An ME tribute to Gary Rossington – The Last of the Original Skynyrds

I was watching the 6:30 national news recently when I heard that Gary Rossington had died. Interestingly, they referred to him as a “guitar legend” but I very much doubt that his name is well-known outside the rock world. Certainly, there were people who didn’t even know Jeff Beck’s name.

Now, I don’t write articles about every rocker who passes away. If I did, this would become an obituary site.

But I think it’s important to note that Rossington – a survivor of the 1977 plane crash – was the last living person of the original Skynyrd band. Or at the very least, the band that recorded their first two albums.

Wikipedia: “Rossington recovered from his (plane crash) injuries and played on stage again with steel rods in his right arm and right leg.” He fully recovered but “battled serious drug addiction for several years, largely the result of heavy dependence on pain medication. ”

The Rossington-Collins band formed in 1979 with Rossington, Allen Collins (he of the ferocious “Free Bird” solo), and fellow crash survivors, keyboardist Billy Powell and bassist Leon Wilkeson. Wilkeson in particular was incredibly fucked-up in the crash and never quite got his dexterity back.

Charlie Daniels got the pleasure of saying, “Lynyrd Skynyrd is back!” at his Volunteer Jam V in Nashville. They obviously weren’t really the same band but (minus Wilkeson) did an instrumental “Free Bird.”

Their first album, 1980s Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere managed to get a gold record but I personally don’t recall it getting a lot of airplay. By 1980, Southern Rock had pretty much played out its first act.

The band decided they didn’t want to be pegged as Son of Skynyrd and so hired female singer Dale Krantz who had been singing backup for .38 Special who often opened for Skynyrd. (Krantz and Rossington later married and were still married at his death.)

The other thing is that while they still had those Southern Rock roots, there was definitely a lean towards a more arena-rock sound in some of their tunes.

This tune, “Don’t Misunderstand Me” was their biggest hit. Krantz trades off vocals with guitarist Billy Lee Harwood. (Yes, a three-guitar band.)

From Skynyrd’s 1977 album Street Survivors comes a Rossington co-write (and hit), “What’s Your Name?” The lyrics detail how the band comes to town, meets young ladies for, ahem, good times and don’t even bother to get their names. The cover of this album originally showed the band in flames and was pulled due to the plane crash.

Fellow blogger Boppin’s Blog recently did a post on a 47-song Skynyrd box set. He pointed out some interesting tunes one of which is an unreleased demo called “Junkie.” I will here quote his words:

“Holy crap. This sounds nothing like Skynyrd. I would say a Hendrix, Cream, Blue Cheer mix that sounds awesome. Who knew Skynyrd played heavy wah-pedal-filled psychedelic guitar blues?”

Who indeed? It is groovy.

Back to Rossington-Collins for “Prime Time” with Krantz on vocals. Fairly Skynyrd-y here. That’s almost certainly Collins tearing it up on guitar. That guy was just good. The piano here does not suck. Tinkle them ivories.

I’ve loved Lynyrd Skynyrd since the beginning of time and yet somehow never got a chance to see them. In fact I started out my 2018 review of their concert with pretty much those words

Sonny Boy and I went. Marshall Tucker were the opening band and boy did they sound great. But I went as much to cross something off my bucket list which was, of course, to play air guitar to “Free Bird.” It’s the greatest song of all time except, of course, for all the other ones. (There’s no night where they can NOT play it).

Rossington was there that night as I recall. I don’t remember him playing much, if any, lead guitar. I don’t even know who is in the current band* but maybe it’s time to hang that up, do some offshoots like the Allman clan has been doing. (Allmans started in 1969 in Jacksonville just like Skynyrd and well, here we are, 54 years later.

I’ll leave you with a tune you may well recognize called “Sweet Home Alabama.” (Author’s note – not one single member of the band was from Alabama.)

Essentially this tune started out being a response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man” wherein, you’ll recall, Neil pretty much indicted the entire South for slavery.

Ronnie Van Zant felt this could not go unchallenged and said, famously:

Well I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well I heard ol’ Neil put her down
Well I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don’t need him around anyhow

Young later said he “richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory ad condescending, not fully thought out and too easy to misconstrue. ”

I found it weird to stand at a Skynrd concert and belt this tune out. Great song, but there are no states more opposite than Massachusetts and Birmingham. But still, politics, right? Fuck it.

Rossington was picking out the guitar figure on this tune one day, Van Zant dashed off some lyrics and it is one of rock’s most iconic intros.

*Ronnie’s brother Johnny is the lead singer. Too bad old Leonard Skinner isn’t around to belt one out.

The Rossington-Collins band folded in 1982 and Gary and his wife formed The Rossington Band shortly thereafter. He eventually made his way back to Skynyrd.





12 thoughts on “An ME tribute to Gary Rossington – The Last of the Original Skynyrds

  1. Nice tribute, Jim. Man, this year isn’t off to a great start. And at 71, Gary Rossington wasn’t exactly old.

    That said, it seems to me he cheated death twice. You mentioned the horrific plane crash. The prior year, in 1976, Rossington hit an oak tree with his car, apparently while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs – yikes!

    It looks like you and I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd during the same 2018 tour, the “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour”. In my case, at PNC Bank Arts Center in New Jersey, the opening acts were Atlanta Rhythm Section and Peter Wolf – fun night!

    I had not heard “Junkie” before – cool tune!


    1. A tragic band in many ways. Look up Allen Collins. I could live with ARS and Wolf. I can’t tell you how good Marshall Tucker was. I’d go see them again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My brother-in-law was inspired by Gary and one of the reason’s he picked up a guitar. He was going to finally get to meet him in a couple weeks and then this happened. He was quite upset about it.


    1. Wow, that sucks. My story is that Jeff Beck appeared in Boston just a few months ago. I went back and forth on taking my son. I was literally hovering over the tickets. The only reason I didn’t is because I had already spent a ton of money what with all the bands coming back at the same time. And then he died. I’ve seen him before but the boy hadn’t. Opportunity lost.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. We (my wife and I) have actually seen Santana several times but for one reason or another, conditions were always suboptimal. Looking for gold this time.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I have to take a deep dive into this stuff. Appreciating it more as I get older. Yeah ‘Junkie’ has that Bloodwyn Pig, Savoy, old Tull vibe. Love it. When I say “this stuff’ I mean a bunch of it like Tucker etc.


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