Man, this one hurts…
Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar player and the last remaining member of the original band, Gary Rossington, has passed away at 71.
The band broke the heartbreaking news on their Facebook page:
“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.
Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family’s privacy at this difficult time.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd was founded by Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns and Gary Rossington in Jacksonville, Florida.
Originally dubbed My Backyard, the band changed its name to Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969, a nod to their gym teacher whose name was Leonard Skinner.
The legendary band popularized the southern rock genre after the release of their 1973 debut album, (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd), when they landed a spot opening for The Who.
That debut album featured songs that are still massive hits today – songs like “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps” and of course, “Free Bird.”
And their popularity only grew over the next few years, especially after their biggest hit “Sweet Home Alabama” was released on their sophomore album, Second Helping.
By 1977, the band had released their fifth studio album, Street Survivors, and headed out on tour to promote it when tragedy struck the band.
Following a show in Greenville, South Carolina on October 20, 1977, the band chartered a plane to Baton Rouge for a show at LSU the next day.
En route to Louisiana, the plane ran out of fuel near the end of the flight over Mississippi, and while the pilots attempted to reach McComb Airport, they opted to try a crash landing when they came to the conclusion that they wouldn’t make it to a runway.
Killed in the crash were lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister who sang background vocals for the band, Cassie Gaines, along with the band’s assistant road manager, the pilot and co-pilot. The rest of the band survived, but were severely injured.
The band would eventually take a hiatus after the crash, reuniting only once over the next 10 years to play an instrumental version of “Free Bird” at Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam in Nashville in 1979.
But in 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd would reunite, with Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny joining five original members of the band who had survived the plane crash for a tribute tour. The reunited band chose to continue on after the 1987 tribute tour, and in 1991 Lynyrd Skynyrd released their first studio album since the plane crash.
Since then, a number of the other original members had passed away, and when bassist Larry Junstrom died in 2019, Gary became the last original member.
However today, Ronnie, Gary, Allen, Larry, and Bob are all jamming out together in Heaven, with the good Lord himself on lead vocals… because, you know… I like to think of Jesus with giant eagles’ wings and singin’ lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like, an angel band…
Nevertheless, it’s impossible to overstate the impact that Gary and Lynyrd Skynyrd had on southern rock music, and even today’s country music.
Ask your favorite country artist who inspired them, and I’m betting that Lynyrd Skynyrd would be on a lot of those lists.
RIP Gary… you’re a damn legend.