ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 31, 1986
By Steve Newton
Just before Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s plane went down on October 20, 1977, the now legendary southern rock band released an album ironically titled Street Survivors. That crash took the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and singer/guitarist Steve Gaines, and grounded the band’s career just as it was about to soar to new heights.
Guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins survived the tragedy, and lived to carry on the group’s trademark double-lead sound in their own band, Rossington Collins.
But the fates weren’t finished with them yet.
Collins had written a song with Van Zant for the Street Survivors LP, “That Smell”, which opened with the lines; “Whiskey bottles and brand new cars/Oak tree you’re in my way/There’s too much coke, and too much smoke/Look what’s goin’ on inside you/Ooo that smell, can’t you smell that smell/Oooo that smell, the smell of death surrounds you.” A year ago Allen Collins himself was involved in a terrible car accident. He didn’t die, but he’s still in the hospital today, paralyzed.
“He’s not doin’ too good,” explains Rossington, over the phone from New York. “It was a real bummer. God bless him.”
With Lynyrd Skynyrd’s former bassist and keyboardist now playing for God in a Florida Christian band called Vision, that leaves Rossington as the only survivor capable of keeping the rowdy sound of Skynyrd on the street. And he’s doing it, thank heaven, with his own band, which has just released its debut LP Returned to the Scene of the Crime.
The lead singer in Rossington is Dale Krantz-Rossington, Gary’s wife. She also fronted Rossington Collins on their two albums, Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere and This Is the Way, before the group disbanded in 1981.
“Dale and I decided to get away from that band ’cause we were tired and ready for a break,” says Mr. Rossington. “We wanted to get married and move away from Jacksonville, Florida. So we moved to Wyoming, built a house, and had two babies. Then we started this new band.
“We’ve still got the old drummer from Rossington Collins, Derek Hess, but everybody else is new. They’re young guys from Florida, real enthusiastic, and we’re ready to come back strong.”
The love affair between Rossington and Krantz first started in the spring of ’77. At that time she was singing background for .38 Special, which was opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Two years later, when Rossington Collins was forming, Krantz was recommended as vocalist by a mutual friend. “So Gary was my boss first,” laughs Dale. “I guess he still is.”
Does Krantz find it rough going, being a rocker and mother at the same time?
“Yeah, I would be lying if I said no. It’s very difficult when you’ve got teething babies in the middle of the night and you’re writing lyrics all day.
“But it is certainly worth it,” she adds, “because they have just changed our lives all for the better. For two people who thought that music was the beginning and end of it all, we have certainly had a revelation.”
As well as the new family and a new group, Rossington and Krantz have come up with a new label. On Lynyrd Skynyrd’s famous Second Helping LP, Ronnie Van Zant sang about “Workin’ for MCA”, the label that released all of the great Skynyrd albums, and Rossington Collins too. But for Rossington the tune is now “Workin’ for Atlantic”.
“We were just exhausted with MCA,” says Gary. “And actually they didn’t want us anymore. They never picked up the contract, so we did a demo and Atlantic picked it up. And we’re happy for the change. We needed it.”
Returned to the Scene of the Crime was recorded at the historic Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, the state referred to in a Skynyrd song co-written by Rossington, “Sweet Home Alabama”. They recorded their first album there, which was released only after the plane crashed, called Skynyrd’s First…and Last. Those early tracks were recorded by the same fellow who produced Rossington’s new album, resident rhythm-guitar ace Jimmy Johnson. His son Jay Johnson is now the rhythm guitarist for Rossington. Says Gary: “It’s a real family affair.”
With a hot new band and good album behind him, things appear to be going well for Gary Rossington, street survivor. But he still feels that, if it weren’t for that plane crash, his old group would still be kickin’ up a storm.
“I’m sure Skynyrd would have stayed together and kept it up, ’cause we were real close. We were more friends and brothers than really a band.”