Ed King wasn’t a founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd and he wasn’t with them on October 20th, 1977 when their plane crashed and killed frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and several others. But the bassist/guitarist — who died of cancer this week — was in Lynyrd Skynyrd when they recorded their first three albums, playing on classics like “Free Bird,” “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps” and their immortal classic “Sweet Home Alabama,” which he co-wrote.
“We wrote that song in half an hour,” King told Classic Bands in 2006. “The song came real quick. I started off with that riff and Ronnie was sitting on the edge of the couch, making this signal to me to just keep rolling it over and over. Finally, after maybe 10 to 15 minutes, he got up and sang a verse and a chorus. Then, I just put the song together. I knew where to take it. It wasn’t very difficult.”
King — who was also a member of the 1960s psychedelic band Strawberry Alarm Clock and co-wrote (without credit) their hit “Incense and Peppermints — quit the band in May of 1975 after the tension between him, Van Zant and their manager became too much for him to handle. “I was out of my mind for quitting,” he said. “Ronnie was drinking a lot. It was just an unpleasant situation. I never drank, but I was into drugs pretty good. I had gotten fed up with frankly all the violence.”
He returned to the group in 1987 for their reunion tour, but left in 1996 because of a heart ailment that eventually forced him to receive a transplant. The group continued to tour at a punishing pace after he left, and in 2006 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame they invited every living ex-member to perform with them, including King. “I am really the luckiest guitar player in the world,” he said that night. “I was privileged to play with Ronnie Van Zant. I wrote the one great lick [to ‘Sweet Home Alabama’] and it was god’s gift to me. When I saw Solomon Burke play tonight I felt like the fat guy at his first night at Shawshank. ‘I don’t belong here!’ I’m a very lucky guitar player.”
Popular on Rolling Stone
The group then put aside all their differences to perform “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird,” which you can watch right here. King played in a Skynyrd cover band after this with other ex-members of the group, but this was the final time he was onstage with what remains of the actual band.