Billy Powell’s Legacy Lives On In Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Stirring Tribute, “Gifted Hands”
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“Lord, We Thank You For These Gifted Hands.”
Billy Powell’s journey from Lynyrd Skynyrd roadie to celebrated keyboard player began in 1972 when Ronnie Van Zant discovered that he could play piano. “Ronnie Van Zant came up to me and said, ‘You mean to tell me, you’ve been playing the piano like that and you’ve been workin’ for us for a year….’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve been classically trained most of my life.’ So, right then and there, he said, ‘We need a keyboard player.'” Powell, whose piano playing was a key part of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s sound, passed away from a suspected heart attack on January 28, 2009 at 56. Shortly after, he was immortalized by his friends and grieving bandmates in Lynyrd Skynyrd with the stirring tribute “Gifted Hands,” featured on the band’s thirteenth studio album God & Guns.
In “Gifted Hands, singer Johnny Van Zant looks back on Billy’s life; not just the fun parts, but the parts that struggled deeply following the plane crash in 1977 and through a strong faith in God and himself, broke through the other side to rejoin Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1987 where he remained as a beloved fixture for another 22 years.
Gifted Hands, Indeed: Billy’s childhood piano teacher said that Billy didn’t need a teacher – he was a natural and picked things up well on his own.
With soaring guitars provided by Gary Rossington, Rickey Medlocke and Mark Matejka and the impassioned vocals of Johnny Van Zant, “Gifted Hands” is a fitting tribute to the legacy of a man who helped shape the sound of one the greatest bands in southern rock.
It’s been 7 long years without Billy Powell’s gifted hands tickling the ivories from his spot at the piano at every Lynyrd Skynyrd show, but according to Johnny, Billy is in good hands: “You know, they say they’ve got one hell of a band up in heaven. My brother Ronnie up in heaven is probably saying, ‘Billy, what took you so long?’ I’m sure they’re catching up on things in heaven.”