Skynyrd original was pianist on 'Free Bird'


Billy Powell, the longtime keyboard player for Lynyrd Skynyrd who survived the 1977 plane crash that decimated the band, died Wednesday of a suspected heart attack at his home in Orange Park, Fla. He was 56.

Powell had been a roadie for the Jacksonville-based band and joined around 1972. Skynyrd gained national fame in 1973 with the FM hit "Free Bird," which prominently featured Powell's piano. The top 10 hit "Sweet Home Alabama" cemented the band's star status the following year.

Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

On Oct. 20, 1977, the band's chartered plane crashed in a swamp near McComb, Miss, en route to a concert in Baton Rouge, La. Six were killed, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie Gaines.

Two years after the crash, Powell and three Skynyrd bandmates formed the Rossington Collins Band, which made two albums and broke up in 1982.

Powell took part in revived versions of Skynyrd and played on "Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991," the band's first new album since 1977.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.