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ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd have shared stages several times over the years — in fact, they have a joint tour on the books for this summer. So when ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons learned that Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington died Sunday at age 71, he thought back to all the miles they traveled together on the road.
“Gary Rossington’s loss is especially profound for us as we have spent countless hours in his company on tour and at all points in between,” says Gibbons Rolling stones. “We facilitated getting Lynyrd Skynyrd on the bill with ZZ Top on a date in South Carolina way back during the band’s rise in ’73, which started a lasting friendship.”
Gibbons is a Southern rock guitar hero, and he’s thrilled by his fallen comrade’s deft playing. “Gary’s extraordinary ability as a guitarist was nothing short of inspiring. It’s an old cliché about someone who’s paid their dues to call them a ‘survivor’, and in this case, it’s literally true. Gary was the last of the breed and will be missed.”
After his death, Rossington – who survived the band’s infamous plane crash in 1977 – was the last original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd and continued to tour with the group despite ongoing heart problems. “I can still play well. It’s just the journey. It’s so hard for me,” he shared Rolling stones November last year. Nevertheless, during a performance at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium that month, he drew a rapturous response from the audience with his evocative slide guitar playing on “Free Bird,” the band’s enduring 1974 ballad.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s next live show is scheduled for Sunday, March 12 in Plant City, Florida. At previous gigs without Rossington, guitarist Damon Johnson filled in.