Musician Leon Wilkeson was born on March 2, 1952, in Newport, RI. He grew up in Jacksonville, FL and went on to become the main bass player in the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd in the 1970s, the heydey of the band.

Wilkeson was originally recruited by Ronny Van Zandt to play in the Van Zant’s first group, the Collegiates, and was later asked to join Skynyrd. He recorded and toured with the band throughout the ’70s where he played on numerous hits including “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”

He was on board the tragic flight that killed 3 members of the band in 1977, and sustained major injuries, including a compound fracture of his left arm which affected his ability to play bass. After much rehabilitation, he re-learned the instrument and continued to play with bands including the Rossington-Collins Band.

Wilkeson passed away in Florida in 2001, after suffering from chronic liver and lung disease. Skynyrd dedicated the song “Mad Hatter” from the 2003 Vicious Cycle album to Wilkeson’s memory.

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Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and more. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.