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Leon Wilkeson Memorial

The Cat in The Hat - Remembering Leon Wilkeson

July 27, 2001

"If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? I must be traveling on now, there's just too many places I've got to see." - RVZ

We had been planning our August interview for a few weeks, thanks to connections via my new friends Tony Bullard and Pam Hockman. I was thrilled that I was going to get to speak to the original Lynyrd Skynyrd bass player. A guy I had met a couple of times in the distant past. A great bass player and a true one of a kind. The man who came to be known for his vast hat collection and cool demeanor.

Sadly, just days before our interview, Leon passed away. We have established this page as an on going memorial to Leon. God bless you brother. Fly on, proud freebird.

 

 

Friends and Fans Remember Leon


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I am going to make this short and sweet because I could go on and on... Today we said good-bye to our friend, Leon Russell Wilkeson (April 2, 1952 - July 27, 2001). Many words were spoken, many hugs exchanged. There were tears and there was laughter. Leon gave us this chance to appreciate LIFE and ALL that it has to offer. It rained. We dispersed feeling somehow lighter, knowing that Leon would have been moved by the outpouring of love. River danced in the rain and made people smile. His family, his band and his friends stood tall for a man that never lost his child-like wonderment.
Leon wore many different hats on stage, and it was mentioned in the service that he now has a new hat...a HALO.

Peace-out, 'Boruck Hashim', God Bless...
Artimus Pyle

 

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Southern Rock Allstars

Jakson Spires:
I only have fond memories of Thumper. We had a great time working and playing with him, his talents will be sorely missed.

Charles Hart:
I had the pleasure of hanging out with him for many occasions on the Tribute Tour, and I with him on several albums. As a bassist, I always admired his style, he was like another guitar player in that band, his licks were so original. Hope that you're jammin' with Kossoff, Leon.

Dave Hlubek:
Words can't express how I feel. He was a life long friend, it really is the end of an era.
God be with you Leon.

Jay Johnson:
I saw him and spoke with him every single day on the Tribute Tour. I laughed with him night after night watching Three Stooges episodes that we both had seen so many times that we knew the dialogue by heart. He had me crying with laughter every time he raised that visor so his hair would stand up. He showed up unexpectedely at my house so many times with that funny grin on his face, and at my few "acoustic only" performances he showed up ready to play all night with me. He was just that way.
A real nice, thoughtful human being. God bless you, Thumper.

From all of us in SRA, our thoughts and prayers go out to Leon's family. and to the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band.

 

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I`m very saddened to hear of the death of Leon. A very good bass player and a good guy. I was in Dickey Betts & Great Southern and we did a couple to three years of touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd. It seems the band has always had this dark cloud over them. I don`t quite understand the reason. With the plane crash, Allen and now Leon. Hopefully that dark cloud will be lifted and never come back. GOD blees you Leon.

-Dan Toler

 

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Leon Russell Wilkeson
April 4, 1952 - July 27, 2001

As the sad news sweeps the world, friends and fans alike grieve at the passing of the late great Leon Wilkeson. Known as the "man with the hats", Leon's bass was the driving force behind Lynyrd Skynyrd for 30 years. Leon was loved by all, he was a kind soul with a big heart, and a good friend to many. From a fans point of view, Leon was perhaps the most fan-friendly of all the Lynyrd Skynyrd members. He touched the lives of so many fans with his stories, and the caring way he always took the time to talk to the fans. He loved telling jokes. I can hear his deep voice in my mind right now, telling stories about Ronnie, about their first trip to Europe, about days gone by. He was never too busy for a kind word or to pose for a photo or sign an autograph. He listened to what the fans had to say, he asked questions, and he made the effort to make each and every person fortunate enough to meet him feel special. Leon loved the fans as much as they loved him.

Leon was special. Leon was unique. Quirky, eccentric, some might say. But to so many of us... he was just Leon. The pranks he pulled over the years sometimes made the headlines, but this just endeared him even more to his fans. He was a fun-loving man with a zest for life. He was an inspiration to bass players the world over.

Having barely survived the tragic plane crash on October 20, 1977, it seems ironic in a way that he would pass from us now. It's so hard to accept that he is gone, and sometimes God's will is hard to understand. It was just his time to go. I thank God that there was no pain and suffering before he passed, no extended illness.

I personally met Leon about a dozen times. He was always so nice to me, just a sweet, gentle man. Every year for many years, when I dug out my Christmas decorations, I would reverse the little cars of my "NOEL" train to read "LEON", and placed it in my music room. I will continue to do that in his memory, and smile fondly in rememberance.

Leon leaves behind a rich musical legacy for us to continue enjoying as well as for the generations to come. His signature bass lines have a permanent place in music history. He will never be forgotten, and never be replaced in our hearts. God Bless you, Leon Wilkeson, you'll be sadly missed. May you rest in peace.

-Patti Seitz

 

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Through out all my frustrations with and without The Lynyrd Skynyrd Band, "Thumper" kept thumping!!! May Ronnie and Allen and now Leon save a place for the rest of us when the time comes!

Alan Walden
Manager 1970-1974
The Original Lynyrd Skynryd Band

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I am deeply saddened and shocked by the death of a great southern rock comrade, Leon Wilkeson. I had the pleasure of meeting and "hanging out" with Leon, via Buzzy Meekins, back during the Danny Joe Brown band days, and was invited to his house, an old converted church or something, outside Jacksonville in the early 80's. Leon was a wonderful, down to earth guy, and as everyone knows, one of the most talented musicians that ever lived. His bass lines were very inventive and melodic. He will be sadly missed. Our thoughts and prayers to his family, friends, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

-John Galvin
Molly Hatchet Band

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What can I say? The best southern rock bassist is now playing with Ronnie, Steve, Cassie and Allen. The band in heaven is becoming better each day, but, we, on the earth we miss them more and more each day.
The all french fans are shocked. Our thoughts goes to his friends and family.

-Didier Demeslay editor of Bands of Dixie Magazine

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What can I say? An excellent player. He helped define the entire genre of southern rock (and not just the bass part... the whole feel and approach to the tunes). He was always a gentleman when we (the ABB) shared the stage with Skynyrd. A true talent and will be missed.

-David "Rook" Goldflies (former Allman Brother)

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Very sad news about Leon. He was an old friend And we will miss him dearly. We were on tour with them just before the plane crash and not to long after Leon came out and hosted some shows for us in Florida and sat in on drums with us. His hands were still messed up and he couldn't play bass yet. After on show in the dressing room I told him he didn't have to come out and play if he was hurting. He look at me and said Dennis you don't know how good it hurts. I'll never forget that moment and will never forget him doing that for us. God Bless Him and His Family.

-Dennis Winters, The Winters Brothers Band

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A long time ago in a land far away I met a great musician and fellow earthman who showed me that life is short in the long run but can be long in the short run we all share here on MotherEarth. We met in Atlanta many years ago when my group Sawbuck was opening for Lynryd Skynyrd at Hot Lanta down in Georgia. It was right after Ronnie Montrose had left the band and we were skirting to find his replacement. Leon and I chatted afterwards about life love and the endless road that we all travel during this outting of touring. He was a friend that I always will remember as upbeat entertaining and unravelled in his parallel of how things needed to be. He kept the bass where it needed to be and held that position until he passed. I will always love what he added to my life and that was the joy of music. God has a great band in the sky and Leon will always be there for God as he was for all of us. Rest in Peace my ole friend, for all of the trials and lessons are learned now and you can start anew in the Best Band in the world.

-Mojo Collins, Child of the Blues

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It is with a very heavy sad heart that I accept the news of Leon. We have had the occasion to meet Leon on many occasions and he always had time for a friendly handshake, picture, autograph, or joke. Leon was part of the fabric that has made this band endure and will be missed by us and the music world has lost a true picker,who never ever forgot his roots, his fans,and who he was God Bless You Brother Leon.

-Rick & Joann Pierce

 

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I had the great pleasure of meeting Leon at his home in Jacksonville, in the mid-seventies, while touring with Mahogany Rush. Someone brought me to meet Leon, who was in between operations to mend his left arm. He was one of the nicest musicians I had ever met. We talked about bass playing and of his un-flinching determination to get back to playing. I watched recently, the band perform on Austin City Limits.I also remember meeting the band in Montreal and doing a few shows with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Great folks all around and I offer my sympathies to all of Leon's family, friends and band members. It is a great loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

-Paul Harwood (x-Mahogany Rush)


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I am deeply saddened and shocked at Brother Leon's sudden and untimely passing. May he rest in peace. Thank you for so many years of wonderful music. I still listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd every single day. You will be sorely missed, my friend.

-Brian Butler- HooHead John Band

 

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I met Leon in Anchorage Alaska back in 89. He was a quiet easygoing person. I know he was crazy about his music. I send my regrets to his family and friends. I know i will always remember him clowning around onstage during the soundcheck the night before the show. I will never forget him as well as the rest that has gone on before. RIP Leon you won't be forgotten.

Peace
David P.

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I have enjoyed and cherished every moment spent on stage with Leon and all the times that I have had with him. I was blessed to have known him and Allen Coliins and to share in the Legacy that they gave the world. The biggest compliment I have ever received in the 30 some odd years that I have been playing music came from Leon, one night in the middle of a Skynyrd set Leon walked over to me and whispered in my ear " man you remind me so much of somebody that I have shared this stage with before". all I could do was look over and wink and give him a big ole shit eatin southern grin, I'll miss those days and my buddy. But as you can sure bet on he is gettin his ass chewed right now by Ronnie and Allen for being the loveable fuckup that Leon was. His memory will fly on forever for at last he is at peace with his brothers. Soar on my brothers because there is a day that doesn't go by I dont think of you all.

-Ian Osbourne

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Leon was the first band member I met and I am truly saddened at this loss. In remembrance of Leon batch number 3 audio sent to Joey for loading on the internet will include special audio of Leon and from Leon. Including an interview made 4 months after the plane crash, and another one from Jacksonville in the early 1980's and I will include some rehearsal hall out takes of him and Artimus with the nephew of Ronnie Van Zant recorded in 1985 or 86. Also to be included in this batch of audio will be Leon Wilkeson's now famous recording of "Teaching An Okie To Fly" recorded in Leon's home in June/July of 1976, and if I can find any more recordings with Leon on them that have yet to let out, I will forward them as well, and make that package a special dedication to Leon.
Tonight here in Orlando, shows by local bands including Pitch Blue Jam will be performing and paying tribute to their frynd Leon Wilkeson and dedicating tonight's show to Leon. Leon used to stop by and jam with them all the time when here in Orlando.

Fly On Free Bird!
Kent Griffith

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oh my god! i can't belive that.Leon, my hero. the sky is crying, and i am crying too. you where one of the greatest! i'll never forget meeting you for a minute in jackson, MS in 99. (check out the pic in attachement) thank you for all the great music, the fun, the good times you gave us. you and your family are in my prayers. rest in peace, frynd. fly on proud bird, you are in a better world now. and say hi to all the other freebirds in heaven, before you start to jamming up there. god bless

southern george (vienna, austria)
ceci sends her love and prayers too

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Southern Rock has lost another hero, one of the true originals. My prayers go out to Leons family.
A candle is burning in Sweden.
Fly On Proud Bird, You Will Never Be Forgotten.

-Kenneth Myhrberg

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In Loving Memory
Fly Proud and Fly Free....
We Will Never Forget you

God Bless
Katbyrd

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Top Hat Cool Cat

Top hat, cop hat
Cool cat, top cat.

Small hat, tall hat
All around nice cat.

Bobby hat, billy hat
Funny cat, silly cat.

Some were yellow
And some were green,
Some were the ugliest hats
We'd ever seen.

Hats for work, hats for play
Hats for just about any day.

A genius with your rhythmic bass
A humble star with humble grace.

You've left this place
With arms stretched wide
To greet old friends
On the other side.

A legacy of music and memories
Amongst us fans
We'll think of you often
And smile again

Red Hat, blue hat
Fire hat, school hat.

Funny hats, zany hats
A man of many, many, many hats.

Wherever you were, was where it was at
You'll always be the coolest, cat in a hat.

-The Hammer


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You added a lot of Color and Class to Skynyrd. My wife will keep the guitar pic you threw to her with your name on it forever. Leon thanks for your music, your personality and how perfectly well you represented Skynyrd throughout all the years

We Love You
We Miss You
We Will Never Forget You
Laura & Eddy Kamont


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coming so close to Bill Randolph, the loss of another great Southern bass player is so tragic.
Leon brought so much to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the bass guitar.
I think Ed King has said -"whenever I need a bass part I think - what would Leon play?"
To find a distinctive voice in a guitar dominated band such as Skynyrd must have been tough - but Leon had a SOUND and STYLE all of his own. Melodic yet powerful, subtle yet driving.
My lasting visual memory of Leon is at the Knebworth festival in England 1976. Wearing a (seemingly genuine!) policeman's helmet Leon attempts to join the guitar trio of Collins/Gaines/Rossington on the "tongue" or walkway of the specially constructed Rollin Stones stage.
In full flight Leon is thwarted by too short a cable - rooting him back to his place with Artimus Pyle. TWANG!!
When I most recently saw Skynyrd in London Leon was not there - and he was sorely missed. That feeling is now multiplied many times over.

Goodbye Leon...
-Craig Eason
 

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Just a brief word of acknowledegment of the sad news from here in London. Thoughts are with Leon, his family & friends.
Leon, what you did career-wise in your life represents one of those things that you feel makes life worth living. That is quite an achievement! Thank you!

You should know this & be proud of it.

Sincere best wishes to all concerned.

-Keith

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While we all mourn the passing of Leon, we will alwys remember his musical contribution to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Leon was to Skynyrd like Charlie Watts is to the Rolling Stones. For their music he was perfect. AS I cannot imagine the Rolling Stones without Charlie Watts or the Beatles without Ringo Starr, I could not imagine Skynyrd without Leon. His style of playing suited LS to a T. He did not play like Berry Oakley from the Allman Brothers Band, or Tommy Caldwell from the Marshall Tucker Band,who were both agressive type bassists, but he had the style for Skynyrd. While Oakley and Caldwell were phenominal musicians, neither of them would have fit in Skynyrd like Leon did. This is not to say Leon's playing was simple. Not at all. He was not what you call a "busy" bassist (like Jack Bruce from Cream for example) but he knew when to keep it solid and when to explore. When Leon left Skynyrd before they recorded "Pronounced" Ronnie wanted Leon back in the band as Ed's bass playing did not meet the band's standards. Ronnie wanted Leon back as he knew who was the best for the Skynyrd sound. Leon was anchor for the band. Before the Honkettes came in the band Leon was the main back up singer for the band and the only one for about 9 months.

I got to see Leon live 8 times. Twice with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Twice with the Rossington Collins Band. Four times with the new band,the last being in 1998. Each time I saw him play he was impressive. The time I saw him that I was most impressed was June 12,1977 in Charleston,West Virginia. I have never seen a show like that before and since,and I don't believe i ever will again.

With Leon's passing over half of the band that was in the crash are now gone. Only Artimus, Billy, Gary and Leslie are still with us..
Leon's passing is a sad time for everyone. Not only has Southern Rock lost one of the founding members of its sound,but the music world has lost a very fine bassist and musician as well.
Rest In Peace Leon. You will never be forgotten.

-Alydar

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When I last saw Skynyrd live, June 2000 in Holland, Leon wasn't with them. Officially he was "taken ill" but thanks to my friends on the web I knew more details. His replacement (forgot his name) did a good job, but to me something important was missing: Leon! I never got the opportunity to talk to him, but I'm sure he must have been a very amiable guy. Closest I got to him was back in 97, when I sneaked into his dressingroom before the concert. I never found him, but I stuck my head in his huge trunk filled with hats...........
So at least I've got something of a memory.

My thoughts go out to his family and friends, and of course to the other band members who yet again are facing a very difficult situation, for Leon cannot be replaced.

Hans van den Hoek,
Netherlands

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Leon was a friend, a brother and a true legend..even though he wouldn't admit it. We had many good times together..I will miss him greatly.I am sending you a picture of us together that he and I both cherished very much...its of us with Billy Gibbons of ZZTop taken just a year and a half ago. I also have a great pic of us both onstage together doing Simple Man..I am also a muscian with a band ofmy own called CrazyBone.

-Rick Blair

 

 

 

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I'm shocked and sadened to hear about leon Wilkeson. I played bass in a skynyrd tribute band, learning his parts sure gave me a hard way to go. too soon to leave us god must need bass players............

peace
Steve Campanelli

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In Memory of Leon Wilkeson...

To Leon, the man of many hats:
You have traded in your last hat for a halo. Thank you for your gift of music, for your ability to stand in the shadows of your bandmates and still be admired just as much, and for being Leon Wilkeson.

May you rest in peace.

Bob Mitchell
KRWG-FM
Las Cruces, NM

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Uncle Onle my 2nd best party bud in the world ill miss you so much but alas you are home with your brothers and no more will you be the little puppy following behind...... you can run with the big dogs again...I'll miss you a lot.

-Ian


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Leon,
You were the greatest bass player ever and definitely helped make Skynyrd the legend that it is. Rest in peace as you are now reunited with your other fellow comrades; Ronnie, Allen, Steve, Cassie, and Dean.

Fly on proud bird.
-Rich B.

 
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Leon was one of our last links to the original skynyrd band, his easy going attitude, quiet demeanor, laid back personality made him one of the easily approachable members of that band that we will ever see ... my wife and i will always remember the 1996 backstage experience we had with leon, he showed us his hat collection, his tribute tattoo of his fallen friends, he took time from his busy schedule to talk with us, take pictures with us and laugh. We will always remember the soft spoken almost shy man with the most soulful eyes we've ever looked into...true, Leon had problems,as we all do, i think a part of him died in that crash along with parts of his childhood, and dreams ... seems tragically that the crash not only claimed 6 victims, but it also claimed scores of survivors ... I wonder how many in the present band were really concerned about leon's on going problems,did we lose 1 of our hero's in a seedy hotel room on jax. beach,dying alone, as the others counted their monies as they admired themselves in front of the mirror,we will never know...But i do know this my brothers,leon will always live on in our hearts. memories and prayers....at this moment,ronnie is building himself a band again,he's got allen and steve on guitar,leon on bass,cassie on background vocals!!!! Rest well leon, our hearty rock and roll warrior, you have joined the ranks of the never forgotten,may you now enjoy the peace you sought after for so long, we will miss you and love you our brother ...

john/robin/lil john

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Leon Wilkerson. was a class act!, great bass player and an unsung hero . His presence will be sorely missed. on behalf of The Gator Alley Band " A Southern Rock Tribute " We send our thoughts and prayers. to all Leons family and friends! May God Bless you and comfort you in your time of sorrow! and to billy and gary you gentlemen have suffered a great loss and our prayers go out to you as well!

-Steve Williamson
M.G.R.
The Gator Alley Band


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Rest in Peace Leon...You are a brother and founding member. We will always remember your contributions to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern Rock forever! Ronnie always said he needed "All his friends to talk to". Now another friend will join him after 23+ years. Wear your hats proud in heaven brother!!

-Peter Figur

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I'm very sorry to hear about Leon. I always thought he was a solid bass player.

-Pete Cash, True Blues

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I had met Leon several dozen times. He always had a smile and a conversation. He went out of his way to sign or just say hi to all fans. My best thought was when we went to a Met vs. Braves game in NY andas we sat there he joined the LETS GO METS chant. I said, "Aint you a Braves fan?" He repied "I'm a met fan in THIS place!"

Leon I will miss you.Thanks for the memories and friendship.

-Yorkie

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We met Leon on July 26th 1998...exactly 3 years to the night....We immediately felt like we knew each other for years, he came to my home that night and my wife cooked him a home cooked meal and we visited for a long while..after we took him back to his hotel..he insisted that we come back the next morn. to go sightseeing with the rest of the guys, which we did...we have been family ever since. We have been to his home and got to be real close......we will sorely miss him....I don't think that we will be able to get over him not being here....EVER. He would call sometimes from all over the states just to chat about the little things that would happen to him or..he would say..remember when such and such happened? We will definitely miss those calls. Leon was definitely a Simple Man and never thought of himself as famous or an idol...he would tell people....thanks, but....I'm just a regular person man, just like you!!!
Leon...we will miss you...and we'll see you in Rock-n-Roll heaven!

-Rick & Rose


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I met Leon the first time about 25 years ago and although we just saw each other off and on over the years. I was always met with that big OLE smile and a bear hug. He personally made my wife's 35 B-Day one she will never forget by getting Noah from KWS and Paul Rodgers to help him sing her Happy B-Day.Leon my friend we Love You and will miss you.

-Carroll & Suzy Davis

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One of my favorite stories about Leon was when he was in a Christian rock band called VISION with Billy Powell. It was one of the very few times Leon talked openly and publicly about the plane crash and what happened to him. I think it was almost therapeutic for him to talk about it and I have never heard him say anything quite like it before that time or since.

This was a time when Leon was deep into his religious and spiritual side, and in a sense coming to terms with the horrors of the plane crash in the early to mid 1980's just a few years before the Tribute Tour. What Leon said from the stage of the Orange Park High School cafeteria where the band performed for a small local crowd was absolutely amazing and I will never forget it and I hope it is not inappropriate to share this at this time, but Leon talked about his own death. For you see people, most of us only die physically once in a lifetime. NOT LEON. In Leon's reality, this time was his 4th!

Each member of the VISION band got to have their say and to talk about their belief in God on stage. It was a part of their show, and since this was a special hometown show right around the corner from Leon's house, they let loose a little more than they did in other places since they were among family and friends. I think Leon wanted us to know what he suffered through and you could see it in his eyes. His entire being showed the pain very clearly.

Rocco Marshall did most of the talking and preaching from the stage. It was getting close to the point in the show where the personal experiences were to be shared and I did not know it was coming. Most all of the family members and frynds and fans were seated in this very personal and just about private show, and no one was standing or crowding up around the stage. So Rocco Marshall requested that we get closer for what was about to come from them. No one in the room moved. It was like time stood still. I wanted to go up there, but how strange it felt in that in between limbo state of decision. I got up and went forward towards the stage and as I recall I was the first one to make that move as I knew someone had to do it, and others were right behind me, including the band's manger and Leon's personal manager at that time was Tim Smith and he came right up behind me and put his hands on my shoulder all through this testimonial.

Rocco and Leon smiled down at me, but I could not see Billy as he was standing up behind his electronic keyboards on the other side of the stage. Soon there was a small crowd of the faithful at their feet for this very personal testimonial. It is the one and only time in all my years of knowing the man Leon Wilkeson that anything like this ever happened and I could feel the energy of spirit. It was a powerful thing to hear from Rocco and Leon and Billy and others their own very personal stories of tragedy and survival.

Rocco told us of his brush with the law and being accused of murder and on his way to prison. And how he turned his life over to God if only God would save him from this hell on earth he was going through, and Rocco was delivered from it and that is why he started the VISION band, was to honor his promise to God for saving him from going to prison for a murder he did not commit, but apparently had knowledge of because Rocco had at one time been a drug dealer and a cocaine supplier to some band members of Lynyrd Skynyrd. And he knew who was killed and why they were killed and who did it, and he was not able to prevent it or say anything about it, and this is why he was charged. Not as the murderer, but as a knowing party who did not report it. But in Rocco's position it is easy to see why, I mean if he knew both sides and was to interfere couldn't he have just as easily wound up dead as well? So it is easy to see why he kept quiet and it nearly cost him life either way and because of this experience he turned his life around and this is what he was confessing on that stage. And I have never heard it before or since like at that special moment in Orange Park.

Now that a fair number of people were all down at the band's feet, Tim Smith was still silently right there with me hands still on my shoulders from behind. Words can not describe it adequately, but I will try and relay Leon's words to you, and now it was time for Leon to tell his experience and this just blew me away at the time. Leon told of how he survived the plane crash barely. Leon told of how he was trapped in the wreckage.

(NOW KEEP IN MIND PEOPLE, WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SAY CAME DIRECTLY FROM LEON IN A PUBLIC SHOW AND IS IN NO WAY TO BE CONSIDERED PRIVATE OR PRIVILIGED INFORMATION! Anyone could have recorded it or reported it, but there was not more than 50 people there. And so you are hearing it from me as I remember it.)

Leon said he was caught in the wreckage in just a certain way that was enough to save his life, and he described it like this... Leon's intestines and inner organs of his lower body were protruding from his body and had to be put back inside of him. He was cut so severely in his lower abdomen that he literally bled to death at the time of the crash and as fast as they could pump blood into Leon, it was rushing just as fast back out of him and it was a race for his life to reach a hospital emergency room and Dr's that could put him back together. Leon smashed his left arm and it took months of repeated surgeries to help him to a position where he could even play again, and for those of you who do not know this, but if you look at the way Leon plays the bass guitar he has it standing up almost vertically and the reason for this was because his left arm was smashed and he lost the ability to rotate the arm and play normally, so the bass guitars had to be modified with an extension off the body of the guitar so he could strap it on a specific way and turn the guitar into an almost upright position just to play it because he could not rotate that left arm any more. I use to repair his guitar when that modified piece came loose.

If Leon had been laid out in a horizontal position after the crash he would have died in the plane crash from bleeding to death, and at the hospital Leon said he had lost so much blood that he actually had been pronounced dead legally 3 times on that operating table. But Leon said he just would not give up the fight for life. And he kept kicking and the Dr's saw the movement and kept working on him. I can not imagine what Leon's fight for life must have been like for him and his conscious mind to have slipped so far away from this world only to be brought back into again, and again, and again. Until finally his life signs were stabilized and he was able to recover life again. Now people, Leon did not remember how he was situated in the plane crash wreckage, but keep in mind, that from his own words and public testimony he made it clear he was not horizontal. And due to the fact he lost so much blood there is only ONE WAY Leon could have been in that plane which saved his life, but that is not something I care to get in to now. Since Leon did not know or did not want to say if he did know, I won't disclose those details either, but they are most definitely now known and on tape in the recorded interviews of those who rescued him from the plane and fought so hard to save that man's life. It was a miracle from beyond this world and here Leon was in tears telling all of us who were beginning to join Leon in this very powerful testimony of survival. It was a very emotional time for him and very difficult for him to tell all of us how he had died legally 3 times in October of 1977. Most humans get to be born once and die once, but not Leon. He was special. To me he was special in the eyes of man and in the eyes of God. That was plain to see and hear. Leon was born into this world 5 times! Once in birth, 3 times on the operating table, and in spirit there after, and here before me was the living proof!

Leon said he does not recall anything after the crash until he became conscious again in the hospital after they had stabilized him and had him back for good. He then came slowly back into consciousness, and was aware of this world once again, but forever a changed man. Just look into Leon's eyes and you will see the depth of this spirit journey this man was on. It was traumatic and tremendous and it had a powerful effect on me as a very young man. Leon was the first band member I had met. And here he was spilling out his painful journey to all of us. I was deeply moved that day as were all those who were there.

Leon went on to say that he had visions in his head he did not understand, and so he tried to fumble with the words to say his explanation in the best way he knew how, and what he said was that he was floating up through the clouds and the sky towards the light, and it was all peaceful and as he went higher and higher he saw a vision of Ronnie Van Zant and Duane Allman with the backs to each other high up in the clouds, and he thought each of them had a fishing pole in their hands, and Leon said he heard words from Ronnie talking to Duane and saying "these boys don't know where the top really is." And Leon was on his way to finding out when his spirit was snatched back into this world and thrown back into his beaten and badly broken and destroyed body barely able to sustain life.

Some would say that when Leon left this world then, a part of him did not come back. Leon was a man torn between two worlds and literally torn in half in this one, and what we got back was a man who had seen the other side of life and had now come back to witness it to all of us. Everyday was precious to Leon Wilkeson and he showed me that. What a beautiful soul.

Leon is at the top now, and once again he is whole and any and all pain has slipped from him now. He is in a better place and with the ones he loves and the ones who love him. I hope I can see him on the other side someday and just say thank you to him for changing my life and for giving me a part of his.

I hope when my time comes, that you will be there to show me the way to the top.

I love you Leon!

Kent Griffith :(

 
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One More From the Road

You often brought us such joyful noise
the man with many hats and a peaceful soul.
Only three weeks ago I caught you a playin'
another tour of Southern rock and roll.

Another freebird is flyin'
He carries a heavy load.
You know the traveling man is playin'
One more from the Road.

A simple man you've helped me to be
with words and music that sound so true.
You've touched so many in this life
the gift was your music, but this one's for you.

Another freebird is flyin'
He carries a heavy load.
You know the traveling man is playin'
One more from the Road.

It's early morning and the dawn is risin'
not for us to judge, the Lord has his plan.
Your brothers are up there are a waitin'
'cause heaven just received a simple kind of man.

Another freebird is flyin'
He carries a heavy load.
You know the traveling man is playin'
One more from the Road.

Keep it alive forever, people
the big wheels, they got to roll.
Just like the others before you
all you need is in your soul.

Keep it alive forever, people
the words you said to me.
'Cause the Road goes on forever
and Forever it will be.

Fly on freebird!

Buddy D.
Hattiesburg, MS
8/1/2001


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Tribute to a working man's hero-
Leon Russell Wilkeson
You have touched our Hearts Leon,and in our hearts you will always be! Heaven Must Really Be Proud!!
Everyone was your friend,everyone you met loved you,and you loved everyone, We Will Miss You Friend.
You were a good man,a Godly man,and a great musician,I can almost hear the drums at the begining of "Last Rebel".

Peace~Pass it On~
Lucky and Mitzi Letterman
South Florida

"Someday we'll all be together and we'll all be friends,Back Where it All Begins" -Dickey Betts

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It was only a few weeks ago that Leon and I had a few drinks in the bar of some hotel or other. It was the first time we had talked properly since the opening night of the tour when all of Lynyrd Skynyrd stood outside our dressing room door and shook our hands as we arrived - a genuine, warm welcome. Leon gave me a particular welcome, bass player to bass player.

Over the course of the tour there was always a good atmosphere between DP and LS. Banter was plentiful in the backstage corridors and a camaraderie developed. Drinking with Leon that night, he told me about his damaged arm, showed me the scars, and demonstrated how he had had to learn to play all over again after the plane crash. I developed a whole new respect for the man.

One night, towards the end of the tour, I rode on their bus for a short ride back to the hotel and he proudly showed me around and made sure I was comfortable. He was a lovely man; I wish I had got to know him better, but I1m glad I knew him a little.

My thoughts now are with his family and also with his band mates, who again have to face the harsh realities of life and death.

I wish them peace.

-Roger Glover/Deep Purple

 

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While we all remember Leon's hats and his goofy sense of humor, we need also to remember the tender side of this sweet man. He loved poetry and was one of the most humble musicians I have ever known. He looked at his being a part of Lynyrd Skynyrd as a gift from God, enabling him to do the one thing he wanted most in life: to make people feel good. He was a kind, sensitive man who seemed to feel almost lost in the riotous world of rock and roll, yet could party and have good times with the best of 'em. I remember the last time we talked. We were laughing over my admiration of bass players and Thumper told me that the next time Skynyrd was in my town, he wanted me to sit right up there on the stage with him. I will never look at his spot on that stage without remembering the wonderful contribution he made to Skynyrd and to rock and roll. I'm happy to have had him in my life, if only for his brief time here on earth. God bless you, Thumper.

-Marley Brant, author

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Man, another Southern Rock ledgend gone. Lynryd Skynyd was one of my biggest influences when I started playing music, even though that was many years later than the peak of their career. I don't think that even old man time can take a toll on the music known by so many as creations of Lynyrd Skynyrd. I still to this day listnen to the old Skynyrd songs and get into them just as much as I ever did. This is simply hard hitting,true to life, heart-felt music by any standard. Leon was the backbone of this feeling that comes over us when we hear a Skynyrd song. He will be missed by all, and to say the least, never forgotten.

-Justin McCorkle

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As I write this, I am listening to "One More from The Road," and just mourning the loss of another great Southern Rocker. It's hard to believe that this month is the one year anniversary of our losing Allen Woody, and now we have lost Leon Wilkeson. It's amazing sometimes, this thing called death. It can come like a thief in the night and before you know it, another friend, loved one, or favorite rock and roller is gone. I guess that's why it's always a good idea to live and love like there's no tomorrow. Let the ones we love know it. Show kindness. Leon sure did.

I met Leon once upon a time at a biker bar in Spartanburg, SC. He was visiting with his band mate Artimus Pyle, I believe. He got up and jammed that night. I sat and spoke with Leon for a bit and he was kind, funny and a really "real" kind of guy. I had also brushed elbows with him backstage in Greenville back in 1977 at the show right before the Skynyrd plane crash. He was really kind then as well.

We'll miss you, brother.

-Michael Buffalo Smith; Editor/GRITZ

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We, Dixie Peach from Norway were choked when we heard the sad news about Leon. We are deeply grieving, and our thoughts goes to the family and Lynyrd Skynyrd Band. FLY ON, FREEBIRD.

-Finn Lilleseth

 
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I'll remember the "Mad Hatter" for his thundering bass and his many hat changes during the shows. It's great that a man of his stature would take the time to talk with us fans as if he'd known us all his life. He will be missed and I pity the guy who has to fill his "Hats" Thanks Leon for sharing . .....Bob "Slim" Rader

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Though I never got to meet you. The lose I feel is as great as if I have known you all my life. You were an inspiration to me and many other young rockers who try everyday to follow in your footsteps. As musicians and everyday kind people. Thank you for being here to teach us how it is done.

-Robbie Nichols, of The BFE Band

 
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I never missed a concert when Lynyrd Skynyrd was in Massachusetts a group of us that grew up with the music would always be there. We would anticipate the event and the anticipation of how close we would be to the stage just to have the band members catch a glimse of how much they are loved. Leon was my favorite, hey I love them all but this man had a way about him on stage. He would look so serious at times and his talent was awsome but it was the hats that would make you laugh and add to the preformance. I actually caught a pick he threw out last month at the show in Hampton Beach NH, I couldn't belive it all the concerts I have attended and I finally had a part of him in my hand. When I heard he passed away I cried. Leon will be greatly missed. When freebird is played in my memory will always be that hat with the flashing lights on it. I love you leon you are at peace now and will never be forgotten.

-Karen McDonough, Massachusetts

 
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My Friend, I never met you

Life is a lesson
Sometimes Bitter
Sometimes Sour
Hard times come and go
But with the Lord
Comes much Joy


He was not just a man
A musician, friend, comedian
And so much more
A servant to the end
Full of joy and spirit
Let us come together
Let us cry and pray
And remember the good old times
His music lives on in history
Just as he lives on in our hearts
In heaven this day is he
The man of many hats
Mr. Leon Wilkeson


-Wayne N. Thomson

 
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I was shocked when I heard about Leon. I'm going to see Skynyrd on the 13th of this month and I know they'll be playing their hearts out for him. But it won't be the same without him. He was such a fun, colorful person with his hats and crazy costumes. I feel like I've lost a very good friend, though I never met him. I guess the good die young!
I have an 11 year old son who is a huge Skynyrd fan and he says that sometimes when he's sad he thinks of Ronnie and it makes him feel better because Ronnie was a good person. Maybe Ronnie and Leon are watching over kids like my son and bringing happiness to them when they need it, who knows?
Heaven bless you, Leon. You'll be very much missed by all. I love you, and am sad that I'll never get to meet you in person now. But we'll meet someday.

Fly on, Free Bird! He's with Ronnie, Allen, Steve and Cassie now.

Peace,
Cara Hartley


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Skynyrd has been my favorite band since the mid 70's...back when they called it country rock...In the 70's I saw them blow what were then the so called headliners off the stage...one after another after another.Who were these skinny young long haired southern boys? What made them sogood? I'll tell ya'....it was because they played and sang from their souls!!!
The southern rock world is saddened at the loss of another original member...Leon, Probably the most lovable of all the Skynyd boys...but now he's playin' up in heaven with the rest of the Freebyrds! Over the year's I've accumulated some great skynyrd pix...I'd like to share this one with everyone. This is Leon taken in England back in 1976!

God bless you Leon...we'll all really miss you until we see you again!

-Michael Yanko


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A Tear Fell
On a warm day
In Late July,
A great guitarist grew wings
And learned to fly.


As the evening sun
Sparkled threw the trees,
I was saddened by the news
We just now received.


I walked inside
From the summer heat,
Suddenly a tear fell
Down my cheek.


Across the room
Next to the fireplace,
Standing proud and tall
Was my fender bass.


Symbolic to Leon
Nothing any greater,
I drift back in time,
"Live From the Fox Theatre".


I walked over to the instrument
In sincere respect,
Once again a tear fell
Striking one of the frets.


In the key of G
A song will be sang,
By Ronnie, Alan, Duwayne,
Steve and Cassie Gaines,
Dry up the tears
And be not ashame,
Leon is now with us
In Rock-N-Roll Heavens
Hall of Fame.


---John Fuselier 7-29-01

 

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Tribute to a working man's hero-
Leon Russell Wilkeson
You have touched our Hearts Leon,and in our hearts you will always be! Heaven Must Really Be Proud!! Everyone was your friend,everyone you met loved you,and you loved everyone, We Will Miss You Friend. You were a good man,a Godly man,and a great musician,I can almost hear the drums at the begining of "Last Rebel".

Peace~Pass it On~
Lucky and Mitzi Letterman
South Florida
"Someday we'll all be together and we'll all be friends,Back Where it All Begins" -Dickey Betts

 

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In 1994, wearing my long duster and my confederate army hat, I waited at the back gate of the Concorde Pavilion in Northern California. I waited anxiously after watching LS and Ted Nugent tear it up. I waited for my precious guitar that Paul Abraham had taken before the show to get autographed for me. As I waited, I felt a tap on my shoulder, "hey Leon" was what I heard. In the darkness one of Skynyrd's crew mistook me for Leon Wilkeson. Before the night was over I was invited to the hotel where the band was staying and was blessed by meeting Johnny, Billy and Leon as they got off the bus. Leon and I laughed that night about the curious resemblance between us and when I left that night I felt that I had made a new friend. I have always been touched by the way that Johnny and Leon have both remembered me since that night. Leon signed my Street Survivors album, calling me Dollar Bill.
Before that night I was a fan. Since that night I've felt like a friend. Leon started that, and I will always cherish that feeling. Leon was an outstanding musician. No bass player that I've played with could touch some of his licks. Leon was a warm, friendly professional. I feel honored to have known him, even a little bit. The Band: Ronnie, Allen, Steve, Duane and Leon. With Dale driving the bus. Buckle up and fly high boys, the rock and roll is just beginning. God Bless you Leon. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Lynyrd Skynyrd Family.

"Dollar" Bill Carney
The Bayou Saloon Band
Paso Robles, Ca

 

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Michael,
It sure has been rough the last 2 years with Joe Dan dying and now Leon, but I find peace in both situations knowing that they were ready to go on and that they are finally home.

-Dru Lombar (Dr. Hector & The Groove Injectors/Grinderswitch)

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As one of the guitarist for "Second Helping: The Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Band" we had many run-ins with Leon and the Band. He always made time for the fans. We always enjoyed hanging out with Ed King and Leon when they came to town. Great guy who loved kids (remember the duck quack noise guys?) Always a prankster, fun lovin' and he did love the Lord.

Second Helping misses ya buddy!

Chris McCallister
John Donniacuio
Dave Stevenson
Brian "Bam Bamm" Bradford Brian Jeffries
Fred George
Mark Wing

 


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Today at 11 am I drove up to a mountain side. I got out my stereo, and put in a skynyrd cd....with the music playing I looked up deep into the sky. I was thinking about Leon.....all the pain and suffering he had been thru in his life, all that he had accomplished......and the one thing he had left to do, he did when he joined his bandmates, frynds and family in heaven. As tears rolled down my cheeks, I realized that I was crying for 2 reasons.....I was crying because I will miss Leon, things won't be the same with out him....but I was also crying because I was happy for him.....that he is finally free....and for once, he was at peace....Then I got to thinking about Leon on that stage. The looks he would give me after reading one of my signs. Last year for instance, at the Big Flats NY show, July 15th, when I held up the "Welcome back Leon we missed you" sign. His face lit up when he read that....he blew a kiss to me....said I love you too! and made a gesture like a tear rolling down his cheek...I knew that sign meant so much to him.....and then this year.Same place, May 27th...when I held up my "I want a simple man" sign....he chuckled...winked at me....and blew me a kiss...... It was as if at that moment, on that mountain, all the pain I have been in as of late......I could almost feel it being lifted. It was as if Leon's soul had reached out to me, and said....live your dreams sygn gyrl...live your life...be happy.....be at peace with yourself. Life is too short.....right after that profound moment, I saw a bird fly from a tree....then another,and another and more.........together...all these birds flew off....into the horizon......as I watched them fly off....I said....fly proud and with peace birds....you are free at last! I love you....see you at that big show in the sky....you'll know when I'm there....you'll see my signs!!I got in my car, drove off the mountain.......

-Valerie (Erie) Brown

"Fly on Proud Birds, You're free at last"

 

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Rest in peace brother.

-Chuck Ruff / Drummer

 

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I work on the road a lot, so I was shocked to pick up a magazine in Hickory N.C. and see the article on the passing of Leon. Skynyrd was one of my first true loves, and as the years passed and I started playing bass, I was influenced heavily by his style. His work was really untouchable. And to see him play was awesome.
Fly high brother, another freebird has flown home.

Houston...
Richmond, VA.

 

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My family and i were very saddened and shocked to hear about the sudden death of leon wilkeson. Although i never meet leon in person, i felt like i've known him like a old school friend that you never forget and thoughts of him always makes you feel good.Lynyrd Skynyrd has always been and still is a big part of my life.There's not a day goes by that i don't think of ronnie, steve, cassie, dean, allen, and now leon. They were great people. First class. I miss them!!!

-Tod

 

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Leon was a dear friend of mine...we called each other brothers. He has been to our home and us to his. This man was complex to say the least. He had many many stories to tell..and loved telling them. Sometimes if he was telling one, he would forget a part and call long distance to talk directly to the person he was talking about and have them tell me the story. He was a great person and a good friend. We considered him family. He named our pet tourtise...he thought it was a boy and of course wanted to name it Leon..but my wife told him that it was a girl...so he named her NepoLEONa...She is a great pet. He made us bring her up to the hotel once...It was so funny..then he called Gary, and Johnny to come and see. He fed her cheese curls cause I told him she liked them. He sent someone down to get some and we took a bunch of pics. She is 36 years old and she will always be a little more special to us. According to studies on her type of species..they live to be about 80 years old. Leon met my kids when we took them to meet him and it was like he had known them for years..my otherwise shy daughter was very taken by him and felt at ease around him. That's just how we was. He spoke of his son Lee often and always spoke of love and wished things could have been different for him. He would give you the shirt off his back and did sometimes...But, some people took advantage of him..and it hurt him deeply to find out. He was very trusting and loving..and even though he loved playing music..he was really tired of being on the road..he wanted to just live a normal life with his family. He is now at peace finally and all the wrong that was done to him is over...and all who hurt him...are forgiven. Leon..thank you so very much for being in our lives...you made me a better musician by giving me private Bass lessons and a better person because you were so sweet & honest. He once told us about the bird signs....when you are driving down the road or walking in a park and you see a bunch of birds sitting on a wire or flying together..each pattern is different..hence a bird sign...so think of him when we see a Bird Sign. We have since and always will. You are a Freebird now... Pictured here is Leon with the Tourtise (NepoLEONa), Leon giving me lessons at my home, Rosie posing at Leon's home (he had to make sure the James Dean pic was in the shot..he was always particular about posing), and finally Leon playing with my cat at my home. What memories...
WE LOVE YOU ...SEE YOU WHEN HE CALLS, YOUR ADOPTED FAMILY!

-Rick & Rosie Blair

 

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I dont even know how to start this letter as it is still so hard to believe he is gone.When Michael B. called with what was then unconfirmed news, I said, No Way!!,someones idea of a bad joke. But when I called Allen Collins mama, Eva,well, I knew the worst had indeed happened. My God! He was just here in Va Beach, stayed with my friends Pam and Dave for 2 weeks and we went out, sat in with bands having a ball. He was one of a kind to say the least.He was a friend I will always remember, and his death leaves a void that can never be filled.YOU WERE LOVED BY MANY LEON!! FLY ON MY FRIEND, TILL WE MEET AGAIN!! YOUR ETERNAL BROTHER...

-TONY BULLARD

 

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Just wanted to say we saw Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert on June 17th of this year. We gave Leon a hat and he wore it during the song "the Breeze". At the end of the concert he put it back on his head and bowed and thanked us. We never met him but you could tell he was a sweet man. His soul shined through on stage. I am thankful we were able to give him that hat and show him we appreciated him. We will miss him.

-Terri and Allen Finch

 

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R.I.P. Cat in the Hat

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