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Yesterday, the world lost a huge legend. Gary Rossington, the last surviving founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, passed away the age of 71. No cause of death has been released yet.
The band announced on Facebook, ““It is with our deepest sympathy and sadness that we have to advise, that we lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist, Gary Rossington, today. Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does.”
Gary Rossington was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He was passionate about baseball and dreamed of playing for the New York Yankees. That was until he heard The Rolling Stones as a teenager and traded in his athletic desires for an interest in music.
During the summer of 1964, Rossington met Ronnie Van Zant and Bob Burns who were all a part of the same Jacksonville baseball league. After Burns experienced a minor injury, the three spent an afternoon at Burns’ parents’ house jamming through The Rolling Stones’ Time Is On My Side, and it became very clear they needed to make this an official thing. They added guitarist Allen Collins and bassist Larry Junstrom into the group that would be called The Noble Five. The name later changed to The One Percent and then eventually became Lynyrd Skynyrd (after their P.E. teacher Leonard Skinner) in 1969.
Lynyrd Skynyrd soon became a town-favorite in Jacksonville, and soon they would become Southern rock legends throughout the world. With a three-man guitar army (that eventually consisted of Rossington, Collins, and Steve Gaines), the band was unstoppable and rocked harder than any other that came before them.
By 1977, Skynyrd was at the top of their game after releasing a multitude of hits that would become classic rock staples like Free Bird, Sweet Home Alabama, That Smell, Simple Man, and Saturday Night Special (just to name a few). Sadly, tragedy struck the band on October 20th, 1977, when their plane crashed into a Mississippi forest on their way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for a gig at LSU. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines (Steve’s sister), assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot John Gray were all killed on impact. The crash would mark one of the most devastating days in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Skynyrd went on a long hiatus after the plane crash, but returned in 1987 with the surviving members and Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny on lead vocals. However, the next couple decades would see Allen Collins, Ed King, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson, and Bob Burns all pass away. Rossington remained the only original member to continue playing with Skynyrd up until last year when he underwent emergency heart surgery that kept him from touring. Today, drummer Artimus Pyle (who joined the band in 1974) is the only surviving member from the 1970s era of Lynyrd Skynyrd
The loss of Gary Rossington stings so deeply. Rossington’s iconic slide guitar and southern rock shreds proved to the world what was possible with the instrument and gave Lynyrd Skynyrd their iconic powerful sound. We will miss Gary so much. KLOS sends all of our love to Gary’s family, friends, fans, and loved ones.
Watch Gary shred with the rest of Lynyrd Skynyrd live in 1977 here: