The outpouring of love for Billy Powell over the past 24 hours has been unprecedented. It is very obvious that both he and his beloved Lynyrd Skynyrd are absolutely loved and adored world wide. It comes as no surprise to me, after eleven years of running a Southern Rock magazine and website. The Skynyrd fans have always been the most passionate and devoted of all.
I myself only met Billy Powell once. It was in October, 1977 here in Greenville, the evening before the tragic plane crash. The band just smoked that night, but before they went onstage, I was fortunate enough to meet each of the band members, thanks to drummer Artimus Pyle. All I remember about Billy was that he was very quiet. The quietest member besides Steve Gaines. But when he hit the stage, his magic fingers could do no wrong, whether they were playing honky tonk, rock and roll, or the almost classical beauty of his now legendary “Free Bird” introduction.
We spoke with several fellow musicians, friends and fellow road warriors who were all more than happy to share their thoughts on the Southern Rock legend that was Billy Powell. All of the quotes are GRITZ/Swampland exclusives except the first one. Brother Charlie Daniels had already posted his heartfelt feelings on his own site, but kindly allowed us to reprint it. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the Comments section following the article.
Billy Powell and Sparky rock the boat on The Simple Man Cruise earlier this month. (Photo by Tom Bell)
“I've always felt that there's a special bond between people who make their living playing music on the road. A bond of understanding the road life and all it entails, a bond of loving the music we play and admiration for the others who burn the midnight oil running up and down the highways of America.
It's a big business but each band has their own little world of bands you tour with and special friends you have shared your professional life with and when that world is reduced by just one person it leaves a hole.
I got word this morning that Billy Powell, one of the original members of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band, passed away from a heart attack today.
Billy was an exceptionally talented piano player and all the fresh and inventive keyboard parts we've enjoyed on their records for all these years have been created and played by Billy.
My heart goes out to Gary, Dale, Ricky and Sparky, the crew and families of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band. They've suffered so many heartaches over the years.
We all remember the plane crash that claimed the lives of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve and Cassie Gaines, Dean Kilpatrick and the pilots.
Some years later Allen Collins passed away, then Leon Wilkeson and now Billy.
I would just like for the surviving members to know that the hearts of us, your brothers of the road, go out to you. And speaking for myself, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your families during this trying time.
God Bless the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band. With love and condolences.
- Charlie Daniels
"Billy, you will be missed on this earth. "Free Bird" will never be the same. We had a lot of fun together in the original Lynyrd Skynyrd band, and even though I wasn't on the plane crash because of divine intervention, I have loved you all and prayed for you for 32 years. I know I'll see you ion Heaven. But while my time here remains I'm going to spend it singing, praying and preaching about the marvelous love and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. Rest in peace my brother. From your sister,
- Rev. Jo Jo Billingsley, Original Skynyrd Honkette
PS: I know Billy wouyld want all you fans to know that you can be a part of the biggest Skynyrd reunion ever in Heaven.
"Billy Powell was a great guy and a soulful musician who went through a lot and still always kept his chin up. I was proud to have known him."
“You know the first thing I thought of when I heard this unbelievable news was Billy & I had spoken a few times recently, and several text messages trying to hook up for some outdoor recreating and boating. Of course my heart and soul are broken at such a great loss for us all.
He and I when on the phone would just break bad and ridiculously silly bantering back and forth on Popeye and Bluto, Richard Pryor and God knows what else, and just sit there and laugh at the whole spectacle. Before Leon's passing, the three of us just really clicked throughout the entire Rossington Collins experience tragically cut short.
Those two would just lift me off the ground with all of their accolades and support of my playing in RCB. And of course the next thing that came to mind is the 2 a.m. phone call I got from Billy back in the spring of 1980 inviting me out to Allen's studio for a go at the drum gig for RCB. Yes it was Billy. I had the gig in 45 min. He will be sorely missed by me and I know many many Billy Powell fans. He was no doubt the fan favorite. God Bless Billy Powell, and I give much thanks and gratitude to have known him and played at such a high level of performing.
-Derek Hess, Rossington Collins Band/Mainstream South
‘By far the best piano man that ever was. And a great friend to me and my family. My kids loved Billy and so did everybody. I'm still in shock. I can't believe this.”
- Mike Estes, former Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist/Skinny Molly
“Billy Powell was an amazing musician and a fellow Three Stooges fan. Billy, Leon and myself never tired of Curly, Larry and Moe on the tours I spent with them. He was a fine friend and he never ceased to amaze me with his honky tonk piano expertise.
There will never be anyone to fill his shoes. The music world has lost a great talent and a good friend. God Bless you Billy.”
-Jay Johnson, Blackfoot/Rossington Band/Southern Rock Allstars
“A musician's legacy is his music. In a three guitar band, Billy Powell's piano melodies were the icing on the cake. When you listen to 'Sweet Home Alabama' you hear why Billy's music will live on. He will be missed.”
- Johnny Sandlin, famed Southern Producer and Musician
“Billy was an iconic figure for all rock piano players...and especially for southern piano players. His many fine contributions to Lynyrd Skynyrd are widely known and appreciated by fans and musicians alike. I met Billy several times during our careers and always found him to be a true gentleman. This is a very sad loss for all of us, and may he rest in peace...but the good news is that we're fortunate to have his recordings for all of us to enjoy as a legacy.”
- Chuck Leavell, The Rolling Stones/The Allman Brothers
“Billy Powell was one of the first rock and roll piano players to get my attention. When I heard Billy for the first time, I thought to myself, "that’s what I wanna do!" He had such a great balance of rock, classical, and pure honky-tonk, sometimes all in the same song. He was a musicians musician, as well as a peoples musician. I never had the chance to meet Billy, and was hoping to meet him on the Simple Man Cruise. Unfortunately, I never ran into him there. But I'm sure, as he's reassembling with old comrades, and Ronnie asks that all too familiar question, "What song is it you wanna hear?", Billy will play that opening intro to the opus, now his own requiem, with all the grace and finesse that we've all come to know, from such a great musician. Rest In Peace, Billy.
- John Galvin, Keyboards, Molly Hatchet
“When it comes to Billy Powell, the only words I can say...
A brillant, melodic, creative talent. He had so much more music to give our world. We will miss you.”
- Dave Hlubek, Molly Hatchet
“Billy could "Honky Tonk" a piano like nobody else. Anytime I ever sat in with a band who played “Sweet Home Alabama,” I was embarrassed when it came time for me to play a solo. I couldn't seem to swing it like Billy.”
- Paul Hornsby, famed record producer/musician
“Billy Powell and Chuck Leavel are without a doubt the two greatest Piano Players that ever came out of The South, bar none!
Billy was also the most educated member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and understood music far more than the Southern Rock which he played so well and so effortlessly.
When it came time for me to audition Billy he sat down and played me a lot of the Classical Greats. I replied "That's great BUT can you play that finger jabbin honky tonk?"
He did and blew me away. After I gave Ronnie my ok, he waited and called a few days later to tell me he had decided to add Billy Powell as another member.
The next step was to hire Leon Wilkeson back and move Ed King from bass to Guitar.....And the Three Guitar Army came alive and Skynyrd became the final original seven member non-stoppable show stopping, as kicking machine that never missed.
Throughout all the years Billy Powell was always a complete gentleman and always friendly to me. I will miss him so very much and it is such a tragedy to lose another young talented musician and friend.”
- Alan Walden, former Lynyrd Skynyrd Manager
“We in The Marshall Tucker Band are just broken hearted over the loss of our friend and brother of the road Billy Powell. We will miss him and never forget his brilliant contributions to rock and roll.”
- Doug Gray, Marshall Tucker Band
“I met Billy Powell in 1973 at a club in Nashville Tn. called Mothers Music Emporium. It was a three act show with a local band called Flat Creek which featured Tommy and Billy Crain, The Outlaws, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Skynyrd's producer Al Kooper was there at sound check jamming with the band. After they were done everyone left the stage but Billy. He sat at his piano and played a classical music piece for about ten minutes. We were all amazed at his talent. You didn't hear music like that in the circles we traveled. It was a beautiful introduction to a wonderful man and extraordinary talent. I'll miss him.”
- Henry Paul, The Outlaws
“I did a lot of shows with Skynyrd. Billy was one if the nicest guys I've ever met. He always had something good and positive to say . We will all miss him. Billy, Kerry's up there with you so you should hook up and start a band.”
- Tommy Crain, Crosstown Allstars/The Charlie Daniels Band
“Billy was a very nice guy who played the piano like no one else, he was powerful and played with conviction...He will be missed.”
- Dangerous Dan Toler, Toler Townsend/The Allman Brothers Band
“Other than doing the shows we did with Skynyrd back in the Day, I didn't really get to know Billy Powell on a personal level, but the licks he played on any and everything he ever did will be remember from now on. Billy Powell is as much of a Southern Rock Icon as anyone that has gone on before him.”
- Donnie Winters, Winters Brothers Band
“Billy Powell was one of the fortunate few. He lived an amazing life, made significant contributions to American music and will be remembered as long as rock and roll is played. I applaud the performance; I just wish we could get an encore.”
- Dick Cooper, Muscle Shoals Promoter and Manager
NOTE: We also heard from a couple of current and past Skynyrd alumni who are simply too shaken to comment at this time. Please understand that it is just to early for some of them to comment.
Billy and his brothers are welcomed into The Rok and Roll Hall of Fame.
REST IN PEACE, BILLY.