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Week in Rock History: Members of Lynyrd Skynyrd Die in Plane Crash

Plus: CBGBs closes

October 17, 2011 4:15 PM ET
Southern Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd (L-R back row Artimus Pyle, Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins and Steve Gaines, front row Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell) pose by their trailer backstage at an outdoor concert in October, 1976
Southern Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd (L-R back row Artimus Pyle, Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins and Steve Gaines, front row Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell) pose by their trailer backstage at an outdoor concert in October, 1976
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This week in rock history, Joan Baez was arrested for anti-war demonstrating, three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were killed in a plane crash, AC/DC toured England with Brian Johnson, Paul McCartney unveiled the Concert for New York City and CBGBs closed.

October 16, 1967: Joan Baez is arrested along with over 60 other anti-draft demonstrators
A passionate political activist, Joan Baez spoke out against the Vietnam War constantly in her folk music and in public forums. From headlining the famous anti-war 1967 concert at the Washington Monument to spurring Bob Dylan into civil rights discourse, she was widely influential in her anti-war adherence.

In 1967, the 26-year-old Baez participated several times in nonviolent protests outside the Armed Forces Induction Center in Oakland, California, which blocked the doorways of the draft center to discourage new recruits and cheer on those who resisted signing up (including the dramatic burning of draft cards, an iconic image of the 1960s). That fall, she was arrested along with many other protestors (generally estimated at over 60, the majority of them women) and imprisoned for a week.

Incarceration, however, worked out pretty well for Baez: while in the jail, she met fellow anti-draft activist and future husband David Harris.

Oct 20, 1977: Ronnie van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines of Lynyrd Skynyrd are killed in a plane crash
In the midst of their greatest mainstream success, "Free Bird" rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd were shaken by tragedy when three members and their road manager died in a plane crash.

Three days after the release of Street Survivors, the Florida band's fifth album (which included the hit singles “What’s Your Name” and “That Smell”), the group boarded a chartered aircraft to Baton Rouge, Louisiana – the sixth date of their major headlining tour. The flight crashed en route, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines, road manager Dean Kilpatrick and the two pilots. The remaining band members suffered serious injuries.

Lynyrd Skynyrd disbanded after the fatal flight, though Street Survivors continued to climb the charts (eventually going platinum). Eerily, the original sleeve artwork for the record showed the band members standing in a wall of flames; it was replaced in subsequent pressings. 

 

October 19, 1980: AC/DC begins first U.K. tour since the death of singer Bon Scott
After the death of  lead singer Bon Scott (in February of 1980), AC/DC nearly collapsed from the loss. The remaining band members debated calling it quits and also consulted with Scott's family, and then chose to carry on with replacement vocalist Brian Johnson of the band Geordie, whom Scott had once raved about to bandmate Angus Young. With Johnson, they completed songwriting and recording for their next album, Back in Black.

In the fall after Scott's death, AC/DC nervously embarked on a 20-date tour throughout the United Kingdom. They'd played several shows in the United States already, but the British gigs were even more daunting, as Bon Scott was born in Scotland and a national hero. These crucial performances of Back in Black were a test before all the fans who'd loved Scott's theatrics on the band's electrifying previous album, Highway to Hell – and Johnson was beside himself with worry before each gig, especially the inaugural night in Bristol, England.

Thankfully, AC/DC fans embraced the band during the tour, with Johnston swaggering through the now-ubiquitous title track and "You Shook Me All Night Long." Back in Black was the biggest album of the band's career, and has sold over 40 million copies to date.

 

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