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Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rossington keeping the flame aloft

Lynyrd Skynyrd's Gary Rossington (center, white jacket) will be inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in October. Photo credit: Clay Patrick McBride

Lynyrd Skynyrd's Gary Rossington (center, white jacket) will be inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in October. Photo credit: Clay Patrick McBride

As the last remaining original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Rossington knows about teetering on the brink of extinction.

That the iconic Southern rock band named its most recent album – its 13th studio release – “Last of a Dyin’ Breed” also speaks to the mortality of rock ‘n’ roll as a certain generation knows it.

“With the Internet, it’s mostly pop stars out there like Justin Bieber and Katy Perry and hip-hop and rap. The old blues bands and touring bands from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, we ARE a dying breed. We’re not alone,” Rossington said last week, checking in before the band’s album-signing appearance at the FYE record store in Lawrenceville.

The title track of Skynyrd’s new album, though, is actually about bikers, which the band sees plenty of when touring.

The “Skynyrd Nation,” as Rossington calls them, stretches three generations now, with multiple age ranges hoisting lighters to “Free Bird” and shouting the choruses of classic rock staples “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Gimme Three Steps.”

Those loyalists will likely be on hand Saturday when Lynyrd Skynyrd plays a free show at Turner Field after the 4 p.m. Braves game.

Rossington said no matter how many thousands of times he’s played the memorable slide guitar run in “Free Bird,” it always feels like, as Foreigner might say, the first time.

“People love to hear the old songs. They get all emotional for ‘Free Bird’ and ‘Tuesday’s Gone.’ Sometimes you see people crying,” he said. “The music is always for the people. We’ll do a couple of new songs as a little change up for us and the crowd, but we love the older stuff, too. We want to keep the name alive and talk about our brothers who aren’t with us anymore.”

Skynyrd famously lost three of its members in a 1977 plane crash, including singer Ronnie Van Zant. Since 1987, Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny, has carried lead vocal duties.

Lynyrd Skynyrd has survived other challenges as well, such as the 2009 deaths of longtime keyboardist Billy Powell and then-bassist Ean Evans. Peter Keys replaced Powell and this year, after the departure of bassist Robert Kearns, former Black Crowes/Train bassist Johnny Colt has taken over on the four-string.

Rossington is convinced that there was a little spiritual help in the arrival of the band’s recent new members.

“Peter, God bless him, he plays everything like Billy did. And Johnny says he grew up listening to Skynyrd and plays a lot like Ean. They were kinda sent to us, I think. I feel the [deceased band members] a lot on stage and recording. I think they helped us find these guys,” Rossington said.

Though he’s a Jacksonville native, Rossington, 60, has lived in Atlanta for about 15 years, having moved here from Jackson Hole, Wyo.

His allegiance to Georgia – “Most Southern bands would say they’re from Atlanta because we all spent so much time here,” he said – will be rewarded in October when Rossington is inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and receive a songwriter award.

“I was almost in shock that they would ask me,” Rossington said about his reaction to the news. “I just thank who I’m writing with now, Johnny and [longtime guitarist] Rickey [Medlocke]. In the beginning, I always wrote with Ronnie. I had a lot of great partners. I’ll take the award, but I have to share it with all of them.”

After bringing those well-worn songs to fans in the U.S. through October, Lynyrd Skynyrd will head to Europe.

This week, the band is scheduled to play the Republican National Convention, a gig that Rossington said wasn’t politically motivated, but a charity benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project to show their support for the troops.

“We’re not really big Republicans or Democrats. We’ve got both in the band. We have a lot of opinions, but basically we say, if you like the way the country is now, vote that way. If you want change, vote the other way. If the Democratic convention would have asked us to play, we would have done that, too. We’re Americans, first and foremost,” he said.

As for Saturday’s post-baseball game concert, Rossington is ready to root for the home team.

“I can’t wait –we’re going to watch the game before the show. I’m a big Braves fan,” he said. “I love the Yankees, too. As a little boy, I played Little League and idolized Mickey Mantle, but the Braves are my number one team. I’m gonna wear my Chipper Jones jersey.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd performs Saturday after the Braves game (which begins at 4 p.m.) at Turner field. Concert is free (general admission seating) with game ticket. Separate passes for field access are $25. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com, www.braves.com.

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By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene

[I'm on with my rock 'n' roll pal Kaedy Kiely at 97.1 The River every Wednesday at 6:50 and 7:50 a.m. to talk about the latest rock news. Tune in to see what's up!]

10 comments Add your comment

Steve-o

August 28th, 2012
1:11 pm

Play it pretty for Atlanta!!!

Bill

August 28th, 2012
10:25 pm

May be one of the last times to see them. You never know. Wouldn’t miss it!

Skynyrd Nation

August 29th, 2012
7:02 am

They’ll be hotter than a fox in a forest fire …

Van Jones

August 29th, 2012
7:36 am

Gary Rossington, the last of the last playing some of the most iconic riffs in rock history.

Homer the Bravew

August 29th, 2012
8:15 am

A true rock band that still plays real music with real feeling. Not like little pretty boy Bieber and that garbage of today. Bet you won’t be hearing Bieber in 20 years……

Smokewagon

August 29th, 2012
8:17 am

Been waiting on this one. Will be my 8th time seeing them since the 70’s. My 20 y.o. son even asked to go to this one.

Swamper

August 29th, 2012
8:42 am

Gary is a true living legend. I’ve been a big fan since they provided the soundtrack to my childhood but never seen them live. I hope to change that this Saturday.

Curtis Lowe

August 29th, 2012
11:16 am

Ronnie, Allen, Steve, Leon & Billy have left us for Rock-n-Roll heaven; but this present edition, staffed with excellent musicians, can rock with the best of them, and they perform a fine representation of the classic music created by the founders of this truly American & legendary band.

Play it pretty for Atlanta !

A Skynyrd / Allman Bros concert would be nice !

Mitch Kumstein

August 29th, 2012
1:06 pm

Still weep like a little boy every time I hear “Simple Man”

They were the soundtrack of my high school years and I was lucky enought to see them 2 of the 3 shows at the Fox in ‘78

Shane Marelli

September 3rd, 2012
8:00 pm

Congrats to All the Band members on their lastest release; I had understood that it debuted at the highest $ amount; for the band since like 1977?

I also would like to extend my thanks to the band for giving me something to “Really” listen to!

I am soooo sick of the current “Bubble” Gum hits that dominate the radio these days. i hope at 43, I am NOT just getting Old? LOL. On a serious Note, no pun intended. The band has influenced my values, ethics and over all “Mental” state in a Positive way. This since I first heard the Band play in 1977, Then as a 7th Grader….I would play my casset tape at lunch in my history teacher’s room. No doubt, he must have been a fan with a Car plate that read, “Rebel1.”

Thanks again.

I know this sounds crazy or not true, but I have owned Every Domestic, U.S. and Box Set of Skynyrd’s of their music at least one time!!!! Many have been bought at least three times; As we all have moved from the 4 /8 track to “Digital” Itunes type Music MPEG4!

Shane Marelli,
SLC, Ut.