Gary Rossington and Lynyrd Skynyrd are one of TESLA’s biggest inspirations. There’s been so many heartfelt statements made in the press over the past few days about Gary Rossington since his passing, and rightfully so because Gary Rossington was a man and musician that was truly unique to himself, and an example of strength and simplicity. His style was always very stoic and real, and it was reflected in the music he created since their very beginnings.
I once heard an interview with Gary from years ago where he said his mother told him early in his life to always “just be yourself” and he always did just that as expressed in the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Simple Man”. He was never one to show off technical skills or overplay yet his onstage presence was mesmerizing by just being himself. Gary’s guitar tone was smooth, and he would bend notes from the gut better than any shredder. Every guitar solo he played was an integral part of the song itself. I can remember clearly hearing his soulful Free Bird slide guitar intro on the FM radio in our Chevy when I was a little kid back in the 1970’s. I was drawn to that sound more so than the legendary fast riffing guitar solos at the end of the tune. There were so many great guitar songs on the radio during that era but when Free Bird and Gary’s crying slide part came on in the car, the volume knob on the pioneer super tuner got cranked up! 20 years later when our band TESLA toured as the opening act for Lynyrd Skynyrd for a full summer in the mid 1990’s, we’d make a point every night to leave our dressing room and stand on Gary’s side of stage to get a dose of his beautiful slide guitar tone, and to this day that guitar melody still makes me feel something inside my heart that no other piece of music does. This is the ultimate goal of a songwriter or guitarist, to create an original song or guitar part that touches people’s souls forever. Gary Rossington did that with his guitar and songwriting.
I was asked if I had any road stories about touring with Gary, and many come to mind. On the last night of the ‘94 tour JK and I were invited to jam onstage in Atlanta GA to play “Call Me The Breeze” and when it came time to play the first guitar solo, Gary came over to me and gave me a swift kick in the butt to get up front of the stage and play my guitar! That section was usually his solo part, but he gave it to me with a kicking gesture and a nod. Gary was usually a very unspoken man of few words, not really saying very much verbally but he never hesitated to give a smile, tip of a hat, nod, slap or firm handshake. Later that night after the Atlanta show we all ended up in Johnny Van Zant’s hotel room partying until the sun came up, spending hours drinking beers and taking turns slapping the crap out of each other with a game of “slap hand.” It was obvious that Gary and the boys had played this game for many years because I couldn’t get a slap in on Gary once! My hands were beat red from Gary’s quick smacks! I’ll never forget that night and that game. We had so much fun with the Lynyrd Skynyrd guys and when we’ve crossed paths over the years, Gary always made a point to tip his hat to say hey to us TESLA boys. We send our love and respects to his wife Dale, and ALL of the Lynyrd Skynyrd family at this time. Thank you for sharing so much with the world, not only with your amazing songs but with your friendship, realness and honesty. Gary Rossington… your simple style and surviving legacy will always inspire me and TESLA to continue on in this world of music.
Thank you, brother.
Frank Hannon and TESLA