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Gary Rossington performing in 2008
|Birth name||Gary Robert Rossington|
|Born||December 4, 1951|
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
|Genres||Blues rock, boogie rock, hard rock, Southern rock|
|Associated acts||Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rossington Collins Band, The Rossington Band|
Gary Robert Rossington (born December 4, 1951) is an American musician best known as a founder of southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, in which he is the sole constant member. He plays lead and rhythm guitar. He was a founding member of the Rossington Collins Band along with former bandmate, Allen Collins.
Rossington's mother recalled that he had a strong childhood interest in baseball and aspired as a child to one day play for the New York Yankees. Rossington recalled that he was a "good ball player" but upon hearing The Rolling Stones in his early teens he became interested in music and ultimately gave up on his baseball aspirations.
It was Rossington's love of baseball that indirectly led to the formation of Lynyrd Skynyrd in the summer of 1964. He, Ronnie Van Zant, and Bob Burns became acquainted while playing on rival Jacksonville baseball teams and the trio decided to jam together one afternoon after Burns was injured by a ball hit by Van Zant. They set up their equipment in the carport of Burns' parents' house and played The Rolling Stones' then-current hit "Time Is on My Side". Liking what they heard, they immediately decided to form a band. Naming themselves The Noble Five (with the additions of guitarist Allen Collins and bassist Larry Junstrom) they later changed the name of the band to The One Percent before eventually settling on the name Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969.
Rossington grew up in a single parent household and says that early in their relationship, Van Zant became somewhat of a father figure to him. He credits Van Zant, who was three years his senior, with teaching him and his fellow bandmates how to drive a car, as well as introducing them to "all that stuff you learn when you're 14, 15, 16".
According to a New York Times article, Lacy Van Zant, patriarch of the Van Zant family, once went to West Jacksonville's Robert E. Lee High School to plead Rossington's case to school administrators after the fatherless Rossington was suspended for having long hair. Lacy Van Zant explained to the assistant principal that Rossington's father, who died shortly after Rossington was born, had died in the Army and that Rossington's mother needed the money Rossington made playing in his band. Lacy Van Zant further explained that, like his own sons, they were working men and long hair was part of the job. It's not known if the elder Van Zant's efforts were successful, but Rossington later dropped out of high school to focus on Lynyrd Skynyrd full time.
Rossington's instrument of choice was a 1959 Gibson Les Paul which he had purchased from a woman whose boyfriend had left her and left behind his guitar. He named it "Berniece" in honor of his mother (whom he was extremely close to after the death of his father). Rossington played lead guitar on "Tuesday's Gone" and the slide guitar for "Free Bird". Along with Collins, Rossington also provided the guitar work for "Simple Man."
On Labor Day weekend in 1976, Rossington and fellow Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins were both involved in separate auto accidents in their hometown of Jacksonville. Rossington had just bought a new Ford Torino and hit an oak tree while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. The band was forced to postpone a tour scheduled to begin a few days later, and Rossington was fined $5000 for the delay his actions caused to the band's schedule. The song "That Smell", written by Van Zant and Collins, was based on the wreck and Rossington's state of influence from drugs and alcohol that caused it.
Rossington was one of twenty passengers who survived the infamous October 20, 1977, plane crash near Gillsburg, Mississippi, that claimed the lives of Lynyrd Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and three others. As the passengers braced for impact, Rossington recalls hearing what sounded like hundreds of baseball bats hitting the plane's fuselage as it began striking trees. The sound got louder and louder until Rossington was knocked unconscious; he awoke some time later on the ground with the plane's door on top of him. Days later, Rossington was informed in hospital by his mother that Van Zant and the others had been killed. Despite breaking both arms, legs, wrists, and ankles, as well as his pelvis, Rossington recovered from his injuries and play on stage again (with steel rods in his right arm and right leg).
Though in time Rossington fully recovered from the severe injuries sustained in the crash, he battled serious drug addiction throughout the next several years, largely the result of his heavy dependence on pain medication taken during his recovery from the plane crash.
As of 2018, Rossington still plays in Lynyrd Skynyrd and along with Larry Junstrom, is the last living original member.
Rossington suffered a heart attack on October 8, 2015, after which two Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts had to be cancelled.