Street Survivors,” three days before the tragedy in Mississippi. The album cover depicted the group surrounded by fire. MCA quickly withdrew the album, replacing the cover with a similar group portrait on a black backdrop.
Following a decade-long post-crash hiatus, survivors Gary Rossington, Leon Wilkeson, Billy Powell and Artimus Pyle reunited. Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny, joined as lead singer.
Originally intended to be temporary, the return of Lynyrd Skynyrd has continued for 31 years.
“We’re not an oldies band,” bassist Wilkeson told The Advocate in 1991. “We never broke up. We just had a plane crash.”
Named one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Bands of All Time and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, Skynyrd has released 60 albums (studio, live and compilations) and sold more than 30 million units worldwide.
But no road goes on forever. If the “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour” really is final, Lynyrd Skynyrd won’t come this way again.
Raising Cane’s River Center, the venue for Friday’s Lynyrd Skynyrd show, occupies another significant place in Skynyrd history. In 1991, the venue played host for the “Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991” tour, named after the first album of new Skynyrd songs since 1977’s “Street Survivors.” People who had held on to their ticket from the scheduled 1977 show were able to use them — about 100 people actually had theirs, according to an article from the time.
In 1993, prior to another of Skynyrd’s Baton Rouge performances, Rossington spoke to The Advocate about the 1991 show at the River Center, then called the Centroplex.
“It was the gig we were going to that we never got to do,” the guitarist said on what happened to be the 16th anniversary of the plane crash. “All the fans, people who had tickets from back then (1977), got in free if they showed them. Most of them had kept them. We had a big meet-and-greet for I don’t know how many hundreds of people that were coming backstage. At that one particular show, it seemed like all the old Skynyrd fans — the ones who were going to be there at that ’77 gig — were there with their kids and their mothers.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s departed members would always be part of the band, Rossington added.
“God bless them; they’re onstage in spirit,” he said. “They’re with us when we do a record. When we’re writing, it seems like they’re there, too.”
Rossington also vowed that Lynyrd Skynyrd would continue.
“God gave us a gift,” he said. “We’re going to share it until we can’t share it anymore, as long as people want to hear us.” True to the band’s working-class roots, the guitarist added, “We just keep going on because that’s all we know how to do — either that or pick strawberries or mow lawns.”
The revived Skynyrd carried on despite more deaths and/or departures. Most recently, Ed King, the guitarist who co-wrote “Sweet Home Alabama,” died in August. King left the band in 1975 but rejoined from 1987 to 1996.
In 2018, Rossington is the only original member still performing with the band.
“This farewell tour has already been the perfect end to an incredible run,” Rossington said in a statement. “There is still lots of road to go and lots of fans to see one last time.”
7 p.m. Friday
Raising Cane’s River Center, 275 S. River Road