Home / Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Billy Powell Dead at 56

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Billy Powell Dead at 56

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Billy Powell, the only keyboard man that Lynyrd Skynyrd ever had, died just two days ago at his home near Jacksonville, Florida. He started as a roadie, and in 1973 became the keyboardist.

More facts are coming out regularly, and according to the latest I’ve seen from other news sources, Powell failed to show up for a medical appointment with a heart specialist for a cardiac evaluation. Then on Tuesday just before 1 a.m., he called 911 and stated he was having trouble breathing. Paramedics performed CPR but he was declared dead around 2 a.m.

It’s hard to believe that somebody who I’d just seen and briefly spoke with just over two weeks ago, and who had seemed to be in good health, is no longer on the planet. I had been very fortunate in winning a berth on cruise sponsored by Sixthman, which I wrote about here.

Powell managed to survive the 1977 plane crash carrying members of Lynyrd Skynyrd. It killed lead vocalist Ronnie van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, vocalist Cassie Gaines, and road manager Dean Kilpatrick. Co-founder and guitarist Gary Rossington and drummer Artimus Pyle (who left the band in 1992) are now the only living members who survived that fateful day.

During the time that Lynyrd Skynyrd was not active, Powell played with a number of different groups, including his own, Alias. Lynyrd Skynyrd has been appearing lately, and has canceled two shows that were upcoming.

Although the group was known as a guitar band, the three guitarists didn’t dominate, which allowed the others in the group, particularly Powell, freedom to stretch out and show his stuff. Which is exactly what he had done when Ronnie van Zant offered him the job invited to join the band.

Lynyrd Skynyrd got a huge push first from their music, which was raucous, rowdy and fun, but they also got push from Al Kooper, an early blues and rock musician, who has played with Mike Bloomfield, Jimi Hendrix, Stephen Stills, the Stones, Bob Dylan, and many others.

Powell is survived by his wife, Ellen Vera Powell, and four children.

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About Lou Novacheck

  • Sad day.

    I once heard an old studio demo of “Freebird” when it was just a guitar song, and it sounded rather ordinary. Adding the piano in what became the released version really made the song.