Former Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Ed King dead at age 68

Lyndsey Parker

Another tragedy has struck in the Lynyrd Skynyrd camp. The legendary Southern rock band’s former guitarist and bassist Ed King, the co-writer of “Sweet Home Alabama” and other Skynyrd classics, died Aug. 22 from cancer. He was 68 years old. According to Nashville news station WTVF, King had been battling cancer for several months.

King, an original member of the psychedelic group Strawberry Alarm Clock (best known for the 1967 chart-topper “Incense and Peppermints,” which King also co-wrote), joined Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1972 and played on their first three albums, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd, Second Helping, and Nuthin’ Fancy. At first, he replaced Leon Wilkeson on bass, but when Wilkeson returned to the lineup, he switched to guitar and became part of the band’s signature triple-axe sound.

Ed King (Photo: Consequence of Sound)

King’s voice was heard counting off the “one, two, three” intro before the famous guitar riff of “Sweet Home Alabama.” He also wrote or co-wrote “Poison Whiskey,” “Saturday Night Special,” “Mr. Banker,” “Swamp Music,” “Whiskey Rock-a-Roller,” “Railroad Song,” “I Need You,” and “Workin’ for MCA.”

King temporarily left Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1975, two years before the tragic plane crash in Gillsburg, Miss., that killed three Skynyrd members — including King’s replacement on guitar, Steve Gaines. King rejoined the reunited group in 1987 and played with them until in 1996, when he retired due to congestive heart failure. Along with all of Skynyrd’s pre-crash members, King was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Artimus Pyle, Ed King, and Bob Burns at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame dinner in 2006.  (Photo: Stuart Ramson/AP)

King figures prominently in the new Lynyrd Skynyrd documentary If I Leave Here Tomorrow, which made its premiere at this year’s South by Southwest festival. Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment at that time, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lone surviving original founder, Gary Rossington, described getting emotional watching a scene in which King reminisced about being invited to join the band. “There’s a part at the beginning when Ed King is talking about our song ‘Need All My Friends.’ Then it shows us, me and singer Ronnie [Van Zant, who also died in the ’77 plane crash] looking right at each other,” he said. “And it was like, all my friends are dead and gone. I just went, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s just real sentimental to me.”

In a statement released Thursday, Rossington said: “Ed was our brother, and a great songwriter and guitar player. I know he will be reunited with the rest of the boys in Rock and Roll Heaven. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

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