'Gimme Back My Bullets' would lead to another album release in 1976, the live album 'One More For the Road', which was to be a huge hit.

The band pencilled in the US bicentennial, July 1976, for the shows. With the build up came a need for Skynyrd to find a third picker. Although still a fine band, when Ed King left, something of the bands sound disappeared with him.

Many players were considered, including session wizard Wayne Perkins, and Mountain legend Leslie West. West was a particular favourite of the band's. Rossington recalled the band travelling with West, and that he had to fly wearing "two f____n' seat belts!!". Unfortunately, there was always going to be an ego clash, and when the Mountain man wanted the band billed as 'Lynyrd Skynyrd featuring Leslie West', he was shown the door.

 


The man to solve the problem was right under the band's nose, and they didn't see it. When Skynyrd went into the studio to record 'Gimme Back My Bullets' they used backing singers for the first time. Their names were Leslie Hawkins, Cassie Gaines, and Jo Jo Billingsley.

When the search for a third guitarist drew a blank, Cassie Gaines plucked up the courage to tell the band about her younger brother, guitarist Steve Gaines. The band, to be polite, heard her out and even agreed, against their better judgement, to let Steve play a song with them. Cassie, of course, got straight on the phone to her brother in Seneca, Missouri to tell him that there was a chance of some work for him and could he come out. She neglected to tell him what the 'work' might be!!!
 


STEVE GAINES

 

Once Steve started jamming with them it was clear that a match had been made.

Ronnie; "This kid is a writing and playing fool. He's already scared everybody in the band into playing their best in years."

Gary Rossington; "He was a freak of nature, he was so good. He inspired us tremendously. He was a great singer, too, and it sort of kicked Ronnie in the ass a little bit. He had to try harder because Steve was there."

 


Steve's first live show with Skynyrd was at Kansas City. The moment of truth arrived and Steve stepped out onto the stage with the band to perform a new song in their repertoire, Jimmie Rodgers classic, 'T for Texas'.

Unknown to Steve, Gary and Allen had instructed the sound guys to turn Steve right down in the mix if he 'sucked'. The opposite happened. At the appointed moment in the song, Steve put on his slide and burst into a fiery solo that left the band speechless with admiration.


STEVE GAINES

 


After the gig, Steve went home. Nothing happened for two weeks, and he assumed no more would come of it. How wrong he was. Within a fortnight of the Kansas City show, Steve received a phone call from Ronnie to say the band were going to play a show at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and "could Steve come out?" .

 


Not only was Steve an ace picker, but he was a genuinely nice guy. The band took to him straight away, particularly Allen who had found himself a new bosom buddy.

Gaines was familiar enough with Skynyrd's work as his band, 'Crawdaddy', played 'Saturday Night Special' as part of their regular set. There was only a month before recording was to start, so he spent the month of June in marathon 'cramming and jamming' sessions.

The album was recorded live in the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, a small venue chosen due to the following reasons. First the venue had great acoustics, secondly it would provide an intimate setting for both band and audience, and thirdly that the venue had supported Skynyrd through the years and was facing closure. With the addition of Steve Gaines, and the direction of Tom Dowd, the band turned in a classic performance. Dowd described the working arrangements that resulted in 'One More From Road'.

Dowd; "Each night after the show I'd make them listen to the whole thing. I'd say, "We have to do this song again. This one over here, we have to change this way", and so on. We changed two or three songs a day, so that no two shows were the same, and in the end we had more than ten or twelve songs to pick from."

 


The resulting 'One More From The Road' was one of Skynyrd's finest, and is often considered to be, along with the Allman's 'Live at the Fillmore' one of the all-time great live albums. Although in some parts of the show, Gaines was hardly heard, his presence shows in the blistering Skynyrd performance. 'One More From The Road' eventually became Skynyrd's second Top 10 album.

With the album under their belt, Skynyrd were starting to be considered as big as the Allmans. The band wanted to keep that going, and much soul searching was done. Ronnie knew that his love of whiskey was possibly going to be damaging, and so he made an effort to give up the bottle.



 

 


The band also decided that their image wasn't being helped by Confederate backdrops, and so they stopped using the flag on stage. They even stopped using 'Dixie' as their theme tune. Ronnie was also a new father to daughter Melody.

 


However, the good intentions Ronnie had didn't always permeate through the rest of the band. Over the Labor Day weekend, Gary and Allen both were involved in separate incidents whilst driving under the influence. Ronnie's wrath was something to behold, berating his guitar players for their stupidity.

Although the live album was extremely good, it could not convey the excitement of an actual gig. Skynyrd was by now one of the premier performance bands in the world. At the Gator Bowl benefit for President Jimmy Carter in July of 1976, Skynyrd was the main attraction. In August they performed at Britain's Knebworth Festival, earning rave reviews at the expense of the headlining Rolling Stones. Still, 'One More From Road' quickly entered the Top Ten, earning gold and then platinum status. Their gig was captured in nearly all of its entirety on the 1996 film and soundtrack album  'Freebird The Movie'.

In part, to celebrate this success, the band traded their touring bus for a private plane.

 


With Skynyrd having successfully recorded their live album, and played a barnstorming show at Knebworth, England, expectations were high for the next studio album. In April 1977, a triumphant and confident Lynyrd Skynyrd joined producer Tom Dowd at Criteria Studios in Miami, FLA to begin recording the new album. The recording process went well, but things began to unravel during mixing. The band went back on the road before the completion of the album with the feeling that things weren't going as planned. 

 


The summer of 1977 saw Skynyrd continuing to play huge outdoor shows such as Bill Graham's 'Day on the Green' at Oakland Colisseum. Introduced to 'Theme From The Magnificent Seven', the band were hotter than ever.

With the summer dates finished, Skynyrd moved north to Studio One in Doraville, Georgia to complete the album.

 


There they found engineer Rodney Mills, but Dowd was in Toronto having committed himself to working with Rod Stewart. Dowd contacted LA based engineer Barry Rudolph and sent him to Georgia to be his representative. Dowd never made it back for the Skynyrd album, and subsequently was not credited as its producer on the album cover.

 


However, even without Dowd, all was not lost. Rudolph had been around and listed in his C.V. was a reference which would make instant believers out of Skynyrd. He was the engineer on the legendary album 'Are You Ready For The Country' by Waylon Jennings. Indeed, Rudolph's country music past seemed to be the prime inspiration for Skynyrd's rollicking cover of Merle Haggard's country classic 'Honky Tonk Night Time Man'.  It was a song which Skynyrd really nailed down, with a fabulous stinging solo from Gaines, causing Ronnie to holler
"Sounds like Roy" on the track. This was a direct reference to Haggard's legendary lead player Roy Clark. The band had already canned versions of 'You Got that Right' and 'That Smell', but such was their sense of enjoyment at working with Rudolphs, both tracks were re-recorded with him. 

Once Rudolph's stint had finished, Ronnie, Rodney Mills and Kevin Elson (who would subsequently produce US rockers Mr Big), finished the album off with remixed tracks from the Criteria sessions and newly mixed tracks in Georgia.

With the album not even in the shops, Skynyrd notched up an impressive half million album sales, sending the album Gold before even being released. Their most ambitious tour was ready to roll, 'the ironically titled 'Tour Of The Survivors', which was to be topped off by a career defining show at Madison Square Gardens in New York.

 


During the recording of the album, the band considered going on the road without 'The Honkettes', but when they tried to do it there was big gap to fill and the sound wasn't right without them. Cassie and Leslie signed back on with the boys. There was a delay however with Jo Jo who had been ill and recuperating at her mom's house in Mississippi. Once back in good health, Jo Jo decided she would rejoin with the others for Skynyrd's tour.

 
The album, 'Street Survivors', was released on 17th October 1977. Due to pre-sales of the album it achieved Gold status upon release and was set to become the bands best selling album.

Then, on 20th October 1977 at 6.42pm, Lynyrd Skynyrd, travelling from Greenville in South Carolina to a show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, suffered a fatal blow. Their plane crashed.


       


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Chapter 7: 1977 - 'The Last Flight'