Who was Gary Rossington? Legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist dies at 71

Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd on stage in Texas in 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd on stage in Texas in 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)

Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s last surviving original member who also helped to found the group, has died at the age of 71, with no cause of death given.

“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,” the band wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does.”

But who was Gary Rossington?

Rossington was born on December 4, 1951, in Jacksonville, Florida and raised by his mother after his father died.

Upon meeting drummer Bob Burns and bassist Larry Junstrom, Rossington and his new friends formed a band, which they tried to juggle with their love of baseball. According to Rolling Stone, it was during a fateful Little League game that Ronnie Van Zant hit a line drive into the shoulder blades of opposing player Bob Burns and met his future bandmates.

Adopting Lynyrd Skynyrd as the group’s name – a reference to a similarly named sport coach at Rossington’s high school and a character in the 1963 novelty hit Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh – the band released their debut album (Pronounced ‘Leh-’nerd ’Skin-’nérd) in 1973.

A collection of country-tinged blues rock and Southern soul, the album included classics like Tuesday’s Gone, Simple Man and Gimme Three Steps, but it was the closing track, the nearly 10-minute Free Bird, that became the group’s calling card, due in no small part to Rossington’s evocative slide playing on his Gibson SG.

He survived a car accident in 1976 in which he drove his Ford Torino into a tree and a year later he emerged from the 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines.

Who are the other members of Lynyrd Skynyrd?

As well as Rossington on guitar, the band had Allen Collins on guitar, drummer Bob Burns, bassist Larry Junstrom and lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant.

The current line-up features guitarist and vocalist Rickey Medlocke, lead vocalist Johnny Van Want, drummer Michael Cartellone, guitarist Mark Matejka, keyboardist Peter Keys and bassist Keith Christopher.

What guitar was Rossington known for playing?

At 13 he bought his first guitar, an acoustic Silvertone, which cost him $8.

In 1971 Rossington started playing the guitar he had always dreamed of since he saw it in the hands of Keith Richards, a Les Paul Standard ’59. Soon after, the band would compose the most important song of their career, Free Bird.

He named the guitar Berniece after his mother.

What other bands did Rossington play with?

Rossington was the last original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd but was also a founding member of the Rossington Collins Band, along with former bandmate Allen Collins.