The late Steve and Cassie Gaines of Lynyrd Skynyrd fame were finally given their due Saturday, Sept. 8 in their hometown thanks to the efforts of a local committee seeking to honor the musical greats hailing from Ottawa County and an induction by the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
MIAMI – On an overcast day local pride was shining brighter than the sun in Miami as the legacy of Steve and Cassie Gaines was honored in their hometown Saturday, Sept. 8.
The musical siblings who were raised in northeast Oklahoma had found international fame as part of the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd until the music was tragically stopped in a plane crash in 1977.
Steve was only 28, and Cassie just 29 when they died. They were laid to rest in Orange Park, Florida.
Over the decades, an appreciation of the talent and impact of Lynyrd Skynyrd has steadily grown along with recognition of the contributions of Steve and Cassie Gaines in the band's success.
Here in Miami, the brother and sister were never overlooked but their roots, in the very place that shaped them, were often just a side note in music history.
Now, just over 40 years after their loss, Miami or 'Mudville' as it is was sometimes affectionately known, had the chance to properly honor some of their own.
As years passed, fragments of budding greatness sat on shelves, stowed away in closets, tucked into personal photo albums and was belted out now and again in small jam sessions. The memories were never gone, but bringing them front and center would take a labor of love.
It was a volunteer committee that led the effort in conjunction with the Dobson Museum, located at 110 A Street SW in Miami, working for nearly six years to create an exhibit of memorabilia and milestone events honoring the Gaineses and their surviving family members.
Behind the scenes, locals Debbie East, Dobson Museum Director Jordan Boyd and the late Larry Roberts took on the task later joined by Bobby Poole and Sammy Ketcher to pull together the pieces for a special day of remembrance and to set in motion the preservation of Miami's musical history.
On Saturday, it finally all came together with a Gaines exhibit at the Dobson, the co-naming of Circle Drive in Miami as "Gaines Drive", and the posthumous induction of Steve and Cassie into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame at the historic Coleman Theatre.
Members of the Gaines family, including brother Bob Gaines and Steve's daughter Corrina Gaines Biemiller, came together in Miami along with their children, other family members, friends, and fans to honor Steve and Cassie.
According to Boyd, the exhibit at the Dobson drew more than 300 hundred visitors to the local museum Saturday to view donated and lent pieces highlighting the lives of Gaines siblings. The Gaines collection will become part of a larger planned exhibit that will honor other Ottawa County musical greats such as Louis W. Ballard, David Osborne, Keith Anderson, Keifer Thompson, and Joe Don Rooney.
In the afternoon, family members and a large group of spectators gathered just beside Rotary Park for the co-naming of Circle Drive as "Gaines Drive" with Bob unveiling the sign and Corrina making the ceremonial ribbon cut provided by the Miami Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Steve and Cassie along with their brother Bob grew up in Miami, running with neighborhood kids and playing in Rotary Park just up the street from their family home at 460 Circle Drive, which is currently being restored.
"I used to hit golf balls into the park over there," said Bob with a wistful smile facing the park beneath the new street sign bearing his family name. "My momma would tell me to quit, but it was fun and Cassie, well she was a lifeguard there."
As a light drizzle continued, family members headed down to the old family home on Circle Drive to chat with friends and take personal photos. The lawn, cleared due to the construction, was soft and muddy from the rain, bringing back more memories and smiles from Bob.
"Good old Mudville," said Bob with a chuckle. "That's what they called Miami."
Music was a joy and a fascination for the Gaineses with oldest sister Cassie eventually going on to join Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1975 as part of the backup singer trio known as The Honkettes.
Steve grew into a master guitar player and soulful vocalist having his start in bands such as the Ravens, Man Alive, Cellar Door, Crawdad, Detroit and several others before joining his sister in Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1976.
Cassie had suggested her brother in the middle of a tour to lead singer Ronnie Van Zant to replace guitarist Ed King. Just a week before Steve had been laying concrete and then suddenly found himself part of a band that had earned international renown.
The rest, as the saying goes, was history.
Later Saturday evening family members joined a nearly packed house at the Coleman Theatre for Steve and Cassie Gaines' posthumous induction into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
Hank Rotten, Jr. served as emcee for the evening's program keeping things lively with some wild tales of his own before others took to the stage to speak about their time with the Gaineses.
Photos of the sibling lined the edge of the stage and a revenant quiet fell over the crowd as Gene Odom, the childhood friend of Van Zant and later a bodyguard for the band, took the podium to recount his time with Lynyrd Skynyrd and the incredible talent Steve and Cassie brought to the group.
"Steve and Cassie was a tremendous, tremendous addition to that band," said Odom.
"I'm not going to talk much more about this because if I do I'm going to start crying and I'm too old to be crying. I'll stop up my nose," Odom said quietly pulling back some of the grief of the moment and drawing laughter from the crowd.
A few minutes later, raw emotion seized Odom as he recalled the Gaineses and the fateful night he lost his friends as a survivor of the 1977 plane crash.
"The minute I met Steve and Cassie Gaines, I fell in love with both of them and the humbleness of Steve and Cassie," Odom added having to pause and setting a hand on his heart. "What happened to those people...um, folks I'm done. Thank Y'all."
A short film featuring bandmates that had worked with Steve over the years was filled with memories and anecdotes of first gigs, life on the road and footage of Steve and Cassie performing with Lynyrd Skynyrd with an audio backdrop of two of Steve's original songs.
The night concluded with Jermaine Mondaine, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Music Hall of fame awarding induction trophies to Bob and Corrina who took the stage with their children to accept the honor.
Bob spoke on behalf of the family, thanking organizers for their efforts and the honoring of his brother and sister which he said was long-awaited.
"I want to thank all you people for finally getting this to happen," said Bob. "It is a great honor to be here tonight to introduce all these happenings and we've been waiting for so long for this and the dedication of Steve and Cassie, we can all be proud of that."
Dorothy Ballard is the Managing news editor of the Miami News-Record. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.