Street Survivors is the fifth studio album by Lynyrd Skynyrd, released on October 17, 1977. The LP is the last Skynyrd album recorded by original members Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins, and is the sole Skynyrd studio recording by guitarist Steve Gaines. Three days after the album’s release, on October 20, 1977, the band’s chartered airplane crashed en route to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, killing the pilot, co-pilot, the group’s assistant road-manager and three band members (Van Zant, Gaines, and Gaines’ older sister, backing singer Cassie Gaines)
The other band members (Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Leon Wilkeson, Billy Powell, Artimus Pyle, and Leslie Hawkins), tour manager Ron Eckerman, and the road crew suffered serious injuries. Artimus Pyle, the drummer - who was one of the few able to walk - staggered out for help, and was shot in his shoulder by an alarmed farmer
The original pressing of the cover of Street Survivors featured a photograph - shot at Universal Studios - of the band engulfed in flames: an image that was hard to ignore as an unfortunate and macabre premonition of the tragedy that soon followed. Eerily, Steve Gaines’ eyes were closed and his head appears to be engulfed in the flames. Ronnie Van Zant’s last words before he boarded that plane were, “If it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go”. To cap it all, JoJo Billingsley, one of the three Honkettes (along with Cassie Gaines and Leslie Hawkins refused to travel at the last minute as she’d had a premonition of disaster!
Whilst indisputably creepy, the flaming album cover wasn’t the first prediction of deadly events for Skynyrd. Trouble began for the hard-partying band a year before the plane crash, when guitarist Gary Rossington ploughed his brand-new car into a tree along a Jacksonville, Florida road. He survived the incident and admitted he was under the influence at the time, prompting bandmates Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins to write ‘That Smell’, which is on Street Survivors and contains the unfortunate lyrics:
“Say you’ll be alright come tomorrow, but tomorrow might not be here for you”
“Angel of darkness upon you”
“The smell of death surrounds you”
Ironically, the 60-year-old Rossington is the sole member of the original lineup still performing in the band!
At the request of the band’s families, the fiery picture was moved to the back of the album, and a new photo from the same shoot - with the band placed against a black background - was used on the cover. A 30th-anniversary re-issue, released in 2007, restored the original image back on the front. Lead singer Van Zant is wearing a t-shirt depicting Neil Young’s album Tonight’s the Night in both photographs
Street Survivors joins the pantheon of records that were ominously released just prior to the death of the artists. Some of the others include Hank Williams’ ‘I’ll Never Get out of this World Alive’, Buddy Holly’s ‘It Doesn’t Matter Any More’, and Patsy Cline’s ‘I fall to Pieces’ to name a few
The line “the smell of death surrounds you” took on a whole new ugly meaning after Rossington survived but three of his bandmates perished. As if the song and the album title weren’t enough, thanks to the plane crash, Street Survivors now had, quite possibly, the most inappropriate album cover ever