Lynyrd Skynyrd Guitar Great Ed King Passes

Ed King. Photo: Ed King/Facebook

Nashville guitarist Ed King, best known for his membership in Lynyrd Skynyrd, passed away last week following several years of declining health.

The Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame member died at home on Aug. 22 at age 68. He retired from the band in 1996 due to congestive heart failure. He underwent a heart transplant operation in 2011. For the past several months, he reportedly had been battling lung cancer.

King performed on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s star-making albums and co-wrote its biggest hit, 1974’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” He also created that song’s iconic and instantly recognizable guitar riff.

He was a native of California who initially rose to prominence as a member of the psychedelic rock band Strawberry Alarm Clock. He and the band’s keyboardist Mark Weitz reportedly co-wrote the act’s 1967 No. 1 smash “Incense and Peppermints,” but were cheated out of their songwriting credits and royalties.

They are credited as cowriters on the band’s 1968 singles “Tomorrow,” “Sit With the Guru” and “Barefoot in Baltimore.” Strawberry Alarm Clock’s swansong on the charts was 1969’s “Good Morning Starshine,” from the “flower child” Broadway musical Hair.

King joined Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1972, helping to establish its distinctive, triple-guitar attack. He was a key figure on the band’s first three LPs, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd (1973), Second Helping (1974) and Nuthin’ Fancy (1975).

Following the band’s hit with “Sweet Home Alabama,” the song was recorded by more than a dozen other artists, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Garth Brooks, Bret Michaels, Charlie Daniels, Every Mother’s Nightmare, Alabama, Cinderella, Bonfire and French rock star Johnny Hallyday.

King’s co-written Skynyrd song “Workin’ For MCA” was also popularized by Hank Williams Jr. and Ted Nugent. “Saturday Night Special” was covered by The Replacements, Armored Saint, Larry Cordle and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others. Other well-known Skynyrd tunes he cowrote include “Poison Whiskey,” “Mr. Banker,” “Money Man” and “Whisky Rock-A- Roller,” several of which were also recorded by others.

Lynyrd Skynyrd was well known for its boozing and brawling. Fist fights among band members sometimes broke out on stage. For non-violent hippie Ed King, it was all too much. He quit the group in 1975. Therefore, he was not in the fatal 1977 plane crash that decimated the band.

King helped to reconstitute and revive Skynyrd in 1987 and remained in the band for the next decade. His health issues forced his retirement from the group in 1996.

The widely liked musician remained accessible to the band’s fans and stayed in touch via his Facebook community. In 2006, he and fellow Skynyrd alumnus Artimus Pyle cowrote “The Freebird Fall” with Billy Ray Cyrus, and the country star included it on his CD that year, as well as on a later “Hits” compilation.

King was voted into the Rock Hall as a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2006, and he performed with the band at its induction ceremony.

Showtime premiered the film If I Leave Here Tomorrow four days before King’s death last week. He was prominently featured in the documentary. The latest lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd has announced that its current tour will be its last.

According to TMZ, Ed King is to be cremated, and no memorial service is planned.

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Category: Artist, Featured, Obituary

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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