Craig Reed: Part 2
Surviving The Crash
October 20, 1977 will be a date forever ingrained in Craig Reed’s memory. That was the day that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane went down in the swamps of Mississippi. Miraculously, Reed survived the crash but was in a coma. After twelve days, Reed said he woke up with a broken arm, a broken foot and other injuries. The first thing he said was,“How am I going to work on guitars?”
The hospital workers said “You aren’t going to have to worry about that for awhile.” Reed didn’t quite process their answer so he then asked,“Well, nobody is hurt worse than me, is there?,” and the room went silent. After a few minutes they told him who had died. Reed recalled that he thought, “Well, that’s it. It’s over.”
Believing that Lynyrd Skynyrd would break up after losing Ronnie Van Zant, and Steve & Cassie Gaines, Reed had his mother bring him home to Ohio to recover for a few months.
Surprisingly, after two weeks he started getting phone calls for him to go back out on the road as the guitar tech for rising stars Cheap Trick. He asked, “How many guitars does he (Rick Nielsen) have?” They responded “28.” Craig said, “No thank you!” He said that he did ten guitars with Skynyrd but they had four guitar players! He couldn’t imagine working on 28 guitars for one guy.
Slowly recovering from the crash, Reed recalled that it was a long road to getting back on his feet. By February of 1978, he was living in New York and getting ready to go on a world tour with Foreigner as their guitar tech. He realized that he was still in shock from the accident but, in the days before a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, didn’t know what to do with himself. Being on the road for the previous five years was all that he knew; a self-confessed workaholic, he admitted that he “wasn’t right for probably ten years” and that he was just relying on muscle memory to tune the guitars for Foreigner's Mick Jones.
Reed said he didn’t have any reservations about flying while on tour with Foreigner except the one time they had to use a prop plane and the weather was really bad. Craig insisted that he was to be seated in the back of the plane. He recalled that he felt safe there because that’s where he was when the Skynyrd plane went down.
In 1979-80 he went on a World Tour with Journey as Neal Schon’s guitar tech. When that tour was over, the Rossington/Collins Band was just starting and they asked Reed to join them. He said, “Allen called me and asked if I was going to join them. I said I’m on my way!” He said that tour was a "drug-infested mess!” He was at Allen’s house and said that Allen had called Dale (Krantz) a "whore” and at that time Gary and Dale were dating. Then Gary and Dale just up and left and went to Wyoming, leaving the rest of the band there in Florida. At that point he put the Allen Collins Band together but Reed recalled that Collins was a "real addict" at that point. Reed told him that he would have a hard time keeping it together on the road and that he needed to get cleaned up. They only did about four shows before the outfit called it quits.
Reed then went on the road for Marshall Tucker as a guitar and drum tech for about seven years. In 1987, the Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute band comprised of original members Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Ed King along with drummer Artimus Pyle (who survived the plane crash), Randall Hall and Johnny Van Zant on vocals. Allen Collins couldn’t play due to a car accident in 1986 that left him paralyzed. However, he did make appearances and served as the musical director.
The band told Reed that he could “take his pick of jobs” and that they were going to pay him top scale. So he created his own job that he called “Production Assistant.” He said that he went around and put up dressing room signs and got after-show food for the crew and the band. He then started being the on-stage bartender for the band and became someone who “would make them drinks, set up lines or roll joints; whatever they needed!”
One of the things that had always been curious to Reed was why Ed King left the band in 1975. A few years after the crash, Craig sat down with Ed and finally got the nerve to ask him. King responded, “Ronnie always told me that you gotta want it so bad, you have to be willing to die for it. King continued, “I want to be famous, but I don’t want to be famous for being dead.” King really thought that someone was going to die and that was the reason he left the band in 1975.
By the late '80s the band decided to use some of Reed’s home movie footage during their concerts; the band paid him royalties each time they would play a show. He noted that the fans really enjoyed seeing that footage and often times he would look out into the crowd and see people crying. He said that the home movie footage really added to the emotional drive of each show.
As we were watching the home movies that he shot in 1976, Reed became reflective as he watched his friends flicker across the screen. At one point he said “Dean (a roadie) died from alcoholism, Leon died from alcoholism. Man, everyone’s dead!” It was a shocking, but true statement. Out of the 20 people that survived the crash, there are only a handful that remain to this day.
When asked if he was still in contact with either Gary Rossington or Artimus Pyle, Reed responded that he has lost touch with Artimus because he, (Pyle) has a lot of bitter feelings towards the band. He then stated “I don’t talk to Gary because Gary’s an asshole!”
As it turned out, when Lynyrd Skynyrd got back together, they used some of Reed's films of Ronnie and the band during the band's heyday. Craig said that he got paid a stipend per show for allowing them to use his films. When he retired from the band in 2005, they continued to pay him for a year or two and suddenly the payments stopped. Reed found out that the band was still using his footage so he had to take them to court. Rossington said that filming was basically part of Reed’s job, but Craig said that was untrue because he filmed that stuff on his own time.
When the band's surviving members started the Rossington/Collins Band, they handed Reed the key to the warehouse where all of the band's equipment and stage clothes were stored, including most of the items from the plane crash. Reed said he called everyone that was a relative of those who were on the plane, including Teresa Gains (Steve’s widow) and Judy Van Zant (Ronnie’s widow). He said he called Teresa and said that some Steve’s clothes were in the warehouse. He was inquiring to see if she wanted them. She said, “You mean the ones that were in the swamp? We don’t want that stuff. Doesn’t it all smell?” Reed recalls replying, “It doesn’t smell like roses but there’s nothing wrong with it.” So Reed packed all of that stuff up and kept it for over 30 years, giving many items away to friends and people that asked.
Perhaps tiring of having a warehouse stacked full of bad memories or the entrepreneur in him coming to the surface, he realized the nascent invention of the internet could put him in touch with Skynyrd fans...for a price. Using sites like Ebay to sell off pieces of the Skynyrd legacy, he noted that he got over $2800 for one of Ronnie’s jackets; $2800 for a silk robe that Van Zant got in Japan; $2000 for a t-shirt. It was crazy. He was even getting $450 for single guitar picks.
Reed says that he still has posters, stickers, patches, guitar slides and guitar picks from the original band. He even has a few clothing items. Interestingly, he said that he has five rolls of bicentennial silver dollars that were on the plane when it went down, noting that those “sell like hotcakes.” He usually puts one item up a week on eBay just to keep his account active and to make a little bit of side money. Reed recalled that he also saved every itinerary that the band had for every tour since his initial involvement with the band in 1973.
One of the items that Craig had on his property for several years was a 1932 Plymouth that belonged to Allen Collins. He said that he didn’t really want to sell it but, “I was crazy not to because I got a half a million dollars out of that car.” If he kept it, Reed admitted that, “I was afraid that I was going to tear it up, and I said I was going to wait until I grew up before I would drive it. But I don’t think that’s happened yet.”
Life on the road finally came to an end for Reed in 2005. He said he retired because he came down with a case of Hepatitis C and the medication that he was taking was giving him bad side effects. He also admitted that he was an alcoholic and needed to stop drinking. He has since led a sober life.
Today, Reed leads a quiet Northeast Ohio life, but is still reminded of his time with Lynyrd Skynyrd. His living room walls are dotted with gold and platinum Skynyrd albums that have been presented to him. Placed throughout the house as decor are a handful of guitars and hats that the band gave him over the years. Even his dog is named Leon, after one of his former friends.
Who would have ever thought that a chance meeting at a hotel bar in Kent, Ohio would have led to an incredible career with a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band? That's been the life for Craig Reed and, yep, besides the nostalgia-filled memories, he has the scars to prove it.
Story and photos by Greg Drugan