Interviews & Features
Gary Rossington’s Flying High
Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist and his wife step out and Take It On Faith
By Gary Graff
November 4, 2016
Gary Rossington helped form Lynyrd Skynyrd back in 1964 in Jacksonville, Florida, and now he’s the last man standing. He’s survived the group’s tragic 1977 plane crash, the subsequent deaths of other band members and his own health issues, and all these years later he’s still playing “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” with the passion of his 22-year-old self that recorded the song. “Gary’s The Guy,” says Johnny Van Zant, brother of the late Skynyrd frontman Ronnie Van Zant and the band’s singer himself since 1977. “He’s the link to the past, and he’s what gives us our authenticity and credibility. I don’t think you can have Lynyrd Skynyrd without Gary Rossington.”
Rossington has, in fact, done precious little outside of Skynyrd — primarily the Rossington Collins Band with late bandmate Allen Collins during the late ‘70s. Now, however, he’s stepped out with his wife, Skynyrd backing vocalist Dale Krantz-Rossington, to record Take It On Faith, a solo album produced by David Z (Prince, Buddy Guy, Etta James), who in turn assembled a lineup of players that included the late Richie Hayward of Little Feat fame, Delbert McClinton, Bekka Bramlett, Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans and others, as well as songs co-written by Gary Nicholson and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. It’s a diverse and ambitious set that lets the Rossingtons stretch out a bit from the usual Skynyrd terrain, although they’re quick to assure us that their sweet home is still in the band they’ve played in for so many decades.
FGPO: So why a “solo” album now?
Rossington: Well, it was from the fans all these years, talking about the Rossington Collins Band days and would we ever do anything like that with Dale and I. And after awhile of all these meet and greets of people asking — and some of the guys in the band even mentioned: ‘Why don’t you guys do something’ — we had a little time off a few years back, so we went in and did it and it was just spontaneous, quick. It only took a couple weeks of recordings and a few overdubs and we were done. It was such a fun thing to do.
FGPO: It must be nice to know there was that kind of appetite to hear you apart from Skynyrd?
Rossington: Yeah, it was — especially for Dale, ’cause she just sings backup with Skynyrd and here she got to be out front. It was great to be recognized, and we realized the Rossington Collins Band did pretty good back then. Everybody knows us and knew of us, and they just wanted to hear more. So I grabbed her and we went in and did it.
FGPO: The early word was this was going to be a blues album.
Rossington: Actually we went to do an all blues album, just a quick blues album, just kind of different than Skynyrd — not that I don’t love Skynyrd. That’s my whole life. So we did a few blues songs, and then we started writing some that weren’t quite in the vein of blues. But they were different-sounding, so we recorded them, too, and it turned into more than just blues.
FGPO: What made Take It On Faith different than the Rossington Collins Band, besides the obvious absence of Allen?
Rossington: Well, back then it was still our whole [Skynyrd] band, really — Leon [Wilkeson] and Billy [Powell]. It was a lot of the guys from Skynyrd except for the drummer and one other guitar player and it didn’t sound all that different from Skynyrd. This one was more ourselves and studio cats.
FGPO: Some pretty great studio cats, too. What was it like to play with a whole group of different musicians after all these years in the Skynyrd fold?
Rossington: We just loved the guys, just the guys we were writing with and the players, who were really good studio cats. A lot of them lived in Nashville and David Z rounded them up for us and thought they would be good to play with us. The personalities were different so it sounds different. Nothing was worked up; We just kind of went in and did it, and it was just a whole lot different than a Skynyrd album.
FGPO: What did you get to do differently as a guitarist for this album?
Rossington: On “Take It On Faith,” the song, I got to play my dobro, and then I actually took a few different guitars up there to play in Nashville. I’d use a big EL35 from Gibson and I used a Stratocaster and I used different guitars. I didn’t use my Les Paul a lot, maybe on half of it. And I tried to get some different kind of sounds to sound different than Skynyrd. I guess my playing sounds the same, but I tried to get a few different sounds and stuff and took a few different guitars in.
FGPO: There seems to be some different phrasing in your playing on some of these songs, though.
Rossington: Right. I think when you go play a song someone else wrote, you feel different and you play a little different than the same exact style you have with your own stuff. I tried to play a little different so it wouldn’t sound exactly the same. That was my mindset, sure.
FGPO: Will the two of you go on tour to support this album?
Rossington: We’ll go. If someone wants it or the record company or the management comes up with something, we’ll do it. It’s fun to play these days. But Skynyrd is our life, y’know? It’s got to work with that.
FGPO: Now that you have Take It On Faith out, are there any plans to take Skynyrd back into the studio?
Rossington: Well, there’s nothing really planned yet. We’ve been talking about it a lot. We can do a new CD; we might do a new one next year, actually. We’ve been talking about it, just to put online and streaming. The record business is so different nowadays. We’re in the middle of trying to get a movie out about Skynyrd, the early days. It’s gonna be really hard unless they get it right, but we’ll see. It’s early; we’ve only had one meeting with the guys for that so far.
FGPO: You had to cancel some Skynyrd shows this year to deal with your health problems. How are you feeling now?
Rossington: Actually I feel great, man. I had some heart trouble; I guess people heard about it or read about it. I’m still carrying in from that; I worry more about it, but everything’s good and we hope to keep keeping on a little while longer. I’m sure we’ll end up doing a farewell tour in the next few years; I don’t know when, exactly, but we’re getting old here. Touring’s gotten to be harder, but we still love it. It’s just a gas to play to people and see their expression and their feelings. It’s just a dream come true.
FGPO: Have you considered succumbing to the health issues at all?
Rossington: Yeah, sure, but it’s just like the title of the album. I just take every day on faith. I guess when it’s my time, I’m ready. I’d rather be playing and living life up than…Like Neil Young said, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. I’d rather just burn out in the next 10 years than sit in a rocking chair and look at the trees blowing in the wind. It’s just in my blood, y’know? I’m just an old guitar player, and we’ve spent our whole lives and the 10,000 hours of working to understand how to play and do it. So I think once you’ve got something going for yourself you should keep it up and keep your craft going. When you retire, what’s next? I like to fish, but how much of that can you do, right? So I want to keep doing what I do now.
FGPO: You’re also Skynyrd’s last man standing. That puts you in charge of the legacy, doesn’t it?
Rossington: I guess so, yeah. I think we’re blessed to be able to play and share our music and our band and the stories of Skynyrd and talk about Ronnie, Allen and Steve [Gaines] and all the guys — Billy and Leon now, too, all the guys that have left us. We talk about them and we play, and it’s just a great thing to do. Since the plane crash, I’m just thankful to still be here and try to make my way through this life.