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Leon Wilkeson


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Leon Russell Wilkeson (2 April 1952 - 27 July 2001) was the bassist of Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd from 1972 until his death in 2001.

Early Life
Born on April 2, 1952 in Newport, Rhode Island but raised in Jacksonville, Florida, Wilkeson became a major Beatles fan just as he was becoming a teenager and began learning to play bass guitar in order to emulate his favorite member of the Fab Four, Paul McCartney. Wilkeson dropped out of his school band in order to focus on learning the bass at the age of 14 and, shortly afterwards, was approached by a fellow student, who told him that her brother was searching for a bassist for his band. Her brother turned out to be Ronnie Van Zant, and soon after, Wilkeson signed on with Van Zant’s local group, the Collegiates. However, due to plummeting school grades, Wilkeson had to drop out of the group at the behest of his parents. Soon Wilkeson found himself in another local group, the King James Version. He began to study the ‘lead bass style’ of such accomplished players as Cream’s Jack Bruce, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady, The Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh, and the Allman BrothersBerry Oakley. By the early ’70s, Wilkeson was becoming one of Jacksonville’s top bassists, and when Van Zant’s new band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, found themselves without a bassist, Wilkeson was hired.

Lynyrd Skynyrd
Skynyrd had just landed a recording deal with MCA, which should have signaled smooth sailing for the group. But this didn’t prove to be the case, as Wilkeson began to get cold feet just prior to recording sessions getting underway for their debut album, as he felt that he was still too young and not ready for a ‘life on the road.

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