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Cottonmouth Country

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This is part one of two of my introduction fic for Duane Cooper, former roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd.

(NOTE: Although the character is fictional, the event described in the beginning is entirely real. I've reproduced it according to Gene Odom's first-hand account from on the plane.)


Cottonmouth Country

By Alex Welch


Death on the Wings

October 20, 1977

Duane Cooper was on top of the world. It was evening, October 20, 1977, his 21st birthday. He was celebrating in the Lynyrd Skynyrd charter plane, en route to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His friends (band members and other crew members) were playing poker and drinking. Ronnie VanZant, band leader, was asleep on the floor. Duane was a guitar tech for the band and had been with them since 1974, when he turned 18. His afternoon was going great.

Then the plane sputtered. It had run out of fuel. The crew members and band knew something was going wrong. The pilots warned them about the impending crash and radioed in for help. Gliding nearly silently, the big plane was trying to find a field to land on. Gene Odom got Ronnie into a seatbelt and was going back to his seat. Everyone else was strapped in.

Then it hit the trees.

Everyone inside had been flung forward towards the cockpit wall. Duane couldn’t see much as he was being crushed under the weight of other crew members. Sitting in the back section, he wasn’t killed, but he knew he had broken at least three bones badly. His ribs, head, and legs hurt badly, and that people were screaming. He managed to crawl from under Kevin Elson (who was unconscious) before he passed out on the floor.

October 22, 1977

Duane didn’t remember much from the past two days. After he regained consciousness in the plane, it was a blur. He faintly saw the pictures in his mind: bleeding people, holes in the fuselage, moaning people near the front of the plane, and the drummer, Artimus Pyle, covered in blood, going to get help. He remembered not being able to move, and waiting for help in pain the entire time. Then he remembered, a while later, a helicopter landing and people going into the wreck. There were trucks, volunteers, and rescuers entering the plane. Then he remembered being hauled on a stretcher to an ambulance surrounded by muck and being loaded into the ambulance.

The next thing he remembered was being in the hospital, about an hour and a half later (thanks to onlookers blocking the road). He was in the ER, and as he panicked, he was injected with a sedative for the operations they would have to perform.

Now he was in the room, looking at the damage that had been done. Both of his legs were in casts, as well as his left arm. His ribs were beat up, and it looked like several had been broken. His nose was also patched-it had been smashed in the crash. Everything else appeared fine.

It was then that one of his friends walked in. Dan Robbins had left with the sound equipment truck to Baton Rouge. As he walked over to the bed, Duane noticed the sad look on his face. Dan looked at Duane and said, with a sad tone, “I’m sorry to tell you this, man, but we lost Ronnie.â€

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Part 2:


The Bird Still Flies

February 3, 1985

Duane Cooper was on top of the world. His band, “The Firebirdsâ€, had been booked on a tour of the southern United States, and had struck a record deal with a small label called Thunder Records. Unfortunately, the band members still had to haul equipment in their own personal cars. Duane’s 1965 Coronet 440 hauled all three guitars that the band used—a modified Gibson Firebird V, Gibson Firebird VII, and a Gibson Firebird I. The rest of the equipment (Yamaha Electric Piano, Slingerland Double-Bass Drum Set, Gibson Thunderbird bass, microphones, and amps) were scattered throughout other band member’s cars. Thankfully, they had CB radios to connect each other. The first stop on the so-called “Tour of the Phoenix†was in Atlanta, Georgia. The convoy was taking a route from I-95 to I-16, across to I-20, which would take them directly to Atlanta. The trip was uneventful and somewhat boring.

Except for the part where the bassist (Daniel Robbins) carrying the amps ran out of gas on I-20. This wouldn’t have been a problem, had they not been about a half hour away from Atlanta and in the middle of nowhere. Well, at least it looked like it. There was a sign ahead in the distance -“HAZZARD COUNTY – NEXT EXITâ€.

“Hey guys, that looks good. Maybe we should stop there.†Duane pulled his Coronet onto the off-ramp to get into Hazzard. As he did, he saw clusters of buildings and roads, and farther out, farms and stills. “Well, I like this place already.â€

Just then, an orange Dodge Charger flew from out of nowhere across the crossroads Duane was about to cross. Duane slammed on the brakes as a police car followed the stock car in a high-speed chase. Duane figured the coast was clear and hit the gas to cross. At that instant another police car reached the intersection at 60 mph and hit the passenger quarter panel of the old Coronet. As the patrol car slid to a stop, Duane’s car spun three times before skidding into the dirt. Nearly instantly he jumped out and ran over to the battered Fury, opening the door and yelling, “Are you okay?†The deputy stepped out of the car, shaken but unhurt. “Yeah, I’m alright. What about you?†Enos Strate was out of the patrol car now, still smiling. “Oh, I’m fine. I’m so sorry, that was my fault.†Just then, the coasting van of the bassist pulled up on the crash. He rolled down his window and shouted, “What happened?†Duane grinned and looked at him. “Just made a new friend.â€

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