Charlie Daniels helps Shenandoah tell the story of the Oct. 20, 1977 plane crash that killed Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup singer Cassie Gaines with the new song "Freebird in the Wind."
Daniels begins the song with a recitation of the poem carved into a stone bench at Van Zant's grave site.
"Everyone knows Charlie Daniels plays a pivotal role in the Southern rock genre," explains Shenandoah singer Marty Raybon in a press release. "He also has a friendship with Lynyrd Skynyrd that goes back nearly four decades including a close relationship with before he passed away. With the connection he has to the history behind the song, we felt he would be perfect to have on this record, and we were honored when he said yes."
Nelson Blanchard and Scott Inness wrote the song after Inness' 2018 visit to the rural Mississippi crash site.
"We even played the demo to drummer Artimus Pyle who survived the crash, and he cried," says Inness in a press release. "We truly feel we captured the story in a song."
Shenandoah and Daniels cut the song at Muscle Shoals Sound, the studio referenced in "Sweet Home Alabama."
"The first time I heard this song, I remember thinking 'Wow, what memories it brought back.' Then I thought 'My goodness, what a tribute,'" Raybon continues. "Not that they were in a plane crash and not that one of the most gifted songwriters and vocalists in southern rock had been killed, but the love for who and what they were had not died. We recorded this song not to gain from it, but to pay our respect to them."
All proceeds from the song, now available on digital platforms, go to the Southern rock band's official charity, the Lynyrd Skynyrd Foundation.
Skynyrd, now led by Van Zant's younger brother Johnny Van Zant and original band member Gary Rossington, will slow down its busy schedule of live performances soon following the ongoing Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour.