January 28, 2009 / 10:26 PM / 10 years ago

Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist Billy Powell dies

Members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd Gary Rossington (2nd R) and Billy Powell (2nd L) react as the band is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York March 13, 2006. Judy Van Zant (R), widow of band leader Ronnie Van Zant, and Lee Wilkeson, son of late band guitarist Leon Wilkeson, joined them on stage. REUTERS/Mike Segar

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist Billy Powell died Wednesday morning (January 28) at his home in Orange Park, Fla. He was 56.

According to the Associated Press, Powell called 911 around 12:55 a.m., saying he was having trouble breathing. Rescue crews arrived at the home, but Powell was pronounced dead just before 2 a.m.

Orange Park Police Lt. Mark Cornett told the AP that Powell had missed an appointment yesterday for a cardiac evaluation.

Powell, whose fluid piano runs spiced such classic Skynyrd songs as “Freebird,” “Call Me the Breeze” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” and founding guitarist Gary Rossington were the only two original members of the Southern rock band to survive the 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup vocalist Cassie Gaines.

Since then, guitarist Allen Collins and bassist Leon Wilkeson have also died; former drummer Artimus Pyle survived the crash but no longer tours with the band, which re-formed in 1987 and still is a powerful concert draw.

Skynyrd lore has it that Powell, a former roadie for the band in its earliest incarnations, was asked to join by Van Zant when the latter heard Powell’s keyboard take on “Freebird.”

According to the band’s publicist, as-yet-unspecified shows will be canceled as a result of Powell’s death. Skynyrd was slated to perform Friday (January 30) in Kinder, La., and the following day in Biloxi, Miss. A European tour was set to begin May 20 in Finland.


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