03 Jun 1952 1
28 Jan 2009 1

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Full Name:
William Norris Powell 1
03 Jun 1952 1
28 Jan 2009 1
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Card Issued: Florida 1

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Billy Powell dies at 56; Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboard player


Billy Powell, the former roadie who became a rock star for his keyboard work with the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, died early Wednesday morning apparently of heart problems at his home in Orange Park, Fla., police said. He was 56.

Police received a telephone call at 12:55 a.m. from Powell, who complained that he was feeling dizzy and was having a hard time breathing, Orange Park Police Chief James H. Boivin said by phone.

When police and rescue workers arrived, they found Powell in his bedroom with the phone nearby, Boivin said. Powell did not respond to CPR and was pronounced dead at 1:52 a.m., the chief said.

The cause of death has yet to be determined, but police believe it was heart-related, Boivin said.

"He was supposed to have a meeting with his heart specialist" earlier this week but failed to show up, the chief said. "The doctor said he had heart problems."

Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the major voices of hard-driving, bluesy Southern rock 'n' roll in the early 1970s and became a global attraction by 1977 when three band members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, and three others died in a plane crash in Mississippi. Powell was seriously injured.

Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1952, Powell grew up in a traveling military family and went to Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, Fla., where he became friends with Leon Wilkeson, future bassist for Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Powell, who took music lessons as a youth, became a roadie for the band until about 1972, when he helped set up the band's equipment at a school prom. There, he sat down at a piano and began to play a version of "Free Bird." Van Zant hired him as keyboardist.

The song featured a keyboard introduction that helped turn the piece into a rock 'n' roll anthem and made Powell a star.

By the band's second album, featuring "Sweet Home Alabama," Lynyrd Skynyrd was a popular fixture. After the death of key members, the remaining group formed the core of the Rossington-Collins Band and later reunited as a new Lynyrd Skynyrd, with Van Zant's brother Johnny on vocals. Powell also had a stint performing with a Christian rock band.

Powell's survivors include his wife and four children.

Funeral arrangements are pending.





  Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Powell grew up in a military family (his father was in the U.S. Navy) and spent several years of his childhood living in Italy where his father was stationed. After his father died of cancer in 1960, he moved with his family back to the United States and settled inJacksonville, Florida. He met his lifelong friend, Leon Wilkeson in elementary school. Billy's interest in piano began to grow and he began taking pianolessons from a local teacher named Madalyn Brown. She swore he did not need her, claiming that Billy was a natural and picked things up well on his own. When it was time for high school, his mother enrolled Billy and his brother, Ricky at Sanford Naval Academy in Sanford, FL.

Billy returned to Jacksonville where he enrolled at Bishop Kenny High School. When he graduated in 1970, he enrolled briefly in a community college, majoring in Music Theory. Around this time he found work as a roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Billy remained a member of the Skynyrd crew for two years (which included, amongst the grittier shows, highlights such as Skynyrd landing a support slot for Leslie West's "Mountain") In his second year with them, 1972, Skynyrd played one particular gig, a show at the Bolles school prom. After his usual routine working with Kevin Elson, Billy had time to rest for a short while. In the corner he spotted a piano, so Billy went over and sat down with it. Just fooling around, Billy launches into his piano based version of Freebird for the boys in the band to listen to. Ronnie, astonished at his roadies hitherto secret ability said 'You mean to tell me, you've been playing the piano like that and you've been workin' for us for a year....'. Billy replied, "Well, you know, I've been classically trained most of my life.' He was then told Skynyrd were looking for a keyboard man, and Billy was in![1]

In 1973, Lynyrd Skynyrd was signed to MCA Records and received national exposure with the release of their first album, (pronounced 'l?h-'nérd 'skin-'nérd). The band's popularity soared in 1974 with their follow-up album, Second Helping, which featured their highest-charting single, "Sweet Home Alabama". The band enjoyed great popularity over the next three years, culminating in the 1977 release of Street Survivors, which many considered to be their strongest effort to date.

However, three days after the release of Street Survivors, Skynyrd's chartered plane crashed into a forest near McComb, Mississippi. The crash took the lives of singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitaristSteve Gaines, his sister and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, and both pilots. The remainder of the band suffered injuries ranging from mild to severe. Powell suffered severe facial lacerations, almost completely losing his nose but was otherwise relatively uninjured. He was the first to be released from the hospital, and the only member able to attend the funerals of his fallen band-mates.

During the time between the plane crash and the Lynyrd Skynyrd reunion in 1987, Powell joined a Christian rock band named Vision in 1984..during this time he recorded 3 albums and toured extensively.."Mountain in The Sky"/self titled "Vision" and soon to be released(previously unreleased).."Streetfighter" His keyboard playing was spotlighted in Vision concerts. Powell also spoke during the concerts about his newfound is featured on 2 bonus tracks..("Mountain in The Sky") where Skynyrd/Vision bandmate Leon Wilkeson and he give testimony of their conversions.

Powell rejoined Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1987 for a tribute tour, and remained with the band until his death. Guitarist Gary Rossington is the only member from the classic lineup who continues to record and perform with the band today.

In 2007, two years before his death, Powell played piano on Kid Rock's summer anthem "All Summer Long" (which samples "Sweet Home Alabama").

On January 28, 2009, the keyboardist died at the age of 56 at his home in Orange Park, Florida. Powell called 911 at 12:55 a.m., complaining of shortness of breath. He missed his appointment with the doctor on the day before his death; the appointment was for a checkup on his heart.[2] The EMS responders found Powell unconscious and unresponsive, with the telephone still in his hand. Rescue crews performed CPR, but he was pronounced dead at 1:52 am. A heart attack was the suspected cause of death, but an autopsy was not performed. A private memorial service for Billy Powell was held on Saturday, January 31 with Billy's friend, Dr. Bob Winstead officiating. The music he had recorded with Vision was played exclusively and Kid Rock sang a tribute song to Billy at the service. Many southern rock musicians were in attendance, including the Skynyrd and Vision bandmates, their families, Hank Williams Jr. and others. He leaves behind his family; wife, Ellen, sons Brandon and Joel, daughters Layla, Ashley, and Maggie, brother, Rick, and sister, Donna.

The song 'Gifted Hands' was later written and recorded by Lynyrd Skynyrd as a tribute to Powell


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