Gary Rossington transcended the role of a mere guitarist; he embodied the spirit of a pioneer, a survivor, and ultimately, a legend. A founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, one of rock music’s most influential bands, he stood as the last original member, weathering numerous challenges and losses throughout his storied career. This blog serves as a tribute to his remarkable contributions and achievements in the realm of music.
A Passion for Music and Baseball
Born on December 4, 1951, in Jacksonville, Florida, Gary Rossington’s early years were shaped by a single-parent household. His dual passion for music and baseball emerged in childhood, learning the guitar by ear and drawing inspiration from artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and B.B. King. Despite nurturing dreams of becoming a professional baseball player for the New York Yankees, fate had other plans.
Rossington crossed paths with Ronnie Van Zant and Bob Burns while playing on rival baseball teams. In 1964, the trio, along with Allen Collins and Larry Junstrom, formed The Noble Five, later evolving into Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969. Rossington, demonstrating his commitment, dropped out of high school to devote himself entirely to the band, assuming the role of lead and rhythm guitarist.
A Rise to Fame and a Tragic Fall
The 1970s marked Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ascent to fame, blending blues, country, and hard rock into a distinctive sound. The band’s success produced hits like “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Free Bird,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and “Simple Man,” with Rossington’s intricate guitar arrangements playing a pivotal role.
Tragedy struck on October 20, 1977, when the band’s plane crashed in Mississippi, claiming the lives of Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines. Rossington, suffering extensive injuries, faced a long road to recovery. The band disbanded, but not before releasing the live album “Skynyrd’s Innyrds” as a tribute to their fallen comrades.
A Comeback and a Legacy
Rossington’s resilience led to the formation of the Rossington Collins Band in 1980 with Allen Collins. Despite facing challenges, including the death of Collins’ wife, the band persisted until 1982. Subsequent ventures like the Rossington Band followed, showcasing Rossington’s enduring passion for music.
Rejoining Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1987 for their resurgence with Johnny Van Zant as the new lead singer, Rossington remained the sole original member after the passing of others. The band continued to release albums and tour, with a farewell tour announced in 2018 (though impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic) and marked by Rossington’s passing.
A Final Farewell
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, Rossington’s legacy extends beyond his musical prowess. Honored with the MusiCares Person of the Year award in 2020, he left an indelible mark on philanthropy. Described as a Southern gentleman, rocker, and mentor, Rossington’s impact reverberates through the words of those who knew him best.
Messages from Family and Friends
- “Gary was my brother, my friend, and my hero. He was the best guitarist I ever played with, and the best person I ever knew…” – Johnny Van Zant, Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer
- “Gary was a singular presence at Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was a talented colleague and a beloved friend…” – Dale Krantz-Rossington, wife and backup singer
- “Gary was one of the greatest guitarists of all time. He was a master of his craft, and a pioneer of his style…” – Rickey Medlocke, Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist and vocalist
- “Gary was a legend, a hero, and an inspiration. He was one of the reasons I picked up a guitar, and one of the reasons I fell in love with Southern rock…” – Brad Paisley, country singer and guitarist
A Final Farewell
Rossington’s family and friends held memorial services in Atlanta and Jacksonville, celebrating his life and encouraging donations in his memory to the MusiCares Foundation. His spirit lives on, cherished in the memories of those he touched and the timeless melodies he created. Rest in peace, Gary Rossington; your legacy will endure.