What Lynyrd Skynyrd played on their last show


October 20, 1977 is the darkest day in southern rock. It’s the day the greatest crossover group of its kind, one that achieved global success without compromising its southern roots, was irreparably fractured. It was the day Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane carrying them from South Carolina to Louisiana crashed into a heavily wooded, swampy forest five miles from the nearest town. Of the 26 on board, Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, as well as backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, deputy road manager Dean Kilpatrick and both pilots, died on impact.

The accident had suddenly and tragically ended a booming career. In a dense group scene, including sidekicks like Molly Hatchet and 39 Special (with Van Zandt’s brother Donnie), Lynyrd Skynyrd stood out as the biggest and most capable of the pack. With a three-guitar attack and musicality far beyond the simple blues-based boogie of their peers, Skynyrd has brought arranged solos and pop melodies to their southern fried charm, creating some of the most memorable rock classics of the world. 1970s, including “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Free Bird”.

To make matters even more devastating, 1977 found the band in full swing. With guitarist Ed King leaving in 1975, the band sought to rekindle their signature three-guitar sound, with Cassie Gaines recommending her brother Steve. Steve Gaines was not only a guitarist, but also a talented singer and songwriter, giving new life to a band that largely depended on Van Zandt’s leadership until then. Gaines contributed lead vocals to the song ‘Ain’t No Good Life’ and performed a duet with Van Zandt on ‘You Got That Right’ on the original incarnation’s latest album, Street survivors.

Despite the spark of life that Gaines brought to the group, a streak of palpable danger had always followed, mostly rooted in their substance abuse issues. Van Zandt was a heavy drinker, while guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins had both had separate car crashes the year before. Rossington’s was specifically due to his cocaine use, and Van Zandt decided to write a song that eerily predicted the consequences of excess, “That Smell”.

With a new album in box, Lynyrd Skynyrd left for their Street survivors Tour that brought them to Europe and, for the first time, to Japan. A southern rock band having enough success to transport them to Asia was a big deal, and indeed Skynyrd was riding a wave. Still a touring band, Skynyrd spent most of 1977 on the road, solidifying his place as a cross-stage actor. While the group had previously opened for The Who as a rookie actor, they were now performing in those same venues as headliners.

When the group traveled to Greenville, SC on October 19, 1977, it was after a three-night tour of their native Florida. With Street survivors having released just two days before the concert in Greenville, the group renamed the new stage of the tour with an ominous name: “Tour of the Survivors”. The group had perfected their show by this point, an hour and a half of twelve songs through their entire history that touched both classic and new songs.

Opening with the song that chronicles the signing of their autobiographical record, “Workin ‘For MCA,” the band explodes through setlist additions like “Saturday Night Special” and “Whiskey Rock-a-Roller” before they hit the road. stop for “That Smell”. Despite his warning, there were no dark clouds above the group that night. Gaines embarked on a solo tour on “Ain’t No Good Life” before the band embarked on one of their original hits, “Gimme Three Steps”. Two covers followed, including “Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)” by Jimmie Rodgers and “Call Me the Breeze” by JJ Cale, a showcase for Billy Powell’s unparalleled classic piano playing and boogie-woogie.

For the finale, Lynyrd Skynyrd released his two most legendary compositions: “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird,” the latter of which took off in its extended live form, starting slowly before rising and ascending to a climax, nearly 20 minutes of guitar solos and ecstatic liberation. ‘Free Bird’ was still impossible to beat, and once the band hit those jubilant final notes, they left the stage for the last time.

Except it wasn’t really the last time. Lynyrd Skynyrd would reform in the late 1980s with Ronnie’s younger brother Johnny on vocals. The reassembled rosters continued to hit the road, but with each passing year brought a new blow to the central roster. Classical members like King, Collins, Powell, drummer Bob Burns, and bassist Leon Wilkeson have all passed away, leaving Rossington just to guide the good ship Lynyrd Skynyrd on his seemingly endless southern rock journey. The original programming is all but gone, but Lynyrd Skynyrd still survives. In the end, that’s all they could do.

No audio was unearthed from the final show, but video of the group’s show in Asbury Park, New Jersey just a week before has been kept. You can see the performance below.

Lynyrd Skynyrd October 19, 1977, Greenville, SC setlist:

  1. ‘Work’ for MCA ‘
  2. “I’m not the only one”
  3. “Saturday night special”
  4. ‘Rock-a-Roller Whiskey’
  5. ‘This smell’
  6. “Traveling man”
  7. “It’s not a good life”
  8. “Give me three steps”
  9. ‘Call Me the Breeze’ (cover by JJ Cale)
  10. ‘Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)’ (cover by Jimmie Rodgers)
  11. “Sweet Home Alabama”
  12. ‘Free Bird’


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