Billy Powell’s legendary intro to Freebird has touched lives of millions. His keyboards lifted many Lynyrd Skynyrd songs to timeless classics and his soft touch added rich texture to whole Skynyrd sound.
Billy Powell was born on in Corpus Christi, TX, but as an army brat spent his youth in Italy, where his father was stationed. After his death in 1960, rest of the family moved back to States.
Young Billy went to High School and Community College in Jacksonville where he met future band mate Leon Wilkeson. Before joining Lynyrd Skynyrd, he played with a band called Alice Marr along side with founding 38 Special Don Barnes and Donnie Van Zant.
By 1970, Billy has become a roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd and was eventually asked to join in 1972 as a full member of the band, after Ronnie Van Zant spotted him playing now legendary intro to Freebird.
Lynyrd Skynyrd made it big soon after Billy joined them and they rode the high wave until 1977’s plane crash. Powell was considered lucky and only suffered (severe) injuries to his face in a crash that took lives of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines and their road manager, Dean Kilpatrick.
1980’s was a difficult time for him, none of the line-ups he played with (Alias, The Rossington – Collins Band, Allen Collins Band or Vision) managed gain any major success and Billy was neck-deep in debt to the IRS.
Lynyrd Skynyrd made a comeback in 1987 and Billy Powell continued to play with them until his untimely death. On 27th of January, he had an appointment with heart specialist, but never showed up. On 28th of January he called an ambulance, complaining breathing difficulties and was found dead by the paramedics.
Billy Powell was only 56 at the time of his death. He is survived by his son Brandon Powell, also a musician, who plays guitar in the band called Syntenic.