Lynyrd Skynyrd sues ex-drummer over movie about 1977 plane crash

FILE PHOTO - Singer Kid Rock performs with Johnny Van Zant and his band Lynyrd Skynyrd on ABC's
FILE PHOTO - Singer Kid Rock (L) performs with Johnny Van Zant (R) and his band Lynyrd Skynyrd on ABC's "Good Morning America" in New York, U.S. on August 22, 2008. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

June 19, 2017

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd have filed a lawsuit against the Southern rock band’s former drummer to halt the production of a movie depicting the 1977 plane crash that killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant.

Lead guitarist Gary Rossington, Ronnie’s brother and current lead singer Johnny Van Zant, and others contend that “Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash,” based on recollections of former drummer Artimus Pyle, violated a 1988 consent order governing the use of the band’s name.

The lawsuit against Pyle and co-defendant Cleopatra Records Inc was made public on Friday in the U.S. district court in Manhattan. A trial is scheduled for July 11, court records show.

Pyle could not immediately be reached for comment. It is unclear whether he has a lawyer.

Brian Perera, Cleopatra’s president, said in an interview he would be willing to settle, but added, “I understood my First Amendment rights. Filmmakers can make biopics.”

Known for such songs as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd went on hiatus after its touring plane crashed in Mississippi on Oct. 20, 1977, killing Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steven Gaines and four others. Twenty people, including Pyle, survived.

In 1987, surviving band members reunited for a “tribute tour,” prompting litigation that led to the consent order.

The plaintiffs, who include representatives of the estates of Ronnie Van Zant, Gaines and late guitarist Allen Collins, said they had issued a cease-and-desist letter last summer to halt the defendants’ plan for a movie titled “Free Bird.”

They said that while Pyle, who left the band in 1991, “is free to exploit his own personal life story,” the retitled movie would destroy their right to use the name and history of Lynyrd Skynyrd, causing “incalculable” loss and irreparable harm.

Such a movie “may contain a potentially inaccurate or skewed portrayal of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s story as filtered solely through the eyes of Pyle masquerading as the ‘True Story’ of a defining moment in the band’s history,” the plaintiffs said.

“Street Survivors” is now being edited, and could be ready for theaters in 2018, Perera said.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet, who oversaw the 1988 consent order.

The case is Ronnie Van Zant Inc et al v. Pyle et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-03360.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

  • Jarrad Williams

    Not sure what to think about this. If he was part of the band and the tragedy I’m not sure if there are real moral grounds to prohibit his ability to share his account of his association and the tragedy. However, if there is legal standing that prevents production and distribution of this project then both sides would serve the original memory of the band well by coming to some sort of agreement. I find it difficult to believe their former drummer would knowingly violate the terms of a standing consent order for which he was probably in the loop.

  • sidewindin

    Pyle was as much a part of that band and tragedy as any other member. He should fight the suit and move forward with whatever name he chooses. If there is an agreement he previously signed, he should abide by it- otherwise train roll on, on down the line…

  • Tish

    Saw them twice, many moons ago.. Love em 2day just as much as i did back then… Oh wont you Fly High, Ooooh Freebird Yeah !

  • Marty Kirkpatrick

    Rossington is the only surviving member… JVZ is a member through familial association, Medlocke was involved with early Skynyrd, the drummer is the Damn Yankees drummer…Skynyrd is in NO way Van Zants”band.”

    • Grant


  • Bamaprof

    I’ve met Artimus Plye and he seems like a straight shooter. He told me his story years ago and I don’t doubt it a bit. Props to him for preserving the truth and southern rock culture. He was present there, those in this BS lawsuit were not! Who then can best say what occurred?

  • R A.

    Best Southern Rock Band EVER

    • FreedomFighter

      One of the best no doubt!! There are MANY of them. Alman Brothers, Blackfoot, Marshal Tucker Band, …..

      • R A.

        AMEN to THAT

        • FreedomFighter

          This is what I listen to these days!!

          • R A.

            HeII Yeah Blackberry Smokes

          • Commander Balok

            Love Blackberry Smoke. Don’t forget The Outlaws either. Bring it Back Alive is one of the greatest Southern Rock guitar albums ever made. Not a bad song on the album.

          • R A.

            Blue Tides HeII yeah

      • Joe

        Molly Hatchet…

        • Tish

          Gator Country !

        • Locutis2112

          In which Ronnie Van Zant was set to produce until the crash occurred.

      • Reek Havoc

        Gregg All man was a low life stoolie that rat’d out his dealer to save his own azz. ppfffttt

        • FreedomFighter

          Maybe he was, idk. He made great music though and that can’t be denied.

      • AtomicFury

        Great choices. Some others I’ve liked are .38 Special, ZZ Top, and Little Feat.

        • FreedomFighter

          Yes sir!!

  • AtomicFury

    I remember one day being in a study hall period held in our high school auditorium. It was my junior year. To my right and about ten rows closer to the stage sat a classmate of mine (I’ll refer to as Mary) who was visibly upset and crying. I felt sorry for her but couldn’t console her because at that time of my life I didn’t know how to comfort anyone.

    I asked another classmate why Mary was crying, thinking she may have broken up with her boyfriend or worse. It turned out she was a huge Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. News didn’t travel as fast then as it does now so I didn’t find it odd that she was crying a day after hearing about the crash.

    Weird how the memory holds on to certain things.

    • Tish

      You brought back my memories of where i was when i heard the tragic news… Thank u

  • Thomas

    Come on boys, settle down. Artimus you are acting like a Yankee libtard by attempting to cash in on the tragedy, but y’all on the other side should settle this matter without involving the courts. Act like you have it “Made in The Shade” and get back to some “Swamp Music”.