Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist Billy Powell dies at 56

Billy Powell, the longtime keyboardist for the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, died early this morning (January 28th, 2009) of an apparent heart attack. He was 56. Here is the Reuters story:

Powell was one of the survivors of the 1977 plane crash which took the lives of original lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup singer Cassie Gaines. Two of the other crash survivors, guitarist Allen Collins and bassist Leon Wilkeson, have also since passed away. There are now two members who survived the crash who still live: original guitarist Gary Rossington (who still performs with the current Skynyrd lineup) and drummer Artimus Pyle (who is no longer involved with the band).

Powell was fortunate to survive the plane crash and live (and perform) for three more decades. Still, it is sad to hear of his passing at an early age. Of course, his famous keyboard intro to "Free Bird" will live on forever.

I am reminded of an eerie coincidence involving the last album released by Skynyrd in the '70's. In a classic, morbid case of bad timing, the 1977 album Street Survivors was released three days before that tragic plane crash. The above right image was the original cover art, which was deemed to be tasteless after the crash. Future pressings of the album substituted the cover art on the left. Adding to the macabre coincidences, the LP originally came with an order form for something called the Lynyrd Skynyrd Survival Kit, and both versions of the cover art showed Ronnie Van Zant wearing a shirt that referred to Neil Young's album Tonight's The Night. Newer CD editions of Street Survivors have restored the original fiery cover image.