Lynyrd Skynyrd founder and guitarist Gary Rossington discusses upcoming SXSW documentary

Chris Duncan

In their heyday, Lynyrd Skynyrd was a 70s Southern rock powerhouse, but after a tragic 1977 plane crash, the surviving members of the band were left without their brothers. The band has since reunited and plans a farewell tour, and in honor of the group, director Stephen Kijak created If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd. Skynyrd’s founding guitarist Gary Rossington spoke with The Daily Texan about the documentary and the band’s story.

Daily Texan: Your band’s passion for music is obvious from the beginning of the documentary. Do you think that was the key to Skynyrd’s success, and could Lynyrd Skynyrd have existed today?

Gary Rossington: It was different back then. The only way to get around was to hit the club circuit and play, let people see you live and word of mouth. Now, these days [guitar music] is secondary. It’s a shame, I wish the wheel would go around and come back to give live music and guitar players the stage… Well if you try hard enough like we did, we just had a dream and we weren’t going to let it go until it happened. Me, Ronnie and Allen, we tried so hard every day. I think it could still happen that way.

DT: The documentary begins with a brief mention of the tragic plane crash in 1977, interlacing the story of the crash throughout the film. Why did you all make that style choice?

GR: We didn’t… ask for the plane crash to be in there that much. In fact, there’s a lot of the story he didn’t get, which I’m not happy with. One being that our guitar player now Rickey [Medlocke] played drums with us for a year. I love the documentary, and I think it was made very well. [Kijak] just missed some things and picked others, whether that was intentional or not.

DT: Kijak picked the more politically-charged controversies as a key point. Do you think that those elements took your fans by surprise, or was it just Skynyrd doing Skynyrd?

GR: [Singer] Ronnie [Van Zant] said that stuff about Governor Wallace and a few different things that were sarcastic to Neil Young in “Sweet Home”. But they were cutely sarcastic, sort of true and sarcastic at the same time. Ronnie wrote whatever he was feeling or thinking, no one could really tell what he felt or meant. In reality, most of it was about the beautiful blue sky, country farmland.

DT: In a twenty minute span in the documentary, you guys go from practicing in a swamp to opening for The Who, thrown right into the limelight. Is that how you see it?

GR: [Who guitarist] Peter Townshend was a fan of ours. We were playing clubs everywhere with two to three hundred people, then our manager called, and he wanted to get us on the Who tour. We didn’t used to drink or nothin’, but when we saw 20,000 people at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, we all asked for a drink to calm us down. We needed a few shots just to go out there we were so scared.

DT: If there’s one thing you’d want people to know about Lynyrd Skynyrd, what is it?

GR: The one thing, aside from the family and the friends, is the music. The songs people through the years have loved. You can see it in the audience when we play certain songs, so many emotions we see in people. We just want the good things and the good music to get through.