October 20, 1977 – It’s one of the saddest days in rock history as Lynyrd Skynyrd loses three of their band members when their plane crashes in a swamp near Gillsburg, Mississippi. Singer/songwriter Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist/vocalist Steve Gaines, his sister, vocalist Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray are all declared dead at the scene. The crash seriously injured the rest of the band and crew, including keyboardist, Billy Powell, who had these recollections:
We had decided the night before that we would definitely get rid of the plane in Baton Rouge. So we started partying to celebrate the last flight on it. The right engine started sputtering, and I went up to the cockpit. The pilot said they were just transferring oil from one wing to another, everything’s okay. Later, the engine went dead. Artimus [Pyle] and I ran to the cockpit. The pilot was in shock. He said, ‘Oh my God, strap in.’ Ronnie [Van Zant] had been asleep on the floor and Artimus got him up and he was really pissed. We strapped in and a minute later we crashed. The pilot said he was trying for a field, but I didn’t see one. The trees kept getting closer, they kept getting bigger. Then there was a sound like someone hitting the outside of the plane with hundreds of baseball bats. I crashed into a table; people were hit by flying objects all over the plane. Ronnie was killed with a single head injury. The top of the plane was ripped open. Artimus crawled out the top and said there was a swamp, maybe alligators. I kicked my way out and felt for my hands — they were still there. I felt for my nose and it wasn’t, it was on the side of my face. There was just silence. Artimus and Ken Peden and I ran to get help Artimus with his ribs sticking out.
Ironically, the same plane had been inspected by members of Aerosmith‘s flight crew for possible use in the early summer of 1977, but was rejected because it was felt that neither the plane nor the crew were up to standards. Ronnie Van Zant’s last words before he boarded that plane were, “If it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.”
October 20, 1976 – The Song Remains The Same, a Led Zeppelin film, premieres in New York City. The filming took place during the summer of 1973, during three nights of concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York City, with additional footage shot at Shepperton Studios. Manager Peter Grant groused, “It was the most expensive home movie ever made”.
October 20, 1976 – U2 release their debut album, Boy. The release was followed by U2’s first tour of Europe and the U.S. “I Will Follow” was the only breakout track.
October 20, 2001 – The Concert for New York City takes place at Madison Square Garden, 39 days after the tragic events of 9/11. The charity concert is broadcast live on VH1 and raises over $35 million. Later, an additional $275,000 is raised auctioning autographed memorabilia from the show. Many of the attendees are families and members of the New York Fire & Police Departments, the charity’s recipients. Performers include organizer Paul McCartney, The Who, David Bowie, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, James Taylor, Billy Joel, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, and John Mellencamp.
October 20, 2004 – Courtney Love pleads guilty to disorderly conduct for throwing a microphone into the crowd at the Greenwich Village nightclub, Plaid, and hitting one of her fans. She is sentenced to pay the fan’s medical bill of $2,236, keep out of trouble for one year and participate in a drug treatment program over the course of the year. She says that throwing around a microphone stand was not unusual behavior for a rock star and, in fact, was just part of an ordinary night of performing.
October 20, 2004 – A toilet in Lenny Kravitz‘ $13 million NYC apartment overflows, causing $333,849 worth of water damage to the apartment below. He is sued for “catastrophic water damage” caused “solely by negligence and carelessness.”
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Classic Rock Birthdays
October 20, 1967 – Fred Coury, drums (Cinderella)
October 20, 1950 – Tom Petty, vocals, guitar (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Traveling Wilburys) (d. 2017)
October 20, 1951 – Alan Greenwood, keyboards (Foreigner)
October 20, 1945 – Ric Lee, drums (Ten Years After)
October 20, 1956 – Ricky Byrd, guitar (Joan Jett & Blackhearts)
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October 20, 2000 – Ronnie Van Zant, the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd, dies in a plane crash. He was 29. Van Zant seemed to know his destiny as he told many people that he knew he would not live until the age of 30. His father said Ronnie told him, “Van Zant’s father, Lacy, said, “He said to me many times, ‘Daddy, I’ll never be 30 years old. Daddy, that’s my limit.'” Ronnie was the brother of 38 Special leader Donnie Van Zant, and Johnny Van Zant, who has taken over his duties as lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
October 20, 2000 – Steve Gaines, the guitarist of Lynyrd Skynyrd, dies in a plane crash. He was 28. Steve was the newest member of the band at the time of his death, having replaced Ed King at the urging of his sister Cassie, who was a backup singer. Gaines played on only one studio album, Street Survivors, and on the live album, One More From The Road.
October 20, 2000 – Cassie Gaines, a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s backup singers The Honkettes, dies in a plane crash. She was 29. Prior to the fated flight, Cassie had indicated she wanted to ride with the band’s equipment truck, but was talked out of it. Less than two years after the plane crash, the Gaines’ mother, also named Cassie LaRue Gaines, was killed in an automobile accident near the cemetery where Steve and Cassie were buried.
October 20, 2011 – Photographer Barry Feinstein dies in Woodstock, NY. He was 80. Feinstein was responsible for capturing more than 500 record sleeve photographs, including ones for George Harrison, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and many others. In 1963 he married Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary.
October 20, 1997 – Henry Vestine ( a.k.a. “The Sunflower”) dies from heart and respiratory failure in a Paris hotel while on tour with Canned Heat. He was 52. Vestine got his start as one of the first members of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, but quickly became the guitarist for Canned Heat. Vestine was a lover of black blues music, an interest that was spurred while accompanying his father on trips collecting old blues recordings. Vestine was an avid collector, owning tens of thousands of blues, hillbilly, country and Cajun recordings. He also collected Harley Davidson motorcycles and once had eleven of them.
October 20, 2015 – Cory Wells (born Emil Lewandowski), lead vocalist of Three Dog Night, dies of multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, at his home in New York. He was 74. Wells formed Three Dog Night in 1968 and sang the lead vocal on their #1 song “Mama Told Me (Not to Come).” Through several breakups, he reformed the band and toured regularly with them until his death.