The songs, the sound, and the memories haven't faded even though Steve and Cassie Gaines have now been gone for 40 years.
Raised in Miami, Oklahoma the Gaines brother and sister became part of rock and roll history as members of the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd southern rock band.
The band's iconic song, “Sweet Home Alabama,” became southern rock's anthem and the song “Free Bird” and others still draws new generations of music lovers.
To honor their musical talents and contributions to music history, the Gaineses are being inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 8 at an event at the Coleman Theatre.
That same day Circle Drive in their hometown will be co-named “Gaines Drive” in an unveiling event at 1:30 p.m. at 460 Circle Drive. The Dobson Museum at 110 A Street SW will house a small exhibit from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Gaines’ honor.
At the height of the 1970s band’s skyrocketing rise to fame, the music stopped on Oct. 20, 1977 when a tragic plane crash ended the lives of guitarist and vocalist Steve Gaines, back up singer Cassie Gaines, and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and other tour members and the plane’s pilots.
Van Zant’s best friend and personal bodyguard, Gene Odom, is a survivor of the 1977 plane crash. He was along on tour and on the plane with the band that fateful night.
Odom is planning to travel to Miami to be part of the upcoming events honoring the Gaineses.
“I’m looking forward to coming out there and seeing some old friends and being part of this induction,” he said.
Van Zant and Odom became childhood and lifelong friends while growing up together in Florida.
“We were good friends, Ronnie and I grew up right down the street together in the old neighborhood as little boys all the way up to when he passed away,” Odom said.
Touring with the band, his friend Van Zant and the Gaineses are memories Odom says he greatly cherishes.
“Well, it was a job for me. I wasn’t a musician or none of that stuff, it was my job taking care of and watching over them and protecting them, Ronnie and the band members, and of course Steve and Cassie. To me it was a job,” Odom said. “I didn’t do no drugs, I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, and I didn’t do any of that crazy stuff. It was just a job, and it was a fun job.
"You know, you traveled and you got to see things you’d never seen before.”
Odom was not able to join the last tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1976 to 1977 from the start because of prior obligations.
“I went with them full time at the end of ’76, but they went to Europe and I had a union lawsuit I was involved in and I couldn’t go to Europe, and so when they came back from Europe I was with them full time after that until the plane crashed,” Odom said.
As their bodyguard and Van Zant’s friend, Odom had an intimate inside view of the band’s last tour together before the tragedy occurred.
“They all got along to a point. They were musicians and that was a band, but that band was employment for them, and Ronnie was president of the employment. They all got along pretty good until something went wrong or if they had too much of one thing or too much of the other,” Odom said. “Ronnie ran the show and he was known to drink a little too much if something went wrong, but not way too much — but to put his point across.
"They would sit down and work out the problems. It was a good adventure for me being an outsider from the band, not being a musician.”
At the height of their success some of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s band members were not only known for their cutting edge sound but for their wild and reckless lifestyle, which included drugs and alcohol, but Odom said he and the Gaines siblings weren’t part of that lifestyle.
Steve Gaines replaced Ed King as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lead guitarist and added his vocal talents to the band in 1975 and Odom said Steve’s talents propelled the band’s success even higher.
“Steve didn’t only fit in, he fit in with an exclamation point!” Odom said, “Actually when they were working on the album in Atlanta, I’d went up there for something and Ronnie told me to go back home and work on this property, and before I left Steve was in the studio working.
"Ronnie and I were talking and I said, ‘Man, that guy’s good!’ and Ronnie said, ‘He’s the best thing to ever happen to this band! He said, ‘He is something special,’ and he was. Steve Gaines was a tremendous, tremendous addition to the band.”
As many fans have contemplated since, it’s hard for Odom not to speculate as to what level the band’s success would have risen to had the plane crash not taken three of the band member’s lives.
“Steve would have helped them all make a major success and been a big part of it. He was a phenomenal musician, not only a guitar player, but songwriter, music arranger… he was everything. He was such a master on the guitar,” Odom said. “But you can’t go back…The Rolling Stones held the record at Madison Square Garden of five consecutive nights touring where the Stones had sold out Madison Square Garden.
"That tour that the Lynyrd Skynyrd band was on had already sold out Madison Square Garden seven consecutive nights, but we didn’t make it…so that’s where they were going with the help of Steve Gaines.”
Odom gave his impression and observations of Steve during the 1976 to 1977 last tour.
“Steve was kind of like the polar opposite of the other band members because he didn’t drink. He might take a drink but he didn’t drink excessively, he didn’t do drugs," Odom said. "He was an ultimate musician and such a talented musician, RonnieVan Zant was following his lead and he fit right in up until the very last minute of his life.
"He was a professor and Ronnie Van Zant was the student."
On tour the Gaines brother and sister spent a lot of time together, according to Odom.
“Steve and Cassie hung out a lot. I didn’t stick my nose into their personal time unless they were going some place or something, but he was kind of quiet. He wasn’t a big boaster or trying to say, ‘Look at me, look at me, I’m a guitar player I’m in the band,'' Odom said. "Steve was so humble. He was the ultimate human being number one, and a musician after that.
"Cassie was more laid back and was kind of, you could use the term, a hippie type chick. She liked old clothes, she liked old jewelry, she liked old style, and she was nothing like JoJo.
"Of course, nobody was like JoJo, and Leslie was a little bit different,” Odom added referring to the three members of the Honkettes. “One time the girls were going shopping and I went along and the difference in the two girls was seriously very noticeable.”
Odom said Cassie enjoyed sightseeing and shopping during her free time on tour.
“Cassie wanted to see things, she wanted to do things and she didn’t want to hang around the hotel. She was an ultimate backup singer, musician and she also helped her brother,” he said. “They did personal things together, like if Steve needed something sewed, Cassie would do that.
"Actually Ronnie had gave him a bomber jacket and an emblem from the Rolling Stones from 1975, and she had just sewn that on his jacket just a day or two before the plane crash.”
As Van Zant’s personal bodyguard and working security for the band Odom had a front row seat when the band was on stage during that famous last tour and saw the fans and concertgoers’ response to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Gaines.
“Every night was amazing. Of course you’ve had a lot of beer drinking people at the front of the stage and the females and the crowds were loving it. In ’77 at the time of the crash Lynyrd Skynyrd was called the ‘American Beatles’ that’s how big they were becoming, and how powerful of musicians they were again thanks on account of Steve Gaines," Odom said. "The crowds carried on, and it was fun to watch the crowds and everything else.
"Fans were always trying to get to the stage and if you were smart enough you could watch the fans’ reaction and stop that before it happened. It was just part of the band’s super stardom and notoriety with a band with a lot of fans, and a lot of crazy fans too.”
After the shows, and usually an encore of “Free Bird” the band would go over how each show went and freshen up before boarding the plane for the next venue or retreat to their hotel rooms to hangout or sleep, according to Odom.
“I didn’t get enough time to get to know them more personally, but it was a good time. I enjoyed it,” Odom said. “I spent my free time seeing things that I’d never see again.”
The memories of the plane crash are easily recalled and set and cast in Odom’s mind forever. He said the tragedy is even harder to fathom because some of the 26 band members and tour crew who boarded the airplane had expressed reluctance to fly that night because of the plane’s condition.
“Cassie was one of them who wanted to fly commercial and didn’t want to be on the plane and said that up until the last minute. Ronnie had been up all night. There’d been drugs and he’d fired JoJo and she was calling all the rooms trying to get Ronnie to give her her job back and aggravating Ronnie, and all the other stuff. He had enough of it,” Odom said. “The road manager is the one who talked them into getting into it… and the pilot took charge.”
Odom says there was an argument with the pilots over whether mechanical work the plane needed could wait, but the pilot told them the plane would be fine and would make it to Baton Rouge for maintenance.
“I will never forget when the plane was going down, I’ll never forget the look on Steve’s face. He had the most serene, most surreal look. He was calm and that was just before the plane hit the ground,” Odom said.
Odom claims Steve was still alive when he was removed from the wreckage and was then tended to by a nurse who covered him with her jacket before he passed from internal injuries on the way to the hospital.
“I regret and will spend the rest of my life regretting that I didn’t stop that plane from leaving the ground,” Odom said.
Odom lost his best friend in that crash, and the Gaineses who he was just getting to know during the tour in a crash that shook the music world.
That particular compilation of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s musical artistry was to be no more although the band reorganized with new members and continues to tour.
“It was hard. For years it was difficult because it took me three years to heal up from the plane crash and everything surgeries and whatever" Odom said. "It still is difficult because I knew what kind of person Ronnie Van Zant was, and briefly knew what kind of people Steve and Cassie were, and they were basically three-of-kind.
“They were really, really good people, and the good ones are the ones that passed away.”