Southern rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd have named Ean Evans as the new bassist for the rest of their 2001 tour, which was temporarily put on hold following the death of founding member Leon Wilkeson. The 49-year-old bassist was found dead at a Florida hotel last Friday (July 27).
Evans was introduced to the band a couple years ago by Hughie Thomasson, the former Skynyrd guitarist who later founded the Outlaws. Over the past year, Evans has filled in for Wilkeson on approximately 20 dates. He’ll join the band Aug. 11 in Las Vegas when they return to the road. He will stay with Skynyrd at least through their Sept. 16 show in Louisville, Ky. But he probably will not be Wilkeson’s permanent replacement.
“After September the band will sit down and analyze the bass position and decide what they want to do,” said manager Ross Schilling. “Ean has been there in the past to support us when Leon hasn’t been available, and we’re grateful that he’s willing to come in now and fill in during this hard time and carry on the spirit of Lynyrd Skynyrd and finish what they started for this year. But we want to stress that this replacement is temporary.”
On Monday (July 30), the band paid its respects to Wilkeson at a private viewing of the body, and on Tuesday Skynyrd buried their founding member. Shortly after, they announced their intention to continue the tour following a two-week grieving period, for which they postponed eight shows. The group hopes to reschedule as many of those gigs as possible after its regular tour ends.
“The band wanted to get back on the road as soon as possible,” said Schilling. “Their form of therapy is to play onstage every night. For these guys, canceling the tour and staying at home thinking about what happened would have killed them.”
“We have survived some bad things over the years and Skynyrd will survive this,” added lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant, whose brother Ronnie Van Zant died in a plane crash on Oct. 20, 1977, along with guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines. “Leon was a player and so are we, so we’re gonna finish what we started,” he continued. “And if it would have been me that went, I’m sure that Leon would have been one of the first ones going, ’Hey let’s keep this ball rolling.’”
Right after Wilkeson’s death, there was some question whether or not the group would be allowed to keep rolling with its current name. A legal agreement with Ronnie Van Zant’s widow, Judy Van Zant Jenness, stipulates that the band must feature three original members to use the name Lynyrd Skynyrd. Currently only guitarist Gary Rossington and pianist Billy Powell fit that description. But Schilling said the group will be able to use its name on both its current tour and next studio album, though he wouldn’t discuss the legal details.
Before Wilkeson died, the bassist worked with the band on four new tracks for its next record. After the current tour, Skynyrd will return to the studio to finish the record, said Van Zant. “Thank God we got Leon on those. He played his ass off, too.”
At this point, there’s no release date for the album, but when it comes out, the band will dedicate it to Wilkeson. “He was a great friend and a brother to us all,” said Van Zant. “He was one of the kindest people that you would ever meet. He never had any kind of a star trip and was just a great human being all around. I never heard him say a bad word about anybody.”
Additional reporting by Courtney Reimer