Gary Rossington, the guitarist last surviving member of Lynyrd Skynyrd has died, aged 71.
“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,” wrote the band’s official Facebook account.
“Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does. Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family’s privacy at this difficult time.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd's legacy
A founding member of the band, Rossington was a teen when he, Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Larry Junstrom and Bob Burns started practising together in 1964.
As a fivesome, the group was originally called ‘My Backyard’. They cycled through the names ‘Conquer the Worm’, ‘The Noble Five’ and ‘The One Percent’ before settling on the iconic moniker ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’ in 1969.
The band named themselves after Leonard Skinner, a PE teacher in their Florida high school and a character in Allan Sherman's novelty song ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh’. The band released their first album ‘(Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)’ in 1973, to immediate acclaim in rock circles, especially for their song ‘Free Bird’.
For many, Lynyrd Skynyrd are the quintessential band for a Southern US brand of Rock n’ Roll.
‘Free Bird’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ are in a certain class of rock song that supersedes the band to become standards of the genre.
Despite rocketing to stardom with their iconic sound in the 70s, the band was beset by tragedy from the early days. For instance, Rossington cheated death twice. In 1976, he drove his Ford Torino into a tree, inspiring the band’s cautionary song ‘That Smell’. The next year, the band would be involved in a devastating plane crash that killed multiple members of the band.
On 20 October 1977, three days after releasing their fifth album ‘Street Survivors’ the band boarded a plane to fly from South Carolina to Louisiana.
The plane ran out of fuel and crashed into a woods in Mississippi, killing Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist and Gaines’ sister Cassie, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick and the pilot and co-pilots Walter McCreary and William John Gray.
Rossington survived, and the band eventually reunited in 1987 with Van Zant’s brother Johnny as lead vocalist. Collins did not rejoin the band as he had been injured in a 1986 car crash. He later died in 1990. Burns and Junstrom died in 2015 and 2019 respectively.
With Rossington’s death, the final founding member of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd has passed away.
In 2018, the band began a long farewell tour and there had been talks of a fifteenth album on the horizon. Rossington claimed that they would still occasionally play live, but whether the band will now continue without any original members remains to be seen.
It puts Lynyrd Skynyrd in a rare position as a band with no surviving founding members.
Comparatively, older legendary bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Pink Floyd all have surviving members.
Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest bands without any of its founding members left.
What Lynyrd Skynyrd are to Southern US rock, Ramones are to New York punk.
Formed in 1974, Ramones’ original line-up consisted of Joey Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Ramone and Tommy Ramone.
Not biologically related, the quartet adopted the Ramone surname after Paul McCartney’s pseudonym for checking into hotels “Paul Ramon”.
In the 70s and early 80s, Ramones would become a pioneering force in defining the punk movement. From their fast-paced simple and catchy songs, to the leather jacket look, Ramones are both the musical and visual epitome of punk.
Sadly, none of the founding members are with us today. Joey died in 2001, Dee Dee in 2002, Johnny in 2004, and Tommy in 2014.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Jimi Hendrix Experience was essentially created out of necessity by Jimi Hendrix to craft a full album.
Upon moving to London, Hendrix recruited the guitarist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell to form the band in 1966. Together they released three albums, all showcasing Hendrix’ virtuoso guitar style that would redefine what was possible on the electric guitar.
Hendrix died of an overdose in 1970, aged just 27. After careers in multiple bands, Redding died in 2003 and Mitchell died in 2008.
Moving from the punk of Ramones and the guitar flare of Hendrix to a band that encompassed both.
The glam rock pioneers T. Rex found success in the 70s with their first two albums: 1970’s ‘T. Rex’ and 1971’s ‘Electric Warrior’. Legendary glam rock songs ‘Get It On’, ‘20th Century Boy’ and ‘Cosmic Dancer’ still express all the dazzling verve they had on release.
But while these songs came from T. Rex’s first two albums, singer-songwriter and founder Marc Bolan was actually on the second iteration of a band called Tyrannosaurus Rex, formed in 1967 and releasing songs with a psychedelic edge.
Bolan died in a car crash in 1977, while fellow Tyrannosaurus Rex founder Steve Peregrin Took died in 1980.
One unique resurrection: Sugababes
While this list mainly consists of bands of old white dudes rocking out, there should be an honourable mention for a band that managed to do the impossible: replace all the founding members and then eventually revert to the original line-up.
Formed in 1998 by manager Ron Tom, singers Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhán Donaghy formed the Sugababes.
In the original line-up, the Sugababes released one album ‘One Touch’ in 2000. It was a huge hit but soon, Donaghy left the band. Over the course of seven albums, the other two members would be replaced leaving an entirely unoriginal line-up.
But Buena, Buchanan and Donaghy always knew what the fans wanted. In 2012, they reformed as Mutya Keisha Siobhan. In 2019, they regained their Sugababes title, and have released an album of previously unheard material: 'The Lost Tapes', which came out in 2022.