Gary Rossington’s trusty Les Paul goes silent as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s last survivor passes on

photo by the newt

By Steve Newton

Sad news from the world of southern rock.

Gary Rossington, the last surviving member of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd lineup, is a survivor no more.

The band has announced on its Facebook page that Rossington passed away today at the age of 71.

Although the cause of death was not given, Rossington had dealt with a string of heart problems. He underwent quintuple-bypass surgery in 2003, suffered a heart attack in 2015, and had various subsequent heart procedures.

Rossington is perhaps best known for providing the gorgeous slide-guitar on one of the band’s biggest hits, “Free Bird”. He also cowrote such Skynyrd tracks as “Simple Man”, “Don’t Ask Me No Questions”, “Gimme Back My Bullets”, “What’s Your Name”, and the huge hit “Sweet Home Alabama”.

Rossington had outlived fellow Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarists Allen Collins, Ed King, Steve Gaines, and Huey Thomasson, but at times he came very close to death. In 1976 he survived a serious accident in which he drove his car into a tree, inspiring the cautionary song “That Smell”. A year later he suffered a broken leg, two broken arms, and a punctured stomach and liver in the plane crash that killed Gaines, singer Ronnie Van Zant, and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines.

From a personal standpoint, I got turned on to Lynyrd Skynyrd early on, as my older sister had a copy of the band’s 1973 debut album, (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd), which got played around the family pool a lot when the folks were away. The extended, wailing guitar solo by Collins just blew my rock-crazed teenage mind.

I followed the band’s career closely after that, and as a music journalist was lucky enough to score a phone interview with Rossington and his wife Dale Krantz-Rossington in 1986, when they had left the Rossington-Collins Band to form their own group, simply called Rossington.

I didn’t get to meet Gary Rossington in the flesh until August of 1997, when the band made its first-ever Vancouver appearance at the Pacific Coliseum on a bill with Paul Rodgers and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Because I’d interviewed co-guitarist Rickey Medlocke at the time, I was able to take part in a “meet ‘n’ greet” before the show, where I got my vinyl copy of the 1978 compilation album Skynyrd’s First and…Last signed by Rossington and the other members.

That 1997 show was awesome. And the last time I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd live, at the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver in 2015, they were still awesome–even without Thomasson in the lineup.

Godspeed Gary Rossington. Thank you for always being awesome.


To hear the full audio of my 1986 interview with Gary Rossington and Dale Krantz-Rossington subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 350 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with the legends of rock.

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