Lynyrd Skynyrd Guitarist Gary Rossington Found A Sweet Home In Wyoming

Gary Rossington was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s last remaining original band member until he died in March, 2023. Although Sweet Home Alabama may be the band's most well-known song, Gary and his wife Dale, made their home in Wyoming.

JN
Jake Nichols

September 09, 202312 min read

Gary Rossington and his wife, Dale Krantz, made Jackson, Wyoming, their adopted home in their later years.
Gary Rossington and his wife, Dale Krantz, made Jackson, Wyoming, their adopted home in their later years. (Courtesy Photo)

Can any song possibly be bigger than “Sweet Home Alabama?” From the opening strains of the instantly recognizable riff (it’s a simple D-C-G progression with chicken-pickin’ hammer-ons and pull-offs) to the sing-along chorus, the legendary song is the unofficial anthem of the Deep South and a must-have arrow in any cover band’s quiver.

And Gary Rossington never tired of playing it.

The legendary guitarist who died earlier this year traded Jacksonville for Jackson, Wyoming, more than three decades ago, but will forever be linked to the seminal Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Before his death March 5, 2023, he was the last surviving member of the group and author of some of the most influential guitar licks to ever scratch their way underneath a stylus at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute.

That’s him on the unforgettable slide guitar part in “Free Bird” (he says he used a Zippo lighter). That’s Rossington’s Les Paul barking out the “Tuesday’s Gone” solo. And the riff in “Gimme Three Steps?” Yup, Rossington.

In an exclusive interview from his home in Jackson before his passing, Rossington recalled the glory years and a settling down time where he came to love Wyoming, his adopted home.

“It blows our mind every time we play and people know the songs no matter where you go,” Rossington said just before a reunion tour brought him to Jackson years ago. “I watch the faces now of the people in the first few rows. They sing the words, they cry, they jump up and down. It’s still a thrill to be able to make people feel like that after all these years.”

Gary Rossington performs with Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow Scotland on Feb. 9, 1977.
Gary Rossington performs with Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow Scotland on Feb. 9, 1977. (Getty Images)

Sweet Home Alabama

Jackson became home sweet home for Rossington beginning in the early 1980s when he and his wife, Dale Krantz-Rossington, moved to the valley. They had never been here; not on tour, not as tourists, not ever.

Like a lot of modern-day settlers, it was snow that brought the Rossingtons to Jackson, but they weren’t chasing it. They were trying to get away from it.

“We didn’t know Jackson Hole. We didn’t really know about the Tetons. We maybe heard of Yellowstone,” Rossington admitted. “I was from Florida, you know? We toured everywhere in the country but never came to Jackson.

“When Dale and I quit the Rossington-Collins Band, we went to Yellowstone on a trip. There was a freak snowstorm that hit so we came to Jackson. It was 1982, and it was the weekend of Old West Days.

“Well, God must have put us there because the weather stopped and we had a great weekend. It was then we fell in love with Jackson. We bought land, built a house, and had two daughters here and raised them here.”

The Rossingtons soon began to split time between Atlanta and Jackson. They even learned to embrace the harsh Wyoming winters.

“We just love Jackson. Who doesn’t?” Rossington said. “Once you find a place like this, it is instant love. Back in the ’80s, it was less crowded. It was really beautiful. There was no McDonald’s or any other [build up] there is now. It was so gorgeous and uncrowded. It still is, but not as much. The mountains are still the same.”

Where Are The Guitars?

Rossington’s grandkids, Morgan and Jackson, went to school in Jackson and, following in grandpa’s footsteps, played Little League baseball. Will they grow up ballplayers or musicians? Rossington didn’t worry about that so much as the music they are exposed to today.

“Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga ... the popular music people are listening to now has changed so much,” Rossington said. “There are all short songs. It’s a different time and a different scene. Music has changed.”

Pop music today needs to sell sneakers and acne cream. Guitars are a forgotten instrument. A 90-second guitar solo is a relic of the free-spirited ’60s and ’70s. Radio stations tolerate a song clocking in at more than 9 minutes like a 4-year-old enjoys a Sunday sermon. Heck, “Free Bird” was a long song in its own day.

“Some of the songs of our time are very long compared to today, but even ‘Free Bird’ in the early ’70s was too long for the industry,” Rossington said. “People at the record company and people in radio said, ‘This will never get any airplay; it’s too long.’ But we wouldn’t change it. We never cut anything. They ended up playing it anyway. Classic rock stations still play it.

“It was a long song then and still is today. Now, today, it’s all about production. I feel sorry for the kids not having real music.”

In their younger years, Rossington’s grandkids recognized Skynyrd songs when they heard them on the radio.

“They love to hear ‘Alabama,’” Rossington said. “They hear it and say, ‘That’s grandma and grandpa.’”

Gary Rossington performs in New York in 2010.
Gary Rossington performs in New York in 2010. (Getty Images)

Down South Jukin’

Rossington remembered well the time he and his bandmates first heard one of their songs played on the radio. It was “I Ain’t the One,” the first single off their debut album and a song co-written by Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant. They were overcome with glee.

“That was an exciting time — the first time we ever heard our song on the radio,” Rossington said. “It was in the ’70s and we were driving down the street and we heard it come on. We pulled over and just listened. We were like little kids, jumping all around.”

It was a dream come true for Rossington, but not his original dream. Rossington wanted to play baseball for the New York Yankees. He was a huge Mickey Mantle fan growing up. As he worked his way through Little League in Jacksonville, Florida, Rossington was sure a career on the diamond was in his future.

Then he heard The Beatles. Game over.

“Way back when, we were just playing baseball in Little League,” Rossington said. “And after we heard The Beatles, that was it. We decided to start up a band like millions of people did.”

Rossington, and a few teenage friends including eventual Skynyrd singer Van Zant, formed The Noble Five. After a few iterations including The Pretty Ones and The One Percent, the name Lynyrd Skynyrd stuck.

Crafted in jest for a high school gym teacher named Leonard Skinner, who badgered the musicians about their long hair, band members subbed in the “Y” vowels to avoid a lawsuit and created, unintentionally, the hardest rock band name for most people to spell correctly.

Rossington checked off “firsts” systematically.

  • First guitar: A Sears & Roebuck acoustic he bought by collecting Coke bottles and saving change from a paper route. He later upgraded to a 1959 Gibson Les Paul he named Bernice for his mother.

  • First big gig: A church dance at Good Shepherd’s in Jacksonville.

  • First time he partied like a rock star: A 1973 tour in support of “Pronounced ‘leh-’nérd ‘skin-’nérd,” when they opened for The Who and traveled by air to shows.

Tuesday’s Gone

Other momentous events shaped Rossington’s life, even as they took the lives of everyone around him. Hopped up on pills and booze, Rossington crashed his brand-new 1976 Ford Torino into an oak tree, delaying an upcoming tour and inspiring Van Zant to write “That Smell.” Further tragedy was right around the next bend.

On Oct. 20, 1977, a plane crash in the swamps of Mississippi took the lives of Steve Gaines, Van Zant and others. It was just days after the release of “Street Survivors,” an album poised to put the band back on top of the charts after a couple of duds. It would instead signal the end of the noble five. A day the music died.

Rossington vowed then to never resurrect Skynyrd. He battled serious drug addiction attempting to recover from injuries suffered in the crash — breaks in both arms, wrists, legs, ankles and a shattered pelvis. In 1980, he was ready to play Skynyrd songs again and formed Rossington-Collins with Skynyrd co-member Allen Collins. One thing the two agreed on: They wanted a woman to front the band.

“After the plane crash, we didn’t want to come with a male,” Rossington said. “He would always be compared to Ronnie. We decided on a female vocalist to avoid comparison.”

Rossington didn’t have to look far. Their new lead singer was singing backup with .38 Special. Van Zant’s younger brother Donnie was playing in the band and they had already opened for Skynyrd on tour in the spring of 1977.

‘A Wailing Bitch’

Dale Krantz was a brash, throaty blowtorch of a singer. She blew the boys away on audition. Collins affectionately called her “a wailing bitch” during a 1991 interview with Tony Beazley.

They didn’t know how well a female would go over with the diehard Skynyrd Nation, but if anyone could stand in Van Zant’s shadow without hogging the spotlight, it was Krantz.

Rossington got more than a new crooner. He fell in love with the Detroit diva, but it took her to propose marriage.

“She was a great singer and songwriter. We fell in love. We got married,” Rossington said.

But are the rumors true? Who asked whom?

“Yeah, she asked me. That’s how the story goes, anyway. I don’t remember to tell the truth,” Rossington admitted. “But we were seeing each other, going together and living together for a year. We were joined at the hip, so to speak.”

The couple married in Indiana, later renewing their vows in 2012 for TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress.” That took place on an annual Lynyrd Skynyrd cruise.

“We redid our vows years back on the ‘Simple Man’ cruise with a bunch of people witnessing. The whole boat was the audience. It was a big party,” Rossington remembered. “We were going to do it in Jackson but it was too hard to get everyone out there, and finding a place, and the weather.”

Gary Rossington at Georgia Music Hall of Fame awards in 2012 in Atlanta.
Gary Rossington at Georgia Music Hall of Fame awards in 2012 in Atlanta. (Getty Images)

Comin’ Home

When not on tour, Rossington said he plunked a little every day to keep sharp.

“I don’t play much when I’m off. Just a little bit every day, a few minutes to keep my fingers warmed up,” he said. “If you don’t, you get rusty and sloppy and don’t hit the notes quite the same. You don’t forget, but you are not quite as good.”

Over the years in Jackson, Rossington would drop in at clubs around the valley and jammed with whoever was on stage.

“In the ’80s, especially, I used to go to bars around town — the [Mangy] Moose, Dornan’s, Snow King — and jam with a band here and there,” Rossington said. “We played a couple of big shows at Snow King at the ice rink.”

Rossington still gets a kick out of hearing old Skynyrd songs played on the radio or by cover bands in bars. And he will never get tired of playing them.

“I guess the strangest place I’ve ever heard our music played was in Russia,” Rossington said. “The Russian Symphony Orchestra plays ‘Alabama,’ singing it in Russian. It was crazy.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd will forever be remembered for the power anthem “Free Bird.” The song clocks in at more than 14 minutes when played live, augmented by the ferocious twin-guitar soloing that is the ballad’s signature.

That six-string rampage, along with the song’s introduction into American lexicon as a random concert audience request, no matter the performer, has cemented the tune into most every Top 10 list of greatest ever.

“That song is just real special,” Rossington said. “At the time, we didn’t know it would be a hit and get the airplay it did. The solo at the end was a jam when we first wrote it, but it was all patterned out and we had been playing it for a few weeks before recording it.

“Of course, you hear it back and think you could have done this or that better. But the song is the song, it doesn’t matter.”

It may not have been perfect, but until the end Rossington still played the solo nearly note for note.

“Actually, we try to play it the same because it’s what the people want. They want to hear the song they remember from the radio,” Rossington said. “It’s stood up to time and it still goes over great every night. The older people grew up hearing these songs and they are part of their lives, the soundtrack to their lives.”

Free As A Bird

In his later years, Rossington was plagued with health issues. His legs bothered him. He had open-heart surgery in 2003.

“I’ve had a lot of health issues, but I’m hanging in there,” Rossington said in 2014. “The great doctors in Jackson Hole take good care of me. I thank God every day we are still around, and we can keep the music going and keep the dream alive.”

Rossington died March 5, 2023, in Milton, Georgia. He was 71. The cause of his death was not revealed.

A band spokesperson wrote on the official Lynyrd Skynyrd Facebook page: “Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does.”

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Jake Nichols can be reached at jake@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Jake Nichols

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