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Lynyrd Skynyrd concert 14 years late

By ROYAL BRIGHTBILL

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Fourteeen years after a fatal plane crash shattered the pioneering Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd at the peak of its popularity, the roup kept its concert date Wednesday.

More than 100 faithful fans who held on to their tickets from the tragically broken Oct. 21, 1977, concert finally were able to use them. They were allowed to bring a guest on the ticket, given special seating and a chance to meet with the band after the show.

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Some of the 9,000 fans arriving for the sold-out show wore new black Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirts bearing the defiant legend 'We're back ... you bastards.'

The band had virtually disintegrated after the plane crashed near McComb, Miss., just 10 minutes from Baton Rouge, and killed six people. Among them were lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, Cathy Gaines, a backup vocalist. Another 20 people in the group were injured.

It seemed the end forever of the Florida-based band that defined a new musical style blending country, boogie and rock 'n' roll.

But drummer Artimus Pyle, who walked away from the crash to find help although badly injured, said the band never really died. It just took a long time to put the pieces back together.

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'We never really broke up; we had a plane crash,' he said in an interview before the show. 'Getting over the physical part of that and the mental part of that took many, many years. Getting back together in 1987 was the culmination of all those years of knowing that we should do something.'

From there it grew into Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991, with Johnnie Van Zant, taking the place of his older brother as lead singer.

The reformed band includes guitarists Gary Rossington, a crash survivor, and Ed King, composer of 'Sweet Home Alabama.' Gaines was playing in place of King at the time of the crash.

The only noticeable changes in the band are the addition of a second drummer who goes by the name of Custer and claims descendacy from the famed Gen. George Custer. Pyle said the second drummer takes pressure off of him because of the injuries and allows him to enjoy the show.

The band members looked on the Baton Rouge concert, which kicks off a national tour, as a completion of something started by the band.

'We really feel that this is a natural progression, that it is something we were supposed to be doing,' Pyle said. 'And if the guys and the girls that were killed in the plane crash were here, they'd be saying, 'Hey, great. We're happy for you. It sounds great, don't let anybody stop you.'

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