As the lone surviving founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, guitarist Gary Rossington says he’s profoundly moved by the release of “God & Guns,” the Southern rock icons’ first set of new material in six years.
“The feeling is just overwhelming,” Rossington tells Billboard.com. “I didn’t mean to be the last original or the last one, but here it is. It’s very heavy. I’m just extra lucky to still be here…so I feel a responsibility to carry on the Skynyrd name and let people hear our music, newcomers and old, as long as they want to hear it.”
Skynyrd has lost four members this decade. Leon Wilkeson, the group’s bassist since 1972, died from emphysema and liver disease in 2001. Guitarist Hughie Thomasson suffered a fatal heart attack in 2007 (after he’d left Skynyrd to re-form his original band, the Outlaws), and keyboardist Billy Powell passed away in January from a suspected coronary arrest. Ean Evans, Wilkeson’s replacement, died in May after being diagnosed with cancer in late 2008.
Rossington says losing Powell was particularly hard. “I’d been with him so long, and we’re family — we were together more than with our families, probably,” he explains. “I can’t remember a time without Billy.” But the guitarist, who’s suffered his own health problems in recent years but says he feels “great” now, is happy that all four of the musicians are represented on “God & Guns,” which comes out Tuesday (Sept. 29). “They all played on it, somewhere,” Rossington notes. “So we wanted to finish it for them. They wanted it to come out and they wanted (the band) to go on and keep going, so it really kicked us in the butt to hunker down and get it finished, finally.”
Skynyrd recorded “God & Guns” in Nashville with producer Bob Marlette (Shinedown, Ozzy Osbourne) and collaborated on several tracks with Rob Zombie guitarist John5. Zombie guests on backing vocals for the song “Floyd,” while the album’s two closing songs, meanwhile, pay tribute to the fallen band members, with “Storm” nodding to Evans and “Gifted Hands” saluting Powell.
Skynyrd, which spent the summer on the road with Kid Rock, will celebrate the release of “God & Guns” with an Oct. 1 show at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. The group then kicks off five weeks of U.S. dates on Oct. 15 in Toledo. Rossington says the band may also play more dates with Rock in 2010.
“I’ve always heard that the reason you fall is to get back up and keep going,” Rossington explains. “So when that happens or life throws you bad breaks or curves or deals you the wrong hand, all I’ve ever known is to keep going. That’s the way we felt in the original band, so I guess that’s still in my heart.”