Gary Rossington, a founding member of the legendary rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd and co-writer of the iconic hit Sweet Home Alabama, has died, the band said in a statement.
“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,” Lynyrd Skynyrd said on Facebook.
“Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does,” the statement said.
“Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family’s privacy at this difficult time.”
Rossington remained as part of the band from its founding in 1964 as My Backyard until his death. He co-wrote some of their most popular music throughout their career such as Sweet Home Alabama and appeared in all of the band’s albums.
Metallica frontman James Hetfield thanked Rossington on Instagram.
“RIP Brother Gary,” Hetfield said. “Thank you for bringing me so much joy with your guitar playing and songwriting in one of my all time favorite bands, Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
U.S. country music singer and songwriter Travis Tritt also posted on Twitter about Rossington’s death.
“I just learned that my dear friend, Gary Rossington passed away today,” he said. “I’m heartbroken! Gary was not only a friend, but a collaborator that wrote songs with me and played guitar with me in studio recordings and onstage so many times. My heart goes out to Dale and the girls. RIP.”
Rossington acquired his first guitar in 1963, and in 1964 formed Me, You, and Him with drummer Bob Burns and bassist Larry Junstrom. This would be the first iteration of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The band added singer Ronnie Van Zant, who played on a rival baseball team later in the summer of 1964. After a jam session with Van Zant, they collectively added him to the group and then added guitarist Allen Collins two weeks later.
The band chose the name My Backyard, then became Conquer the Worm for a very short time, then becoming The Noble Five, and finally, The One Percent by 1968.
By 1969, the band was searching for a new name, to avoid mockery from audiences, and at the suggestion of drummer Bob Burns, they chose Leonard Skinnerd, a mocking tribute of their uptight high school gym teacher, who disliked the long hair fashion trend for men at the time.
By 1970, the band was popular in Jacksonville, Fla., and was headlining local concerts. The band performed throughout the South into the early 1970s, and worked to develop a unique hard-driving blues-rock sound.
The band would be dealt a tragic blow in 1977.
After a performance in Greenville, South Carolina in1977, the band boarded a plane bound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they were scheduled to appear the following night. The plane ran out of fuel and crashed, killing Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, along with backup singer Cassie Gaines and assistant manager Dean Kilpatrick.
Rossington survived the crash with serious injuries. The band went on hiatus after the crash and rebuilt itself and returned in 1987. The reunited band was intended to be a one-time tribute to the original lineup, but continued to perform after the initial tribute tour. Rossington stayed with the group until his death.
Rossington and Lynyrd Skynyrd left behind a legacy that defined the southern rock-blues genre and left global footprint.
In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the group No. 95 on their list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time“. In 2005, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said that Lynyrd Skynyrd would be inducted with Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis, and the Sex Pistols.