Southern rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd have named Ean Evans as the bassist for the rest of their 2001 tour, which was put on hold last week following the death of founding member Leon Wilkeson. The 49-year-old bassist was found dead at a Florida hotel on Friday.
Evans was introduced to the band a couple years ago by Skynyrd guitarist Hugie Thomasson who was an original member of the Outlaws. Over the past year, Evans has filled in for Wilkeson at about 20 shows. He'll join the band when it returns to the road August 11 in Las Vegas two days after Skynyrd originally planned to resume touring (see "Following Wilkeson's Death, Lynyrd Skynyrd To Continue Tour").
Evans will stay with Skynyrd at least through their September 16 show in Louisville, Kentucky, but probably will not replace Wilkeson permanently, according to associate manager Ross Schilling.
"After September, the band will sit down and analyze the bass position and decide what they want to do," Schilling said. "Ean has been there in the past to support us when Leon hasn't been available. 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, the band paid its respects to Wilkeson at a private viewing; he was buried on Tuesday. Shortly after the funeral, the band announced its intention to continue touring following a two-week grieving period. The group hopes to reschedule as many of those gigs as possible after its regular tour ends.
"We have survived some bad things over the years and Skynyrd will survive this," said lead singer Johnny Van Zant, who has been with the band since 1987. His brother Ronnie, Skynyrd's original frontman, died in a plane crash on October 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," Van Zant said on Tuesday. "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.' "
Schilling said, "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."
Wilkeson's death raised the question of whether 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 if it wants to use the name Lynyrd Skynyrd; now, only guitarist Gary Rossington and pianist Billy Powell fit that description. While he wouldn't discuss the legal details, Schilling said the group will be able to use the Lynyrd Skynyrd name on both the current tour and the next studio album.
Wilkeson worked with the band on four new tracks for the new album. After the current tour, Skynyrd will return to the studio to finish the record, Van Zant said. "Thank God we got Leon on those. He played his ass off, too."
There's no release date for the album, which will be dedicated to Wilkeson. "He was a great friend and a brother to us all," Van Zant said. "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."