Gary Rossington

Every original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd is dead? I thought the Ramones were an anomaly. What happens out on the road, why is it that musicians pass before their time?

I know, I know, you’re angry that I’m not mentioning all the other performers who have recently died, most specifically David Lindley. Man, I saw him with Jackson Browne at the Bitter End back in ’72, I bought “El Rayo-X.” I even saw him live before the pandemic.

But David Lindley was normal, he lived in Claremont for God’s sake. I don’t want to denigrate his musicianship, which was superb, but Lindley was not a rock star. You know, the kind that used to rape and pillage across the country, who got drunk, did drugs, got laid… That was Lynyrd Skynyrd.

And I know I can’t say “rape and pillage” anymore. But that’s how they described the rock star lifestyle back in the seventies, and Lynyrd Skynyrd were part of the firmament of the seventies, even after the plane crash.


“Free Bird” was not an immediate hit. After all, Skynyrd was on Al Kooper’s Sounds of the South label, distributed by MCA, and you remember Skynyrd’s song about MCA, right?

And just a sidenote re Al… He produced the first three LPs, the band’s best work… Better than the iconic Tom Dowd’s stuff thereafter.

So… Skynyrd penetrated the populace very slowly. This was not “Led Zeppelin IV,” where “Stairway to Heaven” was immediately added to playlists. In truth, Skynyrd didn’t really break through until the second album, “Second Helping,” with “Sweet Home Alabama.”

You’ve got to understand, Skynyrd were relatively late in the procession of southern rock bands. It started with the Allman Brothers, but then their manager had his own label, Capricorn, and was issuing product on a regular basis. The Marshall Tucker Band delivered, but Skynyrd almost arrived as also-rans, they were seen as low rent imitators. I’m talking about the perception, forget the facts.

But tracks started to permeate FM radio…

God, if today’s youngsters lived through the days of AOR in the seventies. EVERYBODY listened, the FM rock station was the heartbeat of America. If you tuned in, you learned everything you needed to survive. And you never missed a show because you were unaware of it, when a band came to town…

So as the decade wore on, and they had the Memorial 500 and other holiday countdowns, number one was always “Stairway to Heaven.” Number two was “Free Bird.” And eventually “Kashmir” was number three. Always, year after year.

You see Lynyrd Skynyrd had three lead guitarists. We’d seen two drummers, but three lead guitarists? It pushed the music over the line, made it special, magical.

And then…

That guitar figure and Ronnie Van Zant saying “Turn it up.”

“Sweet Home Alabama” was one of those one listen records. Looped you right in. I asked Al Kooper the backstory. Just after the first LP was released, the band called and asked to come up to Hot Lanta to record a new song. That wasn’t released for another year. I asked Al if he knew it was a hit. He said…IT WAS SWEET HOME ALABAMA!

Now I’m not going to write chapter and verse about Skynyrd’s career.

But one thing you’ve got to know is Ronnie Van Zant was the frontman, and not a reluctant one like Gregg Allman. Ronnie had a large personality, he was full of quotes, and he didn’t give a f*uck, he’d say whatever he wanted. Point being, the rest of the band was relatively faceless. You only knew the players from the album covers.

And the key songwriters were Van Zant, Allen Collins, occasionally Ed King and Gary Rossington, Rossington had his hands all over the hits.

And after the plane crash, Rossington united with Collins in the Rossington Collins Band, with Dale Krantz as the lead singer. How could you not buy it, you wanted another hit of the magic, at least I did, I loved “Don’t Misunderstand Me.”

But no one could replace Ronnie.

But the Skynyrd legend could not be kept down. Ultimately the band was reformed with Ronnie’s brother Johnny as lead vocalist, and over time the original players came and went, and then they ultimately passed away.

It’s not like Gary Rossington’s death is a shock. He had so many health problems, it seemed inevitable, unlike the surprise of David Lindley’s death.

But if every original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd is dead…

Today’s Skynyrd is a tribute act. But it’s not only Skynyrd, so many of the classic rock acts feature only an original or two. You know who the new players are, they’re smooth-skinned, they’re not ragged and haggard, they’re YOUNG!

But the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd is still young. Doesn’t sound dated. Sounds as fresh as the seventies, when rock ruled the world, when we thought it could never die.

Skynyrd was not background. It wasn’t the soundtrack to a video game. The band and its music stood alone. That was enough. No brand extensions were necessary. Ronnie Van Zant’s identity, the band’s image was enough. Long after all the perfumes and other chozzerai the “musicians” of today are purveying is gone, they’ll still be playing Skynyrd music.

You see our music wasn’t momentary, it was FOREVER!

And a good portion still is.

But you can only really get the hit by listening to the records. Like Journey… Arnel does a good job imitating Steve Perry, but he’s not Steve Perry. No one else could be Steve Perry. And no one else could be Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington. Without them, without either of them, it’s not Skynyrd. A band. Self-contained. Living the life we all wanted to. The dream was to go on the road, at least go backstage, just to touch, to be in the presence of these giants.

So it’s the end of an era, and those of us still here are left with this empty feeling. We knew we were gonna die, but not our heroes, not the musicians, if they made it past twenty seven, they were here forever.

David Bowie? Glenn Frey? Anomalies.

But David Lindley was 78, and you might think that’s young, but pray you’ll get there, it’s quite an achievement.

And Gary Rossington was only 71. He was born in the fifties, like that old Police song, like me.

We’re being taken off the field. One by one. But it’s getting faster, and will get faster still. To the point where there will be little hoopla, to the point it will be de rigueur.

But if you were there, if you lived through it, if you broke the shinkwrap on these records and dropped the needle…you’ll never forget. When you spun records day and night, when every show sold out. When if you weren’t there, you’d have to wait a whole ‘nother year.

I mean every member of Lynyrd Skynyrd? They all were cut down? I mean the plane crash was horrible, I remember hearing the news and feeling the emptiness.

But there were some survivors.

And now those guys are gone.

Who will carry on the tradition? Who will clue in the young ‘uns?

At least we have the records to keep the dream alive. And in the case of Lynyrd Skynyrd, that’s enough.

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