When guitarist Gary Rossington joined the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd for a reunion tour in 1987, he figured the get-together would just be a short shot of nostalgia.
"It was a tribute to the band, 10 years after the crash and all that," he says, speaking over the phone from his home in St. Augustine, Fla. Even though a decade had passed since the plane crash that killed members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines, Skynyrd's music had, as Rossington puts it, "lived on, and was still being played."
But it wasn't until the tour was over that the band learned just how sorely missed it had been. "After that tour," he says, "a lot of fans and the fan club said, 'Why don't you come to our town? Why don't you go there? Why didn't you come here?' Promoters were calling and saying, 'Why didn't you let us book you?'
"So we kept going a little longer, and people wanted to give us a new record deal. So we made a pact with ourselves. If we could keep up writing songs, keep up the standard of the name Skynyrd and keep on going like we know how to do, we'd do it. But if we couldn't, we wouldn't.
"So it happened, and here we are -- we're back in it."
But a lot has changed since the days Lynyrd Skynyrd first began to tear it up in concert halls across the country. Somehow, the musical boundaries shifted while the band was away, and where once the mighty sound of Skynyrd was an inspiration to a whole generation of rock 'n' rollers, now it seems a touchstone for up-and-coming country acts.
"Oh, yeah," agrees Rossington. "There are a lot of new country acts that are really rock 'n' roll now, like Travis Tritt. And even Hank Jr. -- most of his stuff's rock 'n' roll."
Is Rossington flattered by having had this kind of influence? Not really. "We get told that they listen to us, or we influenced them, or whatever," he says, matter-of-factly. "I'm just a guitar player; I can't bother my mind with that trivial stuff. But it makes us smile that we inspired them, or got to get them to listen to us."
Rossington adds that he thinks a lot of country music has moved toward rock 'n' roll. "As a matter of fact, we just had a song -- 'Pure and Simple,' off our last album -- that went in the country charts," he says. "I've been writing some with Travis Tritt, and just did a couple songs with him, coming up on his album. I don't know. It's kind of crossover.
"Travis played down here in Florida, in Gainesville, not long ago," he adds. "He called me, and asked me to come up and play a tune with him. He does 'Call Me the Breeze,' one of our songs. I went up and I watched his set. Except for the ballads, it was rock 'n' roll. If you didn't know it was a country act, you'd swear it was a rock band. Just not playing quite as loud."
In fact, Rossington sees so much in common between these new bands and what Skynyrd has always done that it strikes him as being just a bit silly to even worry about whether an act is "rock" or "country." After all, it's not as if both didn't play a part in Skynyrd's sound.
"You know, Lynyrd Skynyrd really has always done a little country," he points out. "We always had a little country twang to us. ['The Ballad of] Curtis Lowe' or 'Honky Tonk Night Time Man' or stuff. That was kind of country. Or 'All I Can Do Is Write About It' -- right now, that would be a country song, you know?
"We always said that we were brought up on country and blues and British music," he adds, "We were cool before country was cool."
When: Tonight at 6.
Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Tickets: $25 for pavilion seats, $19.50
Call: (410) 730-2424 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets.