In follow up to yesterday’s special Lynyrd Skynyrd Remembered episode, Lynyrd Skynyrd Monument Board Member, Mike Rounsaville, and Ramsey briefly discuss the monument that’s recently been built near the crash site. The monument can be visited by exiting I-55 at Exit 8, driving 8 miles west towards Gillsburg on Highway 568. Follow the signs.
Building a Monument to Lynyrd Skynyrd
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Boy, what a beautiful fall day. I’m in Amite County, Mississippi, in the little community of Magnolia. I must have driven down the I-55 corridor through Pike and Amite County a million times heading to New Orleans, heading to Louisiana, heading to the coast and I’ve always heard and knew that somewhere down here Lynyrd Skynyrd had crashed, but I never knew that when I came to that exit, it was just eight miles west. I had no idea. I drove up this morning and was going to meet with today’s guest speaker and I met a bunch of locals around and I’ve had the most wonderful conversations about the history surrounding this event and it’s right at the Lynyrd Skynyrd monument. I’m just a few hours up the road and had no idea this monument even existed. Y’all need to come see it. It’s probably the third largest granite monument in the entire state of Mississippi. It’s beautiful, it’s on a quiet little hillside, a nice breeze blowing on a warm day. It’s very interesting. I’d like to talk about that. Mike, tell me about this monument. How did this monument come to be?
Mike: Well, we just always decided, Duane and Bobby and myself, that in all these years there’s never been anything done to memorialize, more or less, probably the most famous thing that ever happened down here in Southwest Mississippi. Duane and I remember [that] in the year 2016, we were sitting there on October 20th, he and Bobby and myself, and I said, “We need to look into doing something,” and we talked back and forth. We had the big 2017 thing the next year. We had about 150 people show up for the 40th anniversary and had a little thing here at Duane’s camp, where we’re at now. We just said, “It’s time to do it,” around 2018. We started getting our ducks in a row and we went to Blues Trail Commission thinking we would get a Blues Trail marker. We got turned down on that, so we went and did our own memorial, more or less, our granite monument that you see up there now.
The Inspiration Behind the Monument
“We always come down on October 20th, we have a crash anniversary.”
Ramsey Russell: What inspired y’all to do that? Because music moves people. Events move people, but you get shut down by a state or federal government for something formal. But it’s a small community and a dedicated community. Why? Let me just explain to y’all, a lot of board members on this monument are from right here in Amite County. Mike, you’re from the free state of Tallahatchie County.
Mike: Born and bred right there.
Ramsey Russell: What brought you here?
Mike: Well, the long story short is on Tennessee concerts. Our friend Pat Adams had a story that he had interviewed Duane’s sister and Duane’s niece about the story of the plane crash. I found Duane’s niece, she and another girl were bringing me out here. The other girl had to turn around and go back. She had a phone call on her job or something. We were headed out here, but she brought me in there as close as she could get me that day. She didn’t know the place, so she took me to the beach tree. Then Duane said, “Come back some other time, I’ll take you to show you exactly,” and he carried me down there in February of 2015. That was January 2015 when I first came down and I came back about a month later and he carried me to the actual site and told me all the story and the rest is history. We always come down on October 20th, we have a crash anniversary. We had the biggest one 2017 and, like I said, we started talking about[doing] a memorial of some type and we failed on the Blues Trail marker getting it up on 568 highway up there at the corner where you turn off the road, we had that lined up with the state, but Blues Trail commission shut us down. We got hooked up with Brookhaven Monument, Dave Pace and that crew, and next thing you know, there it is.
Ramsey Russell: It’s absolutely beautiful. I was surprised. I really didn’t expect something quite so big.
Mike: My friend Ken Morris, [who] was on the committee with us for a while, did most of the work and Karen Nelson out of Jacksonville, Florida. She grew up right there in Shantytown with all of the Skynyrd boys, she knew them, she was just a kid, but they were teenagers, 20 years old, and her aunt was good friends with them. [I] contributed a little bit, a very small part, but that 8000 words of verbiage up there that you see, my friend Ken Morris and Karen pretty much put about 99% of that together. Karen, Lamb Nelson, they’re no longer on the committee with us, they live so far away. Ken’s in Colorado, he and I are high school friends, we grew up together. Karen we’ve never met, she’s never been able to get here. We communicated with her through phone and email and all that, but I think they did a great job on all that verbiage. It took some undertaking, emails swapping back and forth, and getting all the facts right. But I think they did a good job.
Ramsey Russell: I think they did too. Now the actual crash site is on private property in the woods off the road. Not widely publicized for reasons of trespass and things of that nature. But this monument is just right there. I mean it can’t be what a quarter mile? How far is it?
Mike: It’s about 400-500 yards down there to the crash site.
Ramsey Russell: Right.
Mike: Pretty much 500, because you’re going straight across the 40 acre block and there’s kind of an angle there.
Ramsey Russell: Mike, I’ve got to ask this question. I had another question in mind, but what’s your favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd song?
Mike: It would be hard to answer. Probably. What does everybody say most of the time, “Sweet Home Alabama?” I’ve always said the three things they think about are “Sweet Home Alabama,” the rebel flag, and the plane crash. Well, we’ve covered the plane crash. I don’t know. I guess, about all of them. I don’t know, “That Smell” or “All I Can Do is Write About It” on the Gimme Back My Bullets album. Every Mother’s Son. That’s a good favorite of mine. That’s kind of their country album, I call it.
Paying Tribute to Ronnie Van Zant
“But y’all got events planned where people can come and see the monument, meet other fans, and talk to a lot of y’all.”
Ramsey Russell: Right, I know that y’all had some pretty big plans this year, outside concerts and some events surrounding this monument. I know Covid messed it up. But y’all got events planned where people can come and see the monument, meet other fans, and talk to a lot of y’all.
Mike: It won’t happen this year. Everyone sitting here very well knows, because of the COVID-19 and coronavirus pandemic, but we will probably hope to regroup in June maybe with a bike rally that we had planned for this year and we think that would be a big success. We have a lot of bikers come all of the time to the monument. I can’t believe they hadn’t come today. Usually they come every Sunday in a group. Maybe they’ve all finally made the circle and been here, but there’ll be more. We’ll do that probably next June, if Covid allows and depending on what Governor Reeves does on the release. But if Covid still circulating around, we won’t have anything. But for sure we’ll do next October 20th. We kind of would have been messed up this year, it would have been a weekend because of the leap year. October 20th was falling on a Tuesday. We had a success last year with dedication. We had a big crowd turnout, had the concert up at Southwest Community College and we probably had 1200-1500 people here for the dedication, from all over, from as far away as Alaska.
Ramsey Russell: Who were some of the people that showed up? Mr. Gene Odom?
Mike: We had him, we had Mark Howard, we had Mark Frank, Paul Welsh, Steve Lawler and of course Judy Van Zandt, Karina Gains, and Judy’s children and grandchildren, Ronnie’s daughter, Melody. Steve Gaines’s daughter, of course, and her children were here. We had the whole Van Zant and Gaines clan here, the tribe I guess you’d say. We did the dedication. Judy spoke at the dedication and of course we had Tom Wills from Jacksonville Channel 4 TV WJXVTV. He did a big documentary while we were here that kind of encapsulated the whole weekend. He had his camera crew and his mic man and all that and they did a good documentary that they put together.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve heard earlier today, there’s been a lot of celebrities and musicians and rockstars that have come to pay tribute here at this monument.
Mike: Before we had the monument, the only one I guess I’ve come in contact with would be Marty Raven from Shenandoah. He came down about two years ago and we took him back there. The monument was in the planning stages. We took him down to the site and he did a song he wrote about the deal. [He] co wrote the deal with him and Charlie Daniels, I think. Before Charlie died, you know, Charlie just died a few months ago. He was big buddies with Skynyrd boys.
Ramsey Russell: Someone told me even actually Axl Rose came down here to Amite County, Mississippi to pay homage to the monument.
Mike: You’re talking about Guns and Roses’s Axl Rose?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Mike: I didn’t know. Did y’all know he’d been here?
Ramsey Russell: Oh, I’m sure he was.
Mike: I forgot about that.
Ramsey Russell: Well, listen real quickly, before we wrap up, how can listeners learn more about upcoming events, learn more about the monument, become engaged, and become involved with the Lynyrd Skynyrd monument here in Amite County, Mississippi?
Mike: Well, one thing, if they want to get involved, we sure do appreciate donations. We still have to pay for this thing. We’re almost there, we’ve got a GoFundMe account and then on Facebook, we have the Lynyrd Skynyrd monument page and you can sign in and register you an account and a profile and we’ve got t-shirts and different things we’re selling that we usually sell up around the monument. We usually have people there, just find the monument and you find us, you can donate directly in the box right there. We have a donation box up there that we collect daily out of. We welcome all donations. That’s for sure. But we welcome the fans to come. That’s what it’s for.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all have got a website, I’ve been there. Lynyrd Skynyrd Monument, and it lists upcoming events, schedule of events, and all the stuff going on.
Mike: These people right here that are sitting here with us are usually around up there somewhere. They’ll sell you a T-shirt or a mask or whatever there. We have to sell masks now that we’re in the covid pandemic.
Ramsey Russell: But they’re cool masks. I mean, how many people have a Lynyrd Skynyrd monument mask? Ask yourself that. Folks, thank y’all for listening to this special event. If you ever find yourself heading north-south down I-55 coming through Amite county Mississippi, get off on Exit 8. Go eight miles west, follow the signs. Pay homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Mike: Let me add one thing to that that’s coming. We got it passed in the legislature despite the covid pandemic. But on the interstate, both going north and south, we’re going to get the brown and white state park signs, actual signs on the interstate telling people where to turn at Exit 8 and then we’ll probably have one right out here somewhere on 568, which is where you’re headed west and turn off to come to the monument. The state has approved in the Senate legislature and the governor signed it to get us some marking signs to direct people to the monument.
Ramsey Russell: Exit 8 on I-55 in Amite County, Mississippi. Follow the big state signs to the Lynyrd Skynyrd Monument.