Joe Dan Petty (born in 1947) was bassist for the southern rock group Grinderswitch, a band he had formed with Dru Lombar and Larry Howard in Macon during the mid 1970s. Grinderswitch toured with a variety of Southern rock groups including the Allman Brothers, the Charlie Daniels Band, and the Marshall Tucker Band before disbanding in 1982. Petty was also a member of the road crew of the Allman Brothers Band. On January 8 2000, the plane Petty was flying departed Macon and collided with trees and burst into flames when the engine lost power. Petty had about 80 hours of flight time and was flying under fair skies conditions.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Petty’s Beech 23 departed Herbert Smith Airport in Macon, Georgia after 2:30 in the afternoon. At approximately 2:45 PM, the craft collided with 100-foot-tall trees and burst into flames while making an uncontrolled collision with the ground. Visual flight rules were in force and there was no flight plan filed. Petty had a valid medical certificate that required him to wear corrective lenses to fly.
Mechanical failure is suspected, but the records for the craft reveal a lack of inspection records for critical components, including the fuel selector on the Beech. According to the NTSB report “the annual inspection was completed on December 16, 1999. Macon Aviation did not record the aircraft total time on the work order. The invoice also showed that AD 99-05-13 (Airworthiness Directive) was accomplished during the annual inspection. Additionally, the work order did not address AD-75-01-04 which specifically address part number 169-920000-59 which is the fuel selector installed in the airplane at the time of the accident. AD-75-01-04 is a recurring inspection which checks the shutoff characteristics of the fuel valve. The examination of the fuel selector valve revealed that it was fire damaged and it was in the shutoff position at the accident site.”
And, while weather conditions on the ground were mild, the low dew point indicated circumstances conducive to icing: “The 1453 [2:53 PM] Macon weather observation reported surface winds at sky clear, visibility 10 miles, wind 020 degrees at four knots. The temperature and dew points were 60 degrees and 40 degrees respectively. The altimeter reading was 30.21 inches. According to icing probability curves, weather conditions were favorable for the formation of carburetor ice.” An engine fire is evident: “The subsequent wreckage examination showed that the accessory section of the engine assembly had melted and was fire damaged. All accessory components normally installed on the rear of the engine were also fire damaged. The carburetor assembly also sustained internal and external fire damage; the composite float assembly in the carburetor bowl was heat stressed.”
Grinderswitch: Like the Allman Brothers, Grinderswitch (Joe Dan Petty, Dru Lombar, Rick Burnett, Stephen Miller, Larry Howard) was steeped in blues tradition and was one of several white southern rock bands influenced by blues crossover and also by British groups such as Cream and Booker T and the MGs. They recorded with Capricorn Records and later for Atlantic.
The band never made the first team of southern rock bands, but in the 1970s Charlie Daniels gave them a shoutout “a train to Grinder's Switch is runnin' right on time” on his legendary hit “The South’s Gonna Do It Again.” They continued to tour as an opener for the major Souther Rock frontliners because of their unique fan base: the members of the bands they opened for.
Among the band’s albums were “Honest to Goodness,” “Have Band Will Travel,” “RedWing,” and “Pullin’ Together.” Dru Lombar reconstituted Grinderswitch and the band has returned to recording, including their 2005 release “Ghost Train from Georgia.” Grinder’s Switch is a real town rail junction near Centerville, Tennessee. It entered the popular culture as part of country music comedienne Minnie Pearl’s routine.