Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington died March 5, 2023

gary rossington

Gary Rossington (December 4, 1951 – March 5, 2023) was born Gary Robert Rossington in Jacksonville, Florida and was an American musician and songwriter and the last original member of legendary Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, in which he played lead and rhythm guitar.

Gary Rossington had a strong childhood interest in baseball and hoped to one day play for the New York Yankees. RHe later recalled that he was a “good ball player” butafter hearing the Rolling Stones in his early teens he became interested in music and ultimately gave up on his baseball aspirations.

It was Gary Rossington’s love of baseball that indirectly led to the formation of Lynyrd Skynyrd in the summer of 1964.

Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant, and Bob Burns got to know each other while playing on rival Jacksonville baseball teams and the trio decided to jam together one afternoon after Bob Burns was injured by a ball hit by Van Zant. They set up their equipment in the carport of Burns’ parents’ house and played The Rolling Stones’ hit “Time Is on My Side”.

They liked what they heard and decided to form a band, calling themselves “The Noble Five” with the additions of guitarist Allen Collins and bassist Larry Junstrom. They later changed the name of the band to “The One Percent” before eventually settling on the name “Lynyrd Skynyrd”, which is said to be a dig at their high school gym teacher, who was notorious for punishing students with long hair, in 1969.

Gary Rossington was raised by his mother after his father died, and said that early in their relationship, Van Zant, who was 3 years older, became somewhat of a father figure to him. He credited Van Zant with teaching him and his other bandmates how to drive a car, as well as introducing them to “all that stuff you learn when you’re 14, 15, 16”.

Gary Rossington later dropped out of West Jacksonville’s Robert E. Lee High School to focus on Lynyrd Skynyrd full-time.

Gary Rossington appeared on all of the Lynyrd Skynyrd albums and co-wrote the 1974 hit “Sweet Home Alabama”, which was a withering response to Neil Young’s Southern Man and gave the band their only UK hit, charting at number 31. Its popularity has endured, and it is now the UK’s most-streamed track from 1974.

Gary Rossington’s guitar of choice was a 1959 Gibson Les Paul which he bought from a woman whose boyfriend had left her and left behind his guitar. He named it “Berniece” in honor of his mother (whom he was extremely close to after the death of his father).

Besides the Les Paul, Gary Rossington used various other Gibson Guitars including Gibson SGs, and Gibson eventually released a Gary Rossington SG/Les Paul in their Custom Shop.

Gary Rossington played lead guitar on “Tuesday’s Gone”, the slide guitar for “Free Bird” and along with Collins, also provided the guitar work for “Simple Man.”

On Labor Day weekend in 1976, Rossington and fellow Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins were both involved in separate car accidents in their hometown of Jacksonville.

Gary Rossington had just bought a new Ford Torino and crashed into an oak tree while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. Lynyrd Skynyrd was forced to postpone a tour scheduled to begin a few days later, and Gary Rossington was fined US$5,000 for the delay his actions caused to the band’s schedule.

The song “That Smell”, written by Van Zant and Collins, was based on the wreck and Rossington’s state of influence from drugs and alcohol that caused it.

Gary Rossington was also one of 20 passengers who survived the October 20, 1977 plane crash near McComb, Mississippi, that claimed the lives of “Lynyrd Skynyrd” members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and three others.

As the passengers braced for impact, Gary Rossington recalls hearing what sounded like hundreds of baseball bats hitting the plane’s fuselage as it began striking trees. He said the sound got louder and louder until Rossington was knocked unconscious. He awoke some time later on the ground with the plane’s door on top of him. Days later, Gary Rossington was informed in the hospital by his mother that Van Zant and the others had been killed.

Luckily, despite breaking both arms, legs, wrists and ankles, and as his pelvis, Gary Rossington recovered from his injuries and had to learn to play again guitar with steel rods in his arm.

The surviving Lynyrd Skynyrd members decided not to continue after the tragedy.

Though in time Rossington fully recovered from the severe injuries sustained in the crash, Gary Rossington battled serious drug addiction throughout the next several years, largely the result of his heavy dependence on pain medication taken during his recovery from the plane crash.

In 1980, Gary Rossington went on to form a new group with Allen Collins called “The Rossington Collins Band”, which aslo included several other former bandmates. The band released two albums, but disbanded in 1982 after the death of Collins’ wife, Kathy.

Gary Rossington and Dale Krantz-Rossington were married in 1982 and had two daughters.

Along with his wife, Dale Krantz-Rossington, Gary then formed “The Rossington Band”, which released two albums in 1986 and 1988.

Lynyrd Skynyrd reformed in 1987 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the crash, with Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny on lead vocals.

The band kept going, recording nine studio albums and churning through almost 25 members.

Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2010.

Gary Rossington suffered a heart attack on October 8, 2015, after which two Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts had to be canceled.

In July 2021, he underwent emergency heart surgery.

With the death of keyboardist Larry Junstrom in 2019, Gary Rossington became the last surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, who he continued to play with until his death.

Gary Rossington died on March 5, 2023, at the age of 71.

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