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For Rossington, Skynyrd Tour Honors Memories

September 26, 1987|DUNCAN STRAUSS

Don't use the words anniversary and reunion around Lynyrd Skynyrd founder Gary Rossington.

Never mind that 10 years after a plane crash killed three members of the Southern Rock powerhouse, the survivors, plus some other members who had left the band before the crash, have come together for a 30-date tour, including stops Sunday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and Monday at the Universal Amphitheatre. And never mind that there is a new album, "Legend," collecting previously unreleased and non-album tracks.

"We hate the terms anniversary or reunion ," Rossington, a guitarist, said, "because those are like happy occasions--and this is not happy."

The Oct. 20, 1977, crash killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup vocalist Cassie Gaines, thereby ending the group's career.

"So many people--so many promoters and record people at MCA (Skynyrd's longtime label) and other people for years have wanted us to get back together," Rossington said from his Wyoming home. "So in October, we were just going to do a one-show thing but it turned into a tribute tour because, 10 years later, the music's still being played on the radio and it's still requested and it's still selling real good. So we're just kind of doing this as a tribute to the fans and the band and the music."

If that sounds a bit like party-line puffery, Rossington is also honest enough to concede the validity of a devil's-advocate view: The careers of most people involved in the "tribute" haven't exactly flourished since Skynyrd disbanded, so the current projects could be seen as intended to give them a shot in the arm--or at least a shot in the bank account.

"Well, I guess you could look at it like that. We haven't but . . . (my) band Rossington is opening the shows, so of course it's going to be good exposure," Rossington said.

"We're launching--or not launching our career off it, but it's going to help. And (Ronnie's brother) Johnny Van Zant, who's going to be doing the singing--I think he's getting a band together. This'll help him. . . . But that's not the reason we're doing it.

"It just feels right and all the guys in the band wanted to do it. It's more than just the money--of course, there'll be money involved, but there are a lot of things involved. Actually, it's just fun to play for the people."

The feeling seems to be mutual, at least judging by the response Skynyrd generated on the first stop of this tour, earlier this month at Charlie Daniel's 13th Annual Volunteer Jam in Nashville--only the second concert for the band since the crash, the first coming at the 1979 Volunteer Jam. By all accounts--despite some fiery sets by such rockers as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mason Ruffner and Daniels himself--Lynyrd Skynyrd clearly stole the show.

"You could hear 16,000 people singing, and it sounded like a million," Rossington recalled of the otherwise instrumental version of "Free Bird," performed behind an empty microphone in tribute to Ronnie Van Zant. "We were surprised. We didn't think they would all sing it that much. It was real emotional."

But despite that bond between the band and its fans, Rossington maintained that when the tour concludes, so will the re-formed Skynyrd.

"That's the end," he said. "But, you know, if you'd asked me two or three years ago if this (tour) would happen, I would've said no. So I'm not going to say no now. But there are no plans; this is just a tribute to Skynyrd, the music and the fans--10 years later. . . . The last thing that we did together as a group was have a plane crash. Now we're going to go out and do a good tour."

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