Gary Rossington shaped the sound of Southern rock with Lynyrd Skynyrd – and his guitar style influenced everyone from the Black Crowes to Metallica

Gary Rossington
(Image credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Stagecoach)

Gary Rossington was one of the founding members of southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd. His legacy will survive for many years after his recent and untimely death in March 2023.

Born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1951 Rossington swapped a love of baseball for music, when as a teenager he heard The Rolling Stones. At the time of his death, he was the final surviving member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, a band that had suffered many losses including a plane crash in 1977 that devastated the line-up, claiming the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines. 

However, the band’s legacy had been firmly set in place with songs like Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird becoming the calling card for an entire musical genre. Many groups have taken inspiration from Rossington and Lynyrd Skynyrd, including the Black Crowes, and perhaps less obviously so, Metallica. 

Skynyrd are regularly placed in lists of the greatest and most influential artists of all time, and have gone on to sell almost 30 million records in the USA alone. Unsurprisingly, they have also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Rossington himself was inspired by artists such as Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, and it’s these blues-rock influences that can be heard in our lesson. It’s a 12-bar chord progression in the key of E major (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#) and the main rhythm guitar parts are built using single-note lines from that scale.

You’ll find a typical bluesy minor 3rd to major 3rd move (G-G#) on several occasions, and a minor 3rd to major 2nd (G-F#) as well. Additionally, another staple of the Skynyrd sound is the minor 3rd to major 3rd to root note movement, and this can be heard over the A major chord, with the notes C-C# followed by a high A.

The solo is constructed around the E minor pentatonic scale (E-G-A-B-D) for the most part, but then switches to A minor pentatonic (A-C-D-E-G) over the A chord. It also makes use of notes from B major pentatonic (B-C#-D#-F#-G#) over the B chord. 

You’ll notice a country-style 6ths phrase that moves up the scale on the third and first strings. This is another indication of the blend of styles that can be heard in southern rock, which took shape by combining rock, blues and country. 

Get the tone

Amp Settings: Gain 5, Bass 6, Middle 7, Treble 7, Reverb 3

Rossington was primarily a Gibson Les Paul player, so a humbucking tone is the best place to start. That said, a Stratocaster or Tele will work to good effect for the Lynyrd Skynyrd sound. 

A Fender or Marshall amp tone with enough grit to rock but not too much preamp saturation is the way to go, with minimal effects save for a touch of reverb and perhaps some tape delay-style echo.

Example 1. Rhythm

You’ll notice a blend of rock aggression but also some restraint and finesse in this style of guitar playing, so don’t hit the strings too hard on either the rhythm or lead parts. There’s also some hybrid picking (pick and fingers) in bars 5, 6 and 9, so work on this technique if it’s new to you.

Example 2. Lead

There’s nothing too tricky in the solo, but make sure the hammer-ons from major to minor 3rd are executed cleanly, and that your bends reach their target pitch accurately. Although quite jaunty, you’ll need to maintain a relaxed and laid-back feel here and, as always, avoid rushing!

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