Billy Powell

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Billy Powell
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Billy Powell.jpg
Powell in 2007
Background information
Birth name William Norris Powell
Born (1952-06-03)June 3, 1952
Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S.
Died January 28, 2009(2009-01-28) (aged 56)
Orange Park, Florida, U.S.
Genres Southern rock, hard rock, country rock, blues-rock
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Piano, Synthesizer, Organ, Hammond organ
Years active 1970–2009
Labels MCA
Associated acts Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kid Rock, .38 Special (band)

William Norris "Billy" Powell (June 3, 1952 – January 28, 2009) was an American musician and a longtime keyboardist of Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd from 1970 until his death in 2009.


Early life[edit]

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Powell grew up in a military family and spent several of his childhood years in Italy, where his father was stationed with the U.S. Navy. After his father died of cancer in 1960, the Powells returned to the United States to settle in Jacksonville, Florida.[1] In elementary school, Powell met Leon Wilkeson, who would become a lifelong friend and the bassist for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Powell took an interest in piano and he began taking piano lessons from a local teacher named Madalyn Brown, who claimed that Billy did not need a teacher as he was a natural and picked things up well on his own.[citation needed] When it was time for high school, his mother enrolled Billy and his brother, Ricky, at Sanford Naval Academy in Sanford, FL.[citation needed] Powell returned to Jacksonville, where he enrolled at Bishop Kenny High School. After graduation (1970), he enrolled at and briefly attended a community college, majoring in music theory.

Musical career[edit]

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Crew[edit]

Around 1970, Powell found work as a roadie for the band Lynyrd Skynyrd and remained a member of the Skynyrd crew for two years, during which the band secured a support role for Mountain. In 1972, Skynyrd played a show at the Bolles School prom. During a break at that event, Powell sat down at a piano and launched into his piano-based version of "Free Bird". Ronnie Van Zant, Skynyrd's lead vocalist, astonished at his roadie's 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 keyboardist, and was offered that position.[2][3]

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Keyboardist[edit]

In 1973, Lynyrd Skynyrd was signed to MCA Records and received national exposure following the release of their first album, (pronounced 'lĕh-'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 increasing popularity over the next three years, culminating in the 1977 release of Street Survivors.

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, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, and both pilots. The remainder of the band suffered mild to severe injuries. 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 (Vision) in 1984, recorded 3 albums (Mountain in The Sky, Vision, and Streetfighter), and toured extensively. His keyboard performances were spotlighted in Vision concerts. During the concerts, Powell spoke about his new-found Christianity; messages that were also delivered via 2 bonus tracks (Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell) included on the album Mountain in The Sky.

Lynyrd Skynyrd (return)[edit]

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.

Kid Rock[edit]

In 2007, two years before his death, Powell played piano on Kid Rock's summer anthem All Summer Long.


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 the day before his death; the appointment was for a checkup on his heart.[4] 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 left 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.[5][6]


  1. ^ "Billy Powell". All Music. Retrieved April 6, 2015. 
  2. ^ Archived from the original on July 23, 2010. Retrieved March 29, 2010.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ Rivadavia, Eduardo (January 28, 2015). "Six Years Ago: Lynyrd Skynyrd Pianist Billy Powell Dies". Retrieved May 24, 2015. 
  4. ^ Soergel, Matt. "Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboard player Billy Powell dead at 56", The Florida Times-Union, 2009-01-28. Retrieved 2009-01-31.
  5. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd Track-by-Track 6 – "Storm & Gifted Hands",, Retrieved 2010-09-14. Archived March 29, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Graff, Gary (July 9, 2009). "Lynyrd Skynyrd's latest a tribute to band's past, future". Billboard. Retrieved May 24, 2015. 

External links[edit]