The last original member of US rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, guitarist Gary Rossington, has passed away at the age of 71. As a founding member, he appeared on all of the band’s records and co-wrote Sweet Home Alabama in 1974. In 1977, several of his bandmates were killed in a plane crash, and he was one of the survivors.
He had been playing shows as recently as February despite suffering from heart problems. According to a statement on the band’s Facebook page: “We are deeply saddened to inform you that we have 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.”
Despite no cause of death being given, Rossington underwent heart surgery in 2021, according to a band post from that year.
With drummer Bob Burns and bassist Larry Junstrom, Rosington formed Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first iteration – Me, You, and Him – in 1964. Later that summer, after a game turned into a jam session, they added singer Ronnie Van Zant, who played on a rival baseball team. In response to their high school gym teacher, who was notorious for punishing students with long hair, they chose Lynyrd Skynyrd as their name.
The band’s rebellious blues-rock earned them a fearsome live reputation in America’s southern states. In his debut album, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd, Rossington performed the nine-minute epic Free Bird. In an interview with Guitar World, the musician said that “we always said we had a lot of balls back then, or gumption, whatever you call it, for playing a song that long.”
Singles are only two, three minutes at the most, and five is lucky. Skynyrd toured with The Who and won a devoted following after an edited version of Free Bird became a top 20 hit in the US. The people said, “Nobody will ever play that song. You guys are crazy.”
The band’s hit song Sweet Home Alabama, released in 1974 as a response to Neil Young’s Southern Man, climbed to number 31 on the UK charts and remains popular today as the most-streamed track from that year. Rossington collaborated with Skynyrd on other beloved songs like I Ain’t The One, Things Goin’ On, Don’t Ask Me No Questions and Gimme Back My Bullets. His wild lifestyle even inspired Van Zant’s cautionary tune That Smell after Rossington crashed his Ford Torino while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
After forming a new band in the 1980s, The Rossington Collins Band, with former bandmates, Lynyrd Skynyrd reformed in 1987 to honor the crash’s 10th anniversary. Johnny Van Zant was on lead vocals at this time. The group continued performing and creating music for years after that point. They recorded nine studio albums throughout their career and went through nearly 25 different members during that time period as well. Their accomplishments included being recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inducted into it in 2010. Additionally, they were featured at the Republican Convention’s stage performance in 2016 when Donald Trump became a presidential candidate for his party.
Metalica frontman James Hetfield thanked Rossington for “bringing me so much joy with your guitar playing and songwriting in one of my all time favourite bands”. As country star Travis Tritt said, he was “heartbroken”, adding: “Gary was not only a friend, but also a collaborator who wrote songs with me and played guitar with me on stage and in studios. “RIP.”.