Gary Rossington, a founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd whose ethereal slide guitar helped make the Southern rock band’s song “Free Bird” an indelible anthem, died Sunday at the age of 71.
“It is with our deepest sympathy and sadness that we have to inform you that we have lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist, Gary Rossington, today,” the band wrote on Facebook. . “Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and he is playing beautifully as he always does. Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the privacy of the family at this time. difficult.
Rossington was the last surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, a stoic figure who preferred to let his guitar do the talking and who cheated death more than once. He survived a brutal car accident in 1976 in which he drove his Ford Torino into a tree, inspiring the band’s cautionary song “That Smell.” A year later, he emerged from the infamous 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines with two broken arms, a broken leg and a punctured stomach and liver. .
“I’ve talked about it here and there, but I don’t like it,” Rossington said. rolling stone in 2006 from the crash, a mysterious part of rock & roll lore. “It was a devastating thing. You can’t just talk about it casually and not have feelings about it.
Over the next few years, Rossington went through a deluge of heart problems: he underwent a quintuple bypass in 2003, suffered a heart attack in 2015 and underwent numerous subsequent heart surgeries, most recently leaving Lynyrd Skynyrd in July 2021 to recover of another procedure. At recent shows, Rossington has been performing parts of the concert and occasionally missing full gigs.
“I don’t have enough oxygen in my blood to follow and carry on as normal,” Rossington said. rolling stone in November 2022. “But I can still play well. It’s just the journey. It’s so hard for me, especially when you have heart problems. It’s really hard to travel and get by with this stuff.
Rossington was born on December 4, 1951, in Jacksonville, Florida, and was raised by his mother after his father’s death. After meeting drummer Bob Burns and bassist Larry Junstrom, Rossington and his new friends formed a band, which they tried to juggle with their love of baseball. In a fateful Little League game, Ronnie Van Zant punched a line in opposing player Burns’ shoulder blades and met his future bandmates. Rossington, Burns, Van Zant, and guitarist Allen Collins gathered that afternoon at Burns’ home in Jacksonville to jam the Rolling Stones’ “Time Is on My Side.” An early version of Lynyrd Skynyrd was born.
“When we got together (as a band) the scene in Jacksonville was pretty bad. Nobody liked us because we liked the British stuff – the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones,” Rossington said. rolling stone. “Some places we used to fight – they didn’t like us because our hair was long. We went to Atlanta to go out clubs there, because there was really only one club in Jacksonville at the time. era.
Adopting Lynyrd Skynyrd as the band’s name—both a reference to an athletic trainer of the same name at Rossington High School and a character from the 1963 novelty hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”—the band released their debut album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) in 1973. A collection of blues-rock tinged with country and Southern soul, the album now included classics like ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, ‘Simple Man’ and ‘Gimme Three Steps’, but it was the closing track, the almost 10-minute “Free Bird”, which became the band’s calling card, thanks in large part to Rossington’s evocative slide playing on his Gibson SG.
“We always said we had a lot of balls back then, or common sense, whatever you call it, for playing such a long song. Singles are only two, three minutes at most, and five is luck,” Rossington said in an interview with guitar world. “’Free Bird’ lasted nine minutes. They said, ‘No one will ever play this song. You are crazy.'”
While Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lineup changed often – Burns for Artimus Pyle in 1975, Ed King for Steve Gaines in 1976, Johnny Van Zant taking the place of his older brother Ronnie in 1987 – Rossington remained a constant. The only time he wasn’t part of Skynyrd was during the band’s years apart after the plane crash. With Allen Collins, Rossington formed the Rossington-Collins Band in 1980, releasing the LP Anytime, Anywhere, Anywhere that same year, and the follow-up this is the way in 1981. The former’s “Don’t Misunderstand Me” blended some of their former band’s Southern arrogance (Skynyrd alums Billy Powell and Leon Wilkeson were also involved) with a touch of funk and lead vocals. of Dale Krantz, whom Rossington would marry in 1982.
The Rossington-Collins Band broke up in the early 80s, and Rossington and some of his former bandmates Lynyrd Skynyrd organized a tribute tour for their long-dead bandmates in 1987, with Johnny Vant Zant on vocals. The tour eventually evolved into various incarnations of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the band amassed a new generation of fans, albeit at times struggling to navigate a changing culture. When Skynyrd came under fire for their use of Confederate flag imagery (which they eventually dropped in 2012), Rossington said the polarizing symbol was meant to show where they came from and not to offend. “Although I know it’s naive to say that too,” he admitted in the 2018 documentary If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Despite all the drama — and death — Lynyrd Skynyrd endured, Rossington said rolling stone that he never viewed Skynyrd as a tragic band. “I don’t consider it a tragedy – I consider it a lifetime,” he said during the band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. “I think the good outweighs on evil.”