Skynyrd marker plans change

Working at the monument site recently are, from left, Eric Easley, Krystina Anderson, Dwain Easley and Bobby McDaniel along with a dog named Bo.

Well, I was born in Mississippi

And I don’t take any stuff from you.

Well, I was born in Mississippi

And I don’t take any stuff from you.

And if I hit you on your head,

Boy, it’s got to make you black and blue.

— Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Mississippi Kid

Plans for a Mississippi Blues Trail marker for Lynyrd Skynyrd may have hit “Double Trouble,” but organizers still intend to have a “Saturday Night Special” in October for the “Skynyrd Nation.”

If you don’t recognize those song titles, here’s the news in plain English: The Mississippi Blues Trail Commission turned down a request for a pair of markers to commemorate Lynyrd Skynyrd’s fatal 1977 plane crash in Amite County. But organizers have come up with an even grander plan and will follow through with a big celebration the weekend of Oct. 20 — the 42nd anniversary of the disaster in Gillsburg that devastated the band known for such hits as “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”

An unveiling ceremony will take place 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at the monument on Easley Road just south of Highway 568. On the night before, Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band Nothin’ Fancy will perform in the Southwest Mississippi Community College Fine Arts Building. The concert will include the introduction of survivors, rescuers and caregivers.

Bobby “Governor” McDaniel of McComb spearheaded the application for blues trail markers near the crash site and at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center where survivors were treated. But the Blues Commission rejected them.

“While recent reports have stated that a Blues Trail Marker has been approved, Kempf Poole, Mississippi Blues Commission chairman, says that while the tragic day should be formally honored, the Blues Trail isn’t the right place,” according to a July 15 news release from the commission.

“Scholars came to the commission with the recommendation that while significant, the Blues Trail may not be the right place to commemorate the crash because they are not a ‘blues’ band. ... “It’s probably more in line to be a historical marker,” Poole said.

McDaniel disagreed with the opinion.

“They said Lynyrd Skynyrd was a rock-n-roll band, not blues,” McDaniel. “I presented them with six or seven of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s blues songs.”

Organizers already had a spot picked out on Highway 568 near the crash site for a blues trail marker, and a letter of endorsement from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

But McDaniel doesn’t want to dwell on the setbacks. Instead, they have led to a much bolder plan.

One of the 1977 rescuers, Dwain Easley, agreed to provide a small piece of his land on Easley Road for a marker — and not just any marker.

“We have commissioned a monument that is eight feet tall, 14 feet wide, black granite,” McDaniel said.

It will be laser-sketched with a lengthy write-up about Lynyrd Skynyrd and the plane crash, similar to the proposed wording for the blues trail marker.

McComb Monument Co. will provide the memorial, paid for by donations from Lynyrd Skynyrd fans known as the Skynyrd Nation — donations that far exceeded expectations.

“Any extra money will be set aside for care of some survivors,” McDaniel said.

A memorial is long past due, McDaniel said. Fans from around the globe frequently show up in Gillsburg searching for the crash site, which is on private property in deep woods with nothing left to show.

The monument will be about a quarter mile south of Highway 568 a short distance from the crash site, with a parking area and a chain-link fence in back. McDaniel said Amite County supervisors expressed support for the plan, which involves a county road.

A separate marker will be placed at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center to honor the people who took care of the injured.

“The weekend of Oct. 18, 19, 20 we’re expecting to have a large Lynyrd Skynyrd fan presence in southwest Mississippi,” McDaniel said. “They call themselves Skynyrd Nation. We’re going to fill 1,000 seats.”

Oct. 19 concert tickets are $40. VIP tickets are $80 and include a meeting with survivors and rescuers. Tickets can be ordered online at eventbrite.com. T-shirts will be available for $30.

Hampton Inn in McComb will serve as the host hotel, and Skynyrd fans can bring memorabilia to display in the meeting room.

People have already shown interest from as far off as Denver, New York, South Carolina, Florida and Los Angeles. At the 40th anniversary of the crash, people from as far off as Italy showed up.

McDaniel cited a 2015 article by McComb native Ted Jackson, a Pulitzer-winning photojournalist, who recounted being on assignment in Thailand in 1995. A Thai boatman who spoke little English asked Jackson if he liked Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the two teamed up on a duet on “Sweet Home Alabama,” complete with air guitar.

McDaniel has deep personal interest in Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“My family land was 2,000 feet away from the crash site. I was a rescuer,” he said.

He had also been to three Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts, no small accomplishment.

McDaniel said Easley was the first person on the plane to help out. McDaniel helped assess the wounded.

“I took three of the dead out,” he said, citing Ronnie VanZant, Cassie Gaines and Dean Kilpatrick.

“We put them in the back of Dennis Wilson’s truck, and because they were already deceased he took them to the morgue at Southwest hospital.”

At the time the rescuers didn’t know who the victims were. Only later did someone run up and tell him, “Governor, Governor, that was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s band!’” McDaniel said. “We had no idea who we were handling.”

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