If you thought the death of Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s sole surviving original member, last Sunday would bring the Southern rock band’s 52-year career to a close, you only had to be at the Plant City Strawberry Festival in Florida Sunday night. Lynyrd Skynyrd took the stage a week after their founding guitarist’s death at 71 to play all the hits, from “What’s Your Name” and “Gimme Three Steps” to the one-two show-closing punch of “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.”
But the group also paid tribute to Rossington with a mid-show performance of “Tuesday’s Gone,” setting the song to images of the late guitarist, who, in 1964, formed the earliest version of the band that became Lynyrd Skynyrd with singer Ronnie Van Zant and drummer Bob Burns. Rossington would go on to survive the 1977 plane crash that killed Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines and ultimately broke up the band. After a 10-year hiatus, the group reformed in 1987 with Ronnie’s younger brother Johnny Van Zant as lead singer, kicking off a 36-year (and counting) second act that’s seen various members shuffle through the lineup.
Rossington’s health kept him off the road in recent months — his final performance with Lynyrd Skynyrd was a PBS taping at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium last November — and the group tapped guitarist Damon Johnson to fill in. Johnson played with Skynyrd in Florida on Sunday night, rounding out the band’s three-guitar attack opposite Rickey Medlocke (a member since 1996) and Mark Matejka (who joined in 2006). When the band performed “Free Bird,” Rossington’s first name was projected on a screen next to those of other fallen Skynyrd members.
Last fall, Rossington talked to Rolling Stone about classic bands that carry on with just a few, if any, original members. “I look out and don’t see the original band — it’s strange. And then I look out and see a replacement for me, which is strange. Just hearing the songs without me playing on ’em live is very strange,” he said. “So there’s 101 strange things happening. But to see the younger people enjoying it makes your heart warm.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s next show is set for April 29 in Brandon, Mississippi. This summer, they’ll join ZZ Top — who also soldiered on with a replacement after founding member Dusty Hill died in 2021 — on a joint tour. The Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour begins July 21 in West Palm Beach, Florida, and runs through September.
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