[ d e e p P u r . p l e ) The Highway Star

Leon Wilkinson RIP

Only a few weeks after Deep Purple ended their stint on North American tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd this sad news broke.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - (WIRE) - July 27, 2001 Lynyrd Skynyrd bassist Leon Wilkeson was discovered this afternoon in Jacksonville, Fla., dead at age 49. An original member of the legendary band, Wilkeson died in his sleep.

Lynyrd Skynyrd formed in Jacksonville, Fla. in the late 1960's. With hits such as "Free Bird", "Sweet Home Alabama", "Gimme Three Steps", "That Smell", and "Call Me the Breeze" the band became a staple in American rock arenas. Just prior to the release of the band's fifth record, "Street Survivors", on October 20, 1977, the band's chartered plane crashed, resulting in the deaths of lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and background singer Cassie Gaines. Reuniting in 1987 with Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie's younger brother, fronting the band, Lynyrd Skynyrd then suffered another tragedy as founding member Allen Collins (who, in 1986, had been paralyzed in a car wreck) died from complications while battling pneumonia.

Still performing sold-out concerts nationwide and recording, Lynyrd Skynyrd has continued the success established by its original lineup - "Lyve From Steeltown" was recently certified gold by the RIAA.

Roger Glover submitted his memories of Wilkeson...

It was only a few weeks ago that Leon and I had a few drinks in the bar of some hotel or other. It was the first time we had talked properly since the opening night of the tour when all of Lynyrd Skynyrd stood outside our dressing room door and shook our hands as we arrived - a genuine, warm welcome. Leon gave me a particular welcome, bass player to bass player.

Over the course of the tour there was always a good atmosphere between DP and LS. Banter was plentiful in the backstage corridors and a camaraderie developed. Drinking with Leon that night, he told me about his damaged arm, showed me the scars, and demonstrated how he had had to learn to play all over again after the plane crash. I developed a whole new respect for the man.

One night, towards the end of the tour, I rode on their bus for a short ride back to the hotel and he proudly showed me around and made sure I was comfortable. He was a lovely man; I wish I had got to know him better, but Iım glad I knew him a little.

My thoughts now are with his family and also with his band mates, who again have to face the harsh realities of life and death.

I wish them peace.

Roger Glover

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