Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
As one of the last living members of the seminal 1970s southern rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Rossington’s place in the pantheon of Rock Gods is more than secure. And still, he grows uncomfortable when you start throwing words like “legend,” at him. “I’m just an old guitar player,” he says in his charming, Northern-Florida drawl.
Lynyrd Skynyrd are having a bit of a moment right now thanks to two different endeavors. The first is a truly revelatory new documentary about the band that premiered last week at South By Southwest called If I Leave Here Tomorrow. So much of the Skynyrd story over the last few decades has been told through two distinct lenses. One is the tragic airplane crash that brought about the initial ending of the band with the deaths of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, Steve’s sister and the band’s backup singer Cassie Gaines, and assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick in 1977. The other is the legal in-fighting amongst the different members of the band and their families over whether they should continue and if so, who should reap the financial benefits.
If I Leave Here Tomorrow jerks the story back in time to before the plane crash, when Skynyrd was a true band of brothers, honing their skills in the un-airconditioned confines of a ramshackle cabin they called the “Hell House” out in the middle of a cow pasture in Northern Florida before eventually breaking out into superstardom. You get a sense of the band as people. Hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-loving, and hard-working people; warts and all. While there’s certainly a tinge of tragedy to this story, it also reminds you what a triumph it was that they made it out of the swampy confines of Jacksonville and onto private jets in the first place.
Of course, the other event to spur some renewed Skynyrd appreciation is the news that after decades selling out some of the biggest arenas and amphitheaters around the world, the band has decided to finally hang it up after one goodbye run that they’re calling the Street Survivors Farewell Tour. Rossington has been battling several health conditions over the past few years, including a full-blown heart attack back in 2015. Though he insists he’s feeling pretty good these days, he wants to give the fans once last chance to scream “Freebird!” before finally caving to the advice of his doctors and hanging up his guitar for good.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with Rossington and get his thoughts about the new documentary, his life in Lynyrd Skynyrd, and how hard it is to walk away from it all.