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Lynyrd Skynyrd keeps its "Free Bird" flying, proudly

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Friday, August 28, 2015

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During a year in which Lynyrd Skynyrd's heritage is being widely celebrated, guitarist Gary Rossington says that, "I thank God every day that I'm so blessed to still be here and be around to see it."

He doesn't say that lightly, either.

Rossington, 63, is the sole surviving founding member of the legendary Southern rock band -- and, of course, a survivor of the 1977 plane crash that killed three members and put the group out of commission for a decade. Skynyrd has been going strong since its return to active duty in 1987, however, and Rossington says he feels a responsibility to his fallen comrades -- from the crash and subsequently -- to keep the group alive.

"Unfortunately Ronnie (Van Zant) and Allen (Collins) and the others never got the chance to see that people really liked our music," Rossington explains. "We had a dream to make it in a band and try to be good, and it came true. But right when it was happening we had the plane crash.

"So they never got to see that 'Free Bird' was a classic rock song. It wasn't classic back then; it was still new. And 'Sweet Home Alabama,' we thought it would be alright, a song for that year, but we never dreamed it would be played 40 years later.

"So (the success) gives us a chance to talk about Ronnie and Allen and Steve (Gaines) and Bob Burns and Leon (Wilkeson) and Billy (Payne) and all the guys that aren't with us anymore and tell people how important they were and how much a part of this they were. We keep them alive that way."

Skynyrd's latest releases certainly tap into that heritage. Earlier this year the group released "Sweet Home Alabama" from a 1996 concert on Germany`s "Rockpalast" TV show with bonus tracks from 1974. More important, however, is "Lynyrd Skynyrd -- One More For the Fans!," a CD/DVD set from an all-star tribute concert last Nov. 12 at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta -- where Skynyrd recorded its 1976 live album "One More From the Road."

The group was joined and feted by the likes of Gregg Allman, Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick, Charlie Daniels and many more, and Rossington says it was nothing but "a great evening. It was a tribute to the music, and everybody who came, all our friends and the great artists who were there that did the songs were just great. It was very humbling, and I was in awe of all those guys and to hear Gregg Allman and certain people I've admired sing 'Tuesday's Gone' a little bluesy, it was just a great thing."

Rossington and Skynyrd -- fronted these days by Ronnie Van Zant`s younger brother Johnny -- has its eye on the future as well. The guitarist says the group has "been offered a couple of deals" for a follow-up to 2012's Last of a Dyin' Breed," which has provided motivation to start working on some fresh material.

"We've been writing a little bit here and there," Rossington says, "and through the years we've written songs we never really used, maybe didn't have enough time to record them or something. So we're gonna do some new material here. I'm not sure when it's gonna come out -- probably record in the fall and put it out next year. That's what we're hoping for, at least."

Lynyrd Skynyrd and Chris Stapleton

8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29.

DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township.

Tickets are $21-$66 pavilion, $15 lawn with a $48 lawn four-pack.

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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