Mark Madden

Mark Madden

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Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington has passed away. He was 71.

Rossington was the last of Skynyrd’s glory-days incarnation to be playing with the band, but lately only for sporadic shows and for just a few songs per night. He was also the last surviving founding member.

I last saw Rossington perform this past July 8 in Atlantic City when he joined Skynyrd-onstage for "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird."

Like all of Skynyrd, Rossington was doggedly authentic, by all accounts unchanged from his Jacksonville, Fla., roots despite fame and fortune. 

Rossington broke both legs, arms, wrists and ankles (and his pelvis) in the 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup vocalist Cassie Gaines and assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick. 

But Rossington recovered and formed the Rossington-Collins band in 1980, then participated in Skynyrd’s full-blown reunion that started in 1987 and features Johnny Van Zant (Ronnie’s brother) on vocals. As more of Skynyrd’s members passed, Rossington became the keeper of Skynyrd’s flame. 

Rossington’s guitar sound was distinct and cutting. Prominent songs co-authored by Rossington include “Gimme Back My Bullets,” “Don’t Ask Me No Questions,” “What’s Your Name,” “Simple Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” His slide guitar is an integral piece of Skynyrd's iconic "Free Bird."

At their best, Skynyrd was a Southern rock-style Led Zeppelin, utilizing hard, bluesy riffs with just the right amount of twang. I consider Skynyrd one of America’s three greatest rock bands ever along with Aerosmith and Van Halen. 

Rossington was a big part of that. Gary Rossington, RIP.

2014 Stagecoach California's Country Music Festival - Day 1

Photo: Getty Images North America

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