Gary Rossington, guitarist and longest-tenured original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, has died at the age of 71.
“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,” the band announced on Sunday (March 5th). “Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does.”
Rossington formed Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1964 with childhood friends Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Larry Junstrom, and Bob Burns. Rossington’s guitar work was a key component of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s sound, with his melodic and bluesy playing adding depth and complexity to the band’s songs. Notably, he played slide guitar on the band’s signature song, “Free Bird,” and was the lead guitarist on “Simple Man,” which he also co-wrote with Van Zant. He also had songwriting credits on “Sweet Home Alabama” and “What’s Your Name.”
In 1976, Rossington and Collins were both involved in near fatal car accidents during the same evening, inspiring the song “That Smell.”
The following year, Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines, and three others were killed in a plane crash. Rossington was among the survivors, but he suffered serious injuries, including a shattered arm, broken ribs, and a collapsed lung. The crash marked the end of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Rossington continued to play music after the crash, forming The Rossington Collins Band with former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle. The band released two albums in the late 1970s before breaking up. Rossington also collaborated with other musicians, including the band Blackfoot and blues guitarist Johnnie Johnson.
In 1987, Rossington reunited with several former Lynyrd Skynyrd members to form the Rossington Band, which released a self-titled album. The band played Lynyrd Skynyrd classics as well as new material, and they toured extensively throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1991, Rossington reunited with surviving Lynyrd Skynyrd members for a tribute tour, which was intended to be a one-time event. However, the tour was so successful that the band decided to continue performing and recording together. Rossington remained a key member of the reformed Lynyrd Skynyrd, playing guitar and contributing to the band’s songwriting.
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