As a founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, guitarist Gary Rossington is true rock and roll survivor.
Away from his work in Skynyrd as a touring and recording act, Gary has answered the persistent call of his fan base and teamed up again with his wife, Dale, to cut the new album Take It On Faith.
Dale, an integral part of the Skynyrd touring troupe for years, also was a member of the Rossington-Collins Band who scored several hits in the early ‘80s, notably “Don’t Misunderstand Me.” Joined by guests Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, the late Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward and Delbert McClinton among others, Take It On Faith picks up the stylistic thread from that band and expands its musical palette with a tuneful array of colors and textures that evoke the bluesy spirit of timeless rock and roll.
Rock Cellar: How did this project come together?
Gary Rossington: Well, it was some years back that we had a little free time and Skynyrd wasn’t touring. Our management and a lot of the fans have talked to Dale and I and asked when we were gonna do something again together like the Rossington-Collins Band so we just decided to go in and do it.
We got a few blues songs together — we like listening to blues when we’re off the road — and we got a few other songs together and wrote some and decided to put it out for our fans. We love it.
Rock Cellar: You’ve worked with each other in Lynyrd Skynyrd for many years. On this kind of project do you find that there’s a creative ESP between the two of you because of your personal chemistry? Or is there a little creative give-and-take that flavors the project?
Gary Rossington: We listen to things and agree on certain types of music but we agreed to do it together. There’s no push and shove or anything like that. We’ve been married so long that we work things out pretty quick. So we just went and did it and it was really spontaneous. Some of the songs we picked we just heard once and went in and recorded them.
Rock Cellar: Dale, when you first met Gary, what impressed you the most about his from a musical standpoint?
Dale Krantz Rossington: Oh my goodness, it almost takes my breath away when I think about the first time I saw him. It was the kind of magic that was always on stage with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Every single one of those men were so electric, it was just so amazing to watch and to listen to. But of course he was the most beautiful of them all and that didn’t hurt. (laughs)
When I first saw Skynyrd, which was the only time I got to see them perform, it was for five shows in the spring of ’77. I was singing for .38 Special and they were opening for them. I was singing with them at the time and oh my God, when I saw them play live it was just mesmerizing.
Rock Cellar: How about you Gary, what impressed you the most about Dale as a singer?
Gary Rossington: Just that she’s a great, great singer. Back when we stared the Rossington-Collins Band we didn’t want to get another male singer right off the bat and start playing because it would just be like we went on without Ronnie (Van Zant) and we didn’t want to do that at the time. We thought if we got a female lead singer that would change the look and sound of the band so that’s what we did. She was just a great singer and I loved her looks (laughs) and we got along.
We were both married earlier to different people and both of our marriages were dissolving so we decided to get together and fell in love through the music, it happened really quick.
You had success in the Rossington-Collins band in the early ‘80s. Is there a stylistic thread that connects Rossington to the Rossington-Collins Band?
Dale Krantz Rossington: I would like to say that I think at the time we were just so excited about doing a project that we didn’t try to put it back into a Rossington-Collins genre. I was a lot older and my voice had dropped a few notes. So we just went in and gave each song its own merit, but now that we’ve lived with the album for a while yeah, it seems like there is some kind of a thread to what we did before.
Gary Rossington: I was thinking that it’s her singing and the attitude of my guitar playing and that’s kind of the same but we really weren’t going in to capture the flavor of that band. We were just going in to record and have fun and lay down some stuff that we liked. Halfway through the recording of the album, we realized it might not come out because the record company had a lot of troubles and certain business people were coming in and out and changing.
We did it for ourselves at the time and I’m just happy that Loud & Proud Records got behind us and wanted to put it out.
Rock Cellar: The new album is called Take It On Faith. When did your faith in the power of rock and roll crystallize?
Gary Rossington: Well, I guess through Skynyrd we realized that our childhood and lifelong dream: to make it in a big rock and roll band. We just went on from there. We believe in God and Jesus and we’re very religious. We believe in faith and have a lot of it and it just all came together through the Skynyrd days, the Rossington-Collins days and all the days since then.
As a guitar player, you can hear echoes of the late, great Paul Kossoff of Free. How did he inspire you and help shape your playing?
Gary Rossington: Paul Kossoff was a big influence. All of us in Skynyrd just loved Free. Me and Ronnie and Allen (Collins), we had Skynyrd going but we hadn’t made it yet. We were in Jacksonville, Florida and we heard that this band called Free was coming into town to play a show. They played at a skating rink of all places and after people were done skating, they had a concert.
We went to the show and we saw Paul Kossoff and Paul Rodgers, Simon (Kirke) and Andy (Fraser). We just couldn’t believe how great they were — and inspirational, too. We left and after that show, me, Ronnie and Allen decided to really get serious and work hard and dedicate our lives to making it. So they were a big reason why we kept going and really got going in the beginning.
Paul Kossoff is just so cool. He had such great vibrato and he left a lot of space in his playing. He wouldn’t overplay and put a hundred notes in a place where a few would do the trick.
Guitar playing is really about what you don’t play, that’s what matters.
Rock Cellar: Dale, what’s the one song on Take It On Faith that keeps drawing you back?
Dale Krantz-Rossington: Oh gosh. We’re playing some of the slower ones off the album to begin with, “Take It On Faith” and “Through My Eyes,” which is a pretty simple slow love song. But there’s one fun and crazy one called “Dance While You’re Cookin’.” I kind of cheated a little on that one; that song is more me singing to me daughters. O it could be them singing it (laughs). Obviously, it’s just a fun song about keeping your attitude strong and never giving up if you can help it. It’s just a fun, fun song and I hope that people will get to hear that one.
Rock Cellar: Lynyrd Skynyrd opened for the Who on their 1973 Quadrophenia tour. What are your most indelible memories?
Gary Rossington: The first time we played with the Who was the Cow Palace in San Francisco for Bill Graham. We were coming from playing clubs and high school dances. We were just a club band really. After we did our first album, Pete Townshend heard it and said he’d like us to open for them.
The first night at the Cow Palace, Keith Moon got dosed with some kind of drug; I’m not sure exactly what it was. Anyhow, he got dosed and during the show he collapsed and couldn’t even play; he couldn’t even walk, he was so out of it. So they came to our dressing room and asked if our drummer, Bob Burns, would play with them. He was so scared and we were all freaked out because it was The Who.
It blew our minds that we were playing with them anyway. It freaked us out and that’s when we started drinking. So that night when Keith couldn’t play, Pete got up on the mike and asked if there was anybody out there in the audience who could play drums. It was kind of a joke but some guy jumped up and he happened to know all of the Who songs. He was a drummer and he played with them like Keith Moon would have. It was unbelievable.
We really hit off with the Who. At that first show at the Cow Palace, we didn’t try to meet them; we didn’t want to bother them and act like groupies because we were so excited to be playing with them. They were our idols as well as the Beatles and Stones and people like that. All the bands from England were the coolest thing happening.
It was my birthday, which was how we got to be friends. We didn’t go to see them, they came down to see us. They had heard somewhere it was one of our birthdays and they came in and saw the birthday cake and they picked it up and smashed in on me before we went out. So there was cake all over my shirt and pants. It was crazy. I wiped it off real quick and went out and played. We just connected like that and we really didn’t drink that much but when we saw all those people at the Cow Palace, it freaked us out and we started drinking and soon developed a reputation as a drinking band.
But being on that tour with the Who really helped our career immensely. They were just great, fun guys and we got to fly every day with them and hang around with them during the day plus at sound check and the show. So we got to be pretty friendly. When you’re on the road you kind of hang who you’re with.
Rock Cellar: Like most of your contemporaries, you’re a big Led Zeppelin fan.
Gary Rossington: Oh yeah. Jimmy Page is so unique and original as a guitar player. I first became a fan of his when he was with the Yardbirds. That’s when I first heard Jimmy and started following his work. Led Zeppelin came out a couple of years ahead of Skynyrd and we learned so much from Jimmy. He was such an inspiration to me and Allen Collins. We used to try and figure out all the Yardbirds and Zeppelin songs.
We’d stay up all night listening to Zeppelin and thinking it was the best thing since sliced bread. Skynyrd played all of those Zeppelin songs in clubs in our earliest days. Ronnie (Van Zant), myself and Allen (Collins) and all of the original Skynyrd guys, loved them. We were a Zeppelin copy band, a Doors copy band, The Stones, Cream and Free, we did ‘em all.
All of us in Skynyrd loved John Bonham. My God, he’s one of the best drummers that ever lived!
What made him great was that he was so solid and straight-forward. Just the way he kept a beat. If you listen to some of their songs he wouldn’t even do a roll, he just kept a straight beat. He didn’t need to do a bunch of fancy rolls like other drummers. He’d do little accents with his snare, bass drum and cymbals that would blow your mind.
Rock Cellar: Did Zeppelin influence Skynyrd’s music?
Gary Rossington: They influenced us a lot as far their music, their style and their attitude. Ronnie didn’t try and couldn’t sing like Robert Plant. Allen (Collins) did try to play a lot like Jimmy Page in his solo on “Freebird.”
On some of the riffs we did later on we had Page in the back of our minds as an inspiration. We weren’t trying to copy him, we were just learning from him.
We were inspired by him, just like Keith Richards inspired people or the Beatles inspired everybody.
I saw Zeppelin live twice in Jacksonville, Florida at The Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum. We had a band then, I think we were called Lynyrd Skynyrd but we could have been still going by the name The One Percent. I remember Jethro Tull opened for them and they were great but everybody kept in their seats. When we saw Zeppelin they blew our minds because all of the girls ran up to the stage. Until then everybody stayed in their seats and just listened to bands. Zeppelin was just unbelievable. They came out and played so good. Page broke out the violin bow and started going…(imitates sounds) We thought that was so cool.
Rock Cellar: You hung out with Zeppelin in the ‘70s?
Gary Rossington: A year or two after we saw Zeppelin in Jacksonville, we went on a two-week tour with the Who. This was back in ’73 and our first album, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd had came out. We ran into Zeppelin at the Hyatt House in L.A. That’s when everybody was drunk and partying and throwing TV’s out the windows. (laughs) It was a crazy party, the whole floor would be partying.
Like the movie Almost Famous, we were in some room on that floor with everybody. We didn’t meet them formally. We never really got that close to them. We were younger than everyone and kind of in awe. We’d see them in the hotel coming in and out, getting in their limos. That was real exciting because we were fans. We didn’t want to bother them and run up and talk to them because they had so many fans around them. As a matter of fact, Cameron Crowe, who was a great friend of ours and wrote Almost Famous, he was with us back in those days. He was amazed at it all. We were all just kids.
Rock Cellar: Lynyrd Skynyrd were one of rock’s hardest working bands. There’s a story that to become good, you need to put in a requisite 10,000 hours.
Gary Rossington: Yeah, I like that. We worked really hard and rehearsed all the time. That’s how we thought we could make it, by getting better and better and being tight and to get each song right, note for note.
We got solos ready before we would record them so we knew what we were gonna do. We just worked really hard to do that and we had a work ethic that was taught to us by our parents; work for what you believe in and go for the American dream. We were all from poor, middle-class and under families and we thought by working really hard we’d make it — and it happened. I love the 10,000 hours theory; it’s true whether it’s with athletes or artists or pickers that sing, everybody.
Me and Allen Collins used to sit in a room and play all day and then eat and play some more and then eat and play some more and then go to sleep.
Rock Cellar: The riff and solos in “Freebird” are chiseled in granite in rock’s Mount Rushmore. Go into any guitar store and you’ll hear young and old playing that riff and solo. Did you get a sense that “Freebird” was special when recording it or did it come into its own while performing it in concert? Why does it still endure decades after you cut it?
Gary Rossington: Well, as for “Freebird,” we actually played it live for a year or two before we recorded it. We wrote it really early in our career. It’s such an honor that it’s one of the top played songs on radio and is now considered a classic so to speak. It’s great for me because I see what’s happened with the song over all of these years.
It’s unfortunate that Allen and Ronnie and Stevie (Gaines) and all of them aren’t here with us. They never got to see these songs take on such prominence. They were still new when they died. They never got to see them become classics and played a lot and everybody yelling “Freebird!” at concerts. Nobody got to see that. I feel so fortunate that I was able to see that.
Dale Krantz Rossington: I have to break in here … These guys even in the old days when the songs were new, the magic that they had onstage, the confidence and the intensity was so strong and serious.
Somehow I have to believe that even then they knew. I want to believe that all of them know somehow that their songs have become classics.