Gary, Rickey, & Sparky Explain The Guitar Magic That Makes ‘Free Bird’ Soar

Terry Walsh/Jam Magazine Online

There’s many reasons why Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Free Bird” has achieved such a legendary status. One of the main reasons is the stellar guitar work showcased in the song, with the guitar parts being just as memorable as the lyrics themselves.

Skynyrd has always featured talented guitarists, and its current lineup is no exception. With Rickey Medlocke, Sparky Matejka, and founding member Gary Rossington leading the charge, every performance of “Free Bird” manages to thrill the crowd like it alway has.

During an interview with Guitar World in 2009, Skynyrd’s three guitarists explained how they play the final parts of one of their more modern songs, “Still Unbroken.” Once they finished that, they moved into discussing “Free Bird,” and Gary explained how the song came to be all because of some chords Allen Collins had come up with:

“The way we wrote ‘Free Bird,’ Allen Collins had these chords for a long time, and they changed a lot. And we didn’t really write anything to that for a while, and Ronnie thought it was too many chord changes. Except for one day, after a while, Allen was playing these chords at rehearsal. Ronnie started thinkin’ and he was writin’, just layin’ on the couch, ‘play that again, play that again,’ and he had him play it about ten times, or twenty times, or thirty. And then he come up with the lyrics.”

Gary also went into a bit of detail about his slide part, saying his trick is that he tunes his B string to a G. He said that back in the old days, he used to accidentally shred out all the notes, so he would put a screwdriver on the neck of his guitar to keep that from happening! Now he uses a cord instead of a screwdriver, and it works like a charm.

Rickey said that he loves to watch club bands try to play “Free Bird,” because no one band plays Gary’s part the same way. 

“They’ve never quite figured out exactly how he does it, and it’s amazing to me. And I have to sit there and give them the credit of course, they try. It’s amazing how many different versions I’ve ever seen somebody try to do it when in reality what he’s doing is simplicity…and it’s just his signature thing is what’s so cool about it.”

We have to agree, Gary’s part is pretty cool, and along with the other guitarists’ parts it combines to create a force that makes “Free Bird” soar. You can watch their interview here, then tune in below to see Skynyrd play “Free Bird.”

Want to save this article?

Get this sent to your inbox, plus, get new articles & videos from us every week!

Sponsors / Partners

Interested in becoming a partner?

Contact us for more info

Unapologetically Country

Receive daily updates with the best country music videos, news, and more!