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Lynyrd Skynyrd is ready to let "Free Bird" roost for good. Maybe.
The Free Bird has taken off for one last flight.
But Gary Rossington says Lynyrd Skynyrd's Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour may stretch out much like the epic guitar jam at the end of the group's signature song, "Free Bird."
"This will take a year or two to go all the places we've been and play them one more time, so it's not like we're going away soon," Rossington, Skynyrd's sole surviving original member, says by phone. The venerable Southern rockers kicked off the tour at the beginning of May, and it will likely be two years before the troupe is playing "Free Bird," "Sweet Home Alabama" and its other iconic favorites for the final time.
"We're just winding it down a little bit," says Rossington, 66, whose health, including major heart issues, is among the reasons Skynyrd is in farewell mode now. "This is just the beginning of it. We've got to kind of say goodbye to overseas. That's a lot of touring over there, too. So it's gonna take a while.
"And who knows — maybe in two years we'll start right back, never quittin'. You can never say never, right?"
Whatever winds up happening, Skynyrd's legacy is cemented as an iconic band.
Starting all the way back in 1964 in Jacksonville, Fla., the group became a platinum, arena-filling concern during the '70s until a tragic 1977 plane crash killed three members, including frontman Ronnie Van Zant, and put the band on ice for a decade. But Skynyrd hit the road again during 1987, with Johnny Van Zant filling his older brother's shoes, and hasn't stopped since.
"I just want to make sure that music stays out there and people remember the dead guys," Rossington says, noting those ranks have grown to include nearly all of his previous bandmates during subsequent years.
All told, Skynyrd has released 14 studio albums and sold a reported 28 million records in the U.S. alone. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during 2006 and provided the inspiration for Drive-By Truckers' lauded 2001 album "Southern Rock Opera." Skynyrd was the subject of an episode on the 2016 Showtime series "Roadies," while the documentary "Lynyrd Skynyrd: If I Leave Here Tomorrow" premieres Aug. 18, also on Showtime.
"I didn't expect any of that stuff would happen — how can you?" says Rossington, whose wife, Dale Krantz-Rossington, has been one of Skynyrd's backup singers since 1987. "We were just playing rock 'n' roll, y'know, and there were a lot of bands working where we were from — the Allmans and Charlie (Daniels), Marshall Tucker, Wet Willie, the Atlanta Rhythm Section. That whole Southern Rock thing, as it was named, just took off.
"So, yeah, we never thought we'd do it this long. I sure didn't. Nobody did. It's mind-blowing to me. I'm just happy we're still doing it."
Justifiably "proud to be from the South," Skynyrd has over the years engendered some controversy over the use of the Confederate flag in its imagery. The group has since stopped, and Rossington says it was never intended to convey a provocative message.
"We didn't mean any harm or anything racist. It was just 'cause we were a southern band, and we were just really proud of that," he explains. "It was a whole scene that took off down here."
Rossington says Skynyrd is hoping to release a new studio album — its first since "Last of a Dyin' Breed" in 2012 — before the farewell tour comes to a close. "We have a lot of songs we've written through the years and we write a little bit here and there and have a few new songs we're gonna do," Rossington reports. "We're gonna write a little bit more and go in and record real quick and try to get our last CD to be the best one and work our butts of so we go out on a high note."
And the same can be said of the live shows, so that when Rossington and his mates play the "Free Bird" for the very last time they can leave the stage feeling the job has been well done — even if they wind up coming back at some point.
"I know we're going to take some time off after this farewell tour that's all planned, and then who knows?" he says. "Even, like, the Eagles and a lot of people retire for a year or two and they have to come back. It's just in your blood, y'know?
"So I don't know if it's really ever gonna end, but this is a plan to start to. Even if the touring ends we'll still do special shows and special guest things here and there. But we just want to make sure we say goodbye to everybody in the right way and go out with our boots on."
• If you go: Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band and Jamey Johnson perform at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets start at $29.50. Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com.
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