35 Years After Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Plane Crash: 5 Unlikely Tributes

October 20, 1977, marked one of the greatest tragedies in rock ‘n’ roll history, when a plane crash killed three members of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Three days after the release of the band’s fifth album, “Street Survivors,” lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines were all killed on impact when their tour plane crashed into a swampy forest in Mississippi.

The tragedy signaled the end of the band’s original lineup, with an ABC news report at the time reporting that the surviving members of the band vowed that they would never play under the name Lynyrd Skynyrd again.

That didn’t prove to be true. While the band disbanded after the tragedy, a decade later four of the crash survivors — Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson, and Artimus Pyle– teamed up with former member Ed King, and the late Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny, for a tribute tour.

And they haven’t stopped touring.

A revamped lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd remains today, with the band’s latest studio album, “Last of a Dyin’ Breed” released in August 2012. But 35 years later, the original band’s songs from the 1970s are still timeless.

Thirty-five years after the tragic plane crash that ended the original Skynyrd lineup, check out these unlikely artists who’ve performed Lynyrd Skynyrd tributes and covers.

Neil Young –“Sweet Home Alabama”

While Lynyrd Skynyrd did call out Neil Young in the song “Sweet Home Alabama,” rumors of a feud between the “Southern Man” singer and the Southern rockers is an urban rock legend. Young took the mention as a compliment and said in a 2012 interview that he had planned to collaborate with Skynyrd on the song, “Powderfinger” before the fatal crash changed everything. In a 1995 interview with Mojo magazine, Young revealed that the band had actually asked to record one of his songs, and he said of the “Alabama” flap: “Oh, they didn’t really put me down! But then again, maybe they did! But not in a way that matters… I think ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is a great song. I’ve actually performed it live a couple of times myself.”

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The Deftones — “Simple Man”

In 1994, alternative metal band Deftones recorded a not-so-simple version of Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” (It appears on their “B-Sides & Rarities” compilation.) But in an interview with Ultimate Guitar, Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno admitted he didn’t even know the classic 1973 song when he recorded it. “The same day I sang it was the first time I ever heard it,” Moreno said. “It’s funny because at that time…I didn’t even have kids then. Now when I hear that song I totally connect with it because I’m a father and the nature of the song and the lyrics is kind of a mother talking to her son or whatever. Now I’m able to even connect with it whereas when I recorded it I didn’t even have any kids.”

B.A.M.A. – “Sweet Home Alabama”

In 2004, Alabama rap duo B.A.M.A. (aka Boyz After Money Always) released a hip hop version of “Sweet Home Alabama.” With the exception of the chorus, the lyrics were completely changed up. Brian “Taurus Caine” Morris and Darius “Rain” Lacey rapped about their home state, with no mention of Birmingham, Muscle Shoals, or Neil Young whatsoever. (Although they did mention that “Bama chicks stay fly from head to toe.”)

Will Ferrell –“Freebird”

Leave it to Will Ferrell to take a Lynyrd Skynyrd anthem and totally butcher it. But it was all in good fun. The comedian stopped by Conan O’Brien’s final show to perform a screechy rendition of Skynyrd’s classic song, “Freebird.” Ferrell closed the show with the a little help from ZZ Top, Beck, Ben Harper and Conan (who played guitar). The only help we needed was some earplugs.

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Johnny Van Zant — “Freebird”

And finally, singer Johnny Van Zant paid the ultimate tribute to his brother. In this interview, Van Zant explained why the re-formed band went so many years without singing Skynyrd’s signature song, “Freebird,” opting instead to play it as an instrumental in concerts. Van Zant said of the song that his late brother penned with Allen Collins in the early 1970s: “The words say ‘If I leave here tomorrow.’ It was kind of hard for me to sing that, emotionally.” It was band mate Gary Rossington who changed his tune. Van Zant said Rossington told him, “Ronnie was a songwriter…and he wrote those words and I’m sure he’d want to hear them.” Johnny Van Zant sang the song for the first time at the end of the band’s Tribute Tour in 1989.

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