Lynyrd Skynyrd. Few bands throughout the history of time have carried the weight that the group from Jacksonville, Florida has had to endure. Their history is well known. One of the biggest bands of the 70’s were tragically cut down in their prime when their plane ran out of fuel and crashed in a Mississippi forest. They were on their way from South Carolina to Louisiana for the next show of their 1977 tour. Their lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant, and lead guitarist Steve Gaines would perish in the accident. Steve’s sister and backup vocalist Cassie Gaines as well as their assistant road manager and both pilots would also succumb to the crash. The surviving passengers, including the rest of the band, were very seriously injured.

Gary Rossington performing with Lynyrd Skynyrd in Columbus, OH in 2012. Photos by Chad Hobbs.

Over the course of time, the band would begin to put the pieces back together with Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny taking over on lead vocals. As if Death had some sort of vendetta against them, tragedy would strike this band over and over and over again throughout the next 45+ years. Many other members that have graced this band have gone on to pass away since the plane crash. No matter the circumstances, the surviving members have always continued to forge a path forward and carry on the legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music.

That legacy was already rock solid before the plane crash, but with yesterday’s news of Gary Rossington’s passing, it feels like the final chapter of this epic will soon be complete. Rossington was one of the band’s lead guitarists and was the last remaining original member of the band. He wasn’t the flashy, look-at-me, guitar virtuoso type. The songs that the band wrote were good enough to stand up on their own. I always respected that about him. His bandmate Rickey Medlocke is a fine guitar player himself and plays with an intense enthusiasm that often puts him in the spotlight, but Rossington’s underrated songwriting and steady playing from the shadows are a fitting metaphor for this hard working, mysterious band. Lynyrd Skynyrd has been in the midst of their farewell tour for the past several years, trying like hell to visit each city that put their music on the map one last time. Their plans had included wrapping up their touring days this year. I imagine that they may finish their scheduled dates before gracefully bowing out and leaving behind one of the most beloved musical legacies, shrouded in heartache and mystique, secure in the fact that they did things the right way. In the wise words of both Ronnie and Johnny Van Zant beckoning to Gary Rossington, before playing “Free Bird” to close out their concerts: ‘Play it pretty for….(every city they have played).‘ One thing I hope is certain, now that he’s made it home to the rest of the band, the heavens are surely getting a concert for the ages that hasn’t been seen since 1977.

I first saw Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2006 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Skynyrd has always held a special place in the heart of my family, so I made sure that that gig was a family affair. I was fortunate to catch nearly every tour, since then, whenever they made stops in Ohio. To give you an idea of just how well respected Lynyrd Skynyrd is, ponder the following artists that I’ve seen support them on tour: 3 Doors Down. Hank Williams, Jr. .38 Special. Blue Oyster Cult. ZZ Top. Justin Moore. Alex Winston. Shooter Jennings. Bad Company. Black Stone Cherry. The Marshall Tucker Band. Are you kidding me? Most of these bands have iconic legacies of their own, but from the up and coming bands of the future all the way to classic rock royalty; nobody minded opening up for Lynyrd Skynyrd. And can you blame them? Could you imagine being the band that had to try and go on after them just playing “Free Bird”? Get outta here.

A few highlights included seeing them from the front row at the small venue now known as KEMBA Live, being an approved photographer and concert reviewer of their 2012 and 2013 shows in Columbus and Cincinnati, and lastly seeing them (likely for the final time) in an arena show in Toledo where I was able to take all of my children to see the mighty Lynyrd Skynyrd band. That Toledo show happened to be the 41st anniversary of the plane crash, and as always, they left everything out there on that stage that night. I will truly miss seeing this band when they leave the stage for good.

I leave you with my ranking the Top 15 Lynyrd Skynyrd songs that Gary Rossington wrote or co-wrote:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s