The last remaining original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, guitarist Gary Rossington has passed away at the age of 71on March 5, 2023. He appeared on all of their albums and co-wrote the 1974 hit Sweet Home Alabama. He was also one of the survivors of a 1977 plane crash that killed several of his bandmates. Although he had suffered heart problems in recent years, Rossington had been playing shows as recently as February. On the bands, Facebook page it said: “It is with our deepest sympathy and sadness that we have to advise, that we lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist, Gary Rossington, today. “Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does.” No cause of death was given, however Rossington had heart surgery in 2021, according to a post from the band at the time. Rossington was born in 1952 in Florida, founding the first iteration of Lynyrd Skynyrd-called Me, You, and Him-in 1964 with drummer Bob Burns and bassist Larry Junstrom. They added singer Ronnie Van Zant, who played on a rival baseball team, later that summer, after a game turned into a jam session. They settled on the name Lynyrd Skynyrd- a dig at their high school gym teacher, who was notorious for punishing students with long hair.
The band had great songs, somewhat rebellious, blues-rock that earned them a reputation in southern stares. Their debut album, titled Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd, included the nine-minuted epic FreeBird-which featured Rossington’s distinctive slide guitar work. Singles are usually only two, three minutes at the most, and five is lucky.FreeBird was nine minutes. It was edited and the track became a top 20 hit, after touring with The Who, Skynyrd won a devoted following. The song “Sweet Home Alabama,” became so popular that everyone was singing to that tune. Rossington co-wrote several more of Skynyrd’s most-loved songs, including I Ain’t The One, Things Goin’ On, Don’t Ask Me No Questions and Gimme Back My Bullets. He also inspired Van Zant to write That Smell-a warning about the band’s hedonistic lifestyle, penned after Rossington drove his Ford Torino into a tree while drunk and on drugs. The lyrics cautioned that “tomorrow might not be here for you” and “the smell of death surrounds you.”
Eerily, three days after it was released, a plane carrying the band between shows crashed in Mississippi, killing Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister and back-up singer Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick and both pilots. Twenty people survived, including Rossington, who was knocked unconscious and woke up with the plane’s door on top of him. Rossington preferred not to speak about the incident, when he was asked about it back in 2006 for a Rolling Stones article. The surviving members decided not to continue after the tragedy. Rossington, who was severely injured, had to learn to play again with steel rods in his arms. He actually formed a new group, The Rossington Collins Band, with several former bandmates from the 1980s, before Lynyrd Skynyrd reformed in 1987 to commemorate the 10thanniversary of the crash, with Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny on lead vocals. The band kept going, recording nine studio albums and churning through almost 25 members, as well as being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2006. They were also one of the acts who took to the stage at the 2016 Republican’s Convention, where Donald Trump was chosen as the party’s presidential candidate.
So many musicians paid tribute to the guitarist, Metalicca frontman James Hetfield thanked Rossington for bringing him so much joy with his guitar playing. Country music star Travis Tritt said he was heartbroken, adding Gary was not only a friend but a collaborator that wrote songs with me in studio recordings and onstage so many times. RIP. Charlie Daniels band, said on Instagram, “The last of the original Free Birds has flown home.”
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