The Washington Post
Lead guitarist was the last surviving founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd
Gary Rossington, the lead guitarist and the last surviving founding member of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, known for hits such as “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” died March 5 at 71.
His death was confirmed by an agent, Ken Levitan, who said he was unable to provide the cause or location of death. Mr. Rossington had a heart attack and emergency heart surgery in recent years.
Drummer Robert Burns Jr., one of the original musicians who founded Lynyrd Skynyrd in the 1960s, died in 2015 in a crash after his vehicle struck a tree near Cartersville, Ga.
Ronnie Van Zant, another founding member and the group’s principal song writer and lead singer, died in the 1977 crash of a chartered aircraft in Mississippi while en route to a performance at Louisiana State University. Band guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup vocalist Cassie Gaines, died as well.
Mr. Rossington and guitarist Allen Collins — who was also instrumental in the formation of Lynyrd Skynyrd — were critically injured in the plane crash but survived.
“It was just all so devastating,” Mr. Rossington later told the Florida Times-union. “Nobody wanted to go on. Nobody wanted to play at all.”
But the band continued to find audience favor with previously unreleased recordings as well as its hit album “Street Survivors,” which had been completed shortly before the plane crash.
Mr. Rossington and Collins then joined with other musicians, including singer Dale Krantz (who married Mr. Rossington), to form the Rossington- Collins band until its breakup in 1982 when Collins left to start his own group. Collins, who pleaded no contest to drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter, was left paralyzed from the waist down after a car crash in 1986 that killed his girlfriend. Collins died in 1990 of pneumonia.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, with new lineups, reunited in 1987, then toured and recorded throughout the 1990s and into the present day. The band was set to appear at a festival in Florida next week.
Gary Robert Rossington was born in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 4, 1951, and was raised by a widowed mother. As a child, he mimicked Elvis Presley by standing in front of a mirror with a broomstick — and soon took a paper route to buy an $8 guitar, on which he was entirely selftaught.
At 12, he met the slightly older Van Zant at a youth baseball game.
According to Rolling Stone magazine, Van Zant hit a line drive into the shoulder blades of opposing player Burns and met his future bandmates. Mr. Rossington, Burns, Van Zant and Collins gathered that afternoon at Burns’s Jacksonville home to jam.
They formed a band that by the end of the 1960s took the name Lynyrd Skynyrd after a Jacksonville high school physical-education teacher named Leonard Skinner, who prohibited boys from having long hair, as well as a character in satirist Allan Sherman’s novelty musical hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd developed a strong following around Jacksonville and the surrounding region before eventually broadening its lineup and signing with MCA in the early 1970s.
The band’s 1973 album “(Pronounced ‘Leh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd)” sold by the hundreds of thousands and brought it to national attention for the recordings of
“I don’t think of it as tragedy — I think of it as life. I think the good outweighs the bad.” Mr. Rossington, who played with the reconstituted Lynyrd Skynyrd starting in 1987, on his feelings about the band and the deaths of his bandmates upon being inducted into the rock & roll Hall of fame in 2006
“Free Bird,” “I Ain’t the One” and “Tuesday’s Gone.” Writing on the website allmusic.com, critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine described the release as a revelation of the band’s high quality and confident range (“the blues, country, garage rock, Southern poetry”).
“Sweet Home Alabama” (1974), a riposte to Neil Young’s anti-dixie “Southern Man,” was the group’s first U.S. chart single, reaching No. 8, and cemented the band as one of the top acts of the era. Other hits followed, including “Saturday Night Special” and “Gimme Back My Bullets.”
A complete list of survivors was not immediately available, but Mr. Rossington reportedly had two daughters from his marriage.
Mr. Rossington told Rolling Stone that he never considered Skynyrd to be a band shadowed by death and misfortune. “I don’t think of it as tragedy — I think of it as life,” he said upon the group’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2006. “I think the good outweighs the bad.”