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Writer of classic rock song “Sweet Home Alabama” dies

Obit Gary Rossington
FILE - Gary Rossington from the band Lynyrd Skynyrd answers questions as Ed King looks on, backstage after being inducted at the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner in New York, Monday, March 13, 2006. Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s last surviving original member who also helped to found the group, died Sunday, March 5, 2023, at the age of 71. (AP Photo/Stuart Ramson, File)

Lynyrd Skynyrd founding member Gary Rossington has died at the age of seventy one. He helped write the classic "Sweet Home Alabama" which became a mainstay musical selection during games of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Rossington died over the weekend. The band wrote on Facebook that "we lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist, Gary Rossington, today." He survived a 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines. He reunited with band members a decade later to reform the band and continue recording and touring. In later years he underwent numerous heart surgeries. No cause of death was given.

Rossington cheated death more than once. He survived a car accident in 1976 in which he drove his Ford Torino into a tree, inspiring the band's song "That Smell." In later years, Rossington underwent quintuple bypass surgery in 2003, suffered a heart attack in 2015, and had numerous subsequent heart surgeries. He left Lynyrd Skynyrd in July 2021 to recover from another procedure. Rossington was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and raised by his mother after his father died.

“Sweet Home Alabama” was written by Rossington, Van Zant and Ed King, none of whom were from Alabama. The complicated legacy of the rock classic followed the band for decades. It was originally written as a response to Neil Young's "Alabama" and "Southern Man," a critical rebuke of slavery in the South. "Sweet Home Alabama" references both Young and Alabama Governor George Wallace.

The band’s name, Lynyrd Skynyrd, was both a reference to a similarly named sports coach at Rossington's high school and to a character in the 1963 novelty hit "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” A collection of country-tinged blues-rock and Southern soul, the album included now-classics like "Tuesday's Gone," "Simple Man" and "Gimme Three Steps," but it was the closing track, the nearly 10-minute "Free Bird," that became the group's calling card, due in no small part to Rossington's evocative slide playing on his Gibson SG guitar.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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