Ed King, ex-Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist who co-wrote ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ dies at 68

Ed King of Lynyrd Skynyrd, shown in this February 1975 file photo, died Aug. 22 at age 68. (AP)
Ed King of Lynyrd Skynyrd, shown in this February 1975 file photo, died Aug. 22 at age 68. (AP)
Published August 23 2018

Ed King wasn't from Florida. But he played a huge role in one of Florida's greatest contributions to rock 'n' roll history.

King, the former Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist who co-wrote Sweet Home Alabama, died Wednesday in Nashville, according to a post on his Facebook page. No cause of death was announced, but according to Rolling Stone, he had battled lung cancer.

A California native, King was a founding member of psych-rock the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and was an uncredited co-writer of their hit Incense and Peppermints. He joined the Jacksonville-based Skynyrd after opening for them around 1972, and played on their first three albums, co-writing songs like Workin' For MCA and Saturday Night Special.

But it was Sweet Home Alabama that solidified his place in Southern rock history. The way the band has described it, guitarist Gary Rossington was strumming out the song's primary chord progression. King heard it and started playing around with it, ending up with the iconic plucked-out version that kicks off the song. That's also King counting off the "1, 2, 3" at the intro.

Sweet Home Alabama has been called the "Southern national anthem," and even after King left the band, Skynyrd knew it would be tough to write anything as big.

"You only get one chance to write a Sweet Home Alabama," singer Johnny Van Zant said in March. "We never even tried to top that."

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King never quite shed his California personality, even after writing a piece of Southern rock history. He left Skynyrd in 1975, and was not in the band at the time of the 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant. He rejoined a reformed version of the band in 1987 and toured with them for about a decade.

Artists, including Rossington, paid tribute to King on Twitter.

— Jay Cridlin

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