Lynyrd Skynyrd Will Continue Following Death of Gary Rossington
Lynyrd Skynyrd has announced that they will continue as a band following the death of Gary Rossington on March 5. The guitarist was the last remaining founding member of the legendary Southern rock group’s original lineup.
A new press release notes that the band was initially "unsure" about moving forward after Rossington's death. "After much discussion with the band, the families of Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins, and Dale Rossington, the collective has reached unified support," the statement reads. "[They] feel that continuing to perform live, and keeping the music alive, is in the best interest of the fans and everyone involved."
“Gary was always the first to say how ‘Skynyrd’s music is bigger than me or any one person,’" the guitarist's widow, Dale Rossington, said.
"Gary made it known at every chance to express how timeless the music was, and it was always his goal to keep the music alive for his brothers because that was always their dream. He spent his entire life trying to carry on that dream for Ronnie, Allen, Steve and all the others over the years. While he was not able to physically be onstage with the current lineup over the last couple years, he supported them in every way. His dream will continue thanks to [singer] Johnny [Van Zant], [guitarist] Rickey [Medlocke] and the rest of our bandmates to continue to carry his legacy and music on for future generations.”
Johnny Van Zant added that “Gary was not only my brother, bandmate and friend. I think he loved me as much as I loved him. We would do anything for each other. We laughed, we fell, we cried and made up, and shared the stage for the last 36 years. Gary, along with my brother Ronnie and Allen, started this band and left us all a legacy of music that has stood the test of time, and crossed three generations of fans.”
In addition to Van Zant and Medlocke, the current Lynyrd Skynyrd lineup also includes guitarist Mark “Sparky” Matejka, drummer Michael Cartellone, bassist Keith Christopher, keyboardist Peter Keys, and backing singers Carol Chase and Stacy Michelle.
Guitarist Damon Johnson (Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy), has been playing with the group since 2021 when Rossington underwent emergency heart surgery. It has not been announced whether or not he will be part of the revised lineup.
Lynyrd Skynyrd performed their first concert without Rossington on March 12. They called it "one of the toughest shows of our lives." After a run of upcoming headlining dates, they'll start the Sharp Dressed Simple Man tour with ZZ Top on July 21.
Van Zant is now Lynyrd Skynyrd’s longest-tenured member. He stepped in to fill the shoes of his late brother in 1987. Medlocke offers another link to the group’s early days: Even though he’s been with the band since 1996, he was also part of the second iteration of its lineup, playing and recording with Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1971 and 1972 before the release of their debut album.
According to legal documents, the original surviving members took a “blood oath” not to use the band name following the tragic plane crash in 1977 that claimed the lives of three bandmates. In 2009, Larkin Collins, father of original Skynyrd guitarist Collins (who died in 1990), told The Florida-Times Union that the band’s ‘80s reunion agreement stipulated that there had to be at least three original members for the band name to be used. When bassist Leon Wilkeson died in 2001, they lowered the required number to two.
At the time of keyboardist Billy Powell’s death in 2009, Larkin Collins indicated that they would be able to make arrangements for Skynyrd to carry on with just Rossington. But he was guarded about any possibilities beyond that. "Without an original band member, I've got my doubts," he said. "We're not going to turn it loose to nobody who would ruin the name, let it get out there and have no respect for the name."
Rossington weathered several health issues leading up to heart surgery in 2021, including a 2015 heart attack. He revealed in 2018 that doctors had been urging him to stop touring for 15 years; the guitarist said he chose to rely on a “battery of nitroglycerin pills to stay alive."
“I’ve had heart attacks onstage a lot,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in 2018. His growing feelings of mortality were a factor in the group's decision to begin the Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour that same year.
"That's why I was calling it a farewell tour - I don't know if I'll be here," Rossington explained. "I don't want to just say, 'Well, we're never going to end,' because I don't want to die and then it end that way – which is a heavy thing to talk about, but I have to."
Even though the band’s initial plans to call it quits changed, Johnny Van Zant told The Florida-Times Union in 2022 that they would probably be “hanging it up” within a year. “We’re going to retire from touring,” he said.