A friend pointed out yesterday (10/20) that it was the 38th anniversary of the plane crash that "killed" the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Six were killed in the crash, and 20 injured (10 critically). This included Ronnie Van Zant, founder, leader, lead singer, lyricist for the band.
A sad event in the history of rock, which has no shortage of sad events. But this one was personal for me. I was 17 at the time, and a complete Skynyrd fan. I (of course) had all their records, and knew them note-for-note. I had the tee-shirts, the posters... I had seen them twice in the previous 18 months, and was gearing up to see them on the just started tour. (They were scheduled to play Pittsburgh November 27th, the brand new Street Survivors album included an insert with the tour dates). I remember the night of the crash hearing preliminary reports on the radio, and staying up late hoping to hear updates.
Anyway... The anniversary got me thinking. What would the band's trajectory been if not for the wreck? Skynyrd was clearly peaking at the time of the crash. After 4 solid albums, they had broken through in 1976 with a hugely successful live album (One More From The Road), and had just released the critically acclaimed Street Survivors.
Clearly, that's just pointless speculation, but this is the internet, so let's go:
The first clues can be found in Street Survivors itself. It was a much more "polished" record than the previous releases. Many reviewers used the term "mature". But beyond mature, it seemed to be signalling a transition. Besides a song that may have been more "radio friendly", Street Survivors was the debut of new guitarist Steve Gaines (also killed in the crash), and his impact was immediate. He co-authored (or authored) 4 of the 8 songs on the album. And (rather dramatically) he sang lead on one song, and dual leads with RVZ on another. And there's none of the quirky songs from previous albums that were the heart of the band (Mississippi Kid, Curtis Loew, Made In The Shade, All I Can Do Is Write About It)... All of this points towards a future that was less "southern" of not less "rock". Which is not necessarily bad... or good. IF, of course that's what would've happened.
Look at what did happen: 2 years after the crash, (most of) the surviving members reformed under the name Rossington Collins Band. Over 2 albums, they proved that they could still write some killer songs.... but the lyrics were a big step down. And it was especially obvious on the 2nd album. I suspect that was as much a cause of their demise as the romance between Rossington and the new (female) singer. A year later, many of the remaining members of RCB reformed as Allen Collins Band. They only released 1 album, but it is one of my favorites of the time/genre.
So, Which future would've emerged? Would Street Survivors have been a stepping stone from Southern Rock to Mainstream? Like the Stones going (growing) from "Star Star" to "Start Me Up"? Or the Who from "My Generation" to "Sister Disco"? Would their sound have ended up somewhere between Springsteen and Van Halen? Or maybe Tom Petty meets Guns And Roses?? Or would the band snap back to their roots, as the survivors did? Or maybe just fade away, ending up on the same trajectory as the survivors, ending up as a only slightly more than Skynyrd cover band?
Ah well, it's all babbling, and solidly in the LT/DR category.
But I took the time to ponder, so I'm gonna publish.