I wanted to take a one week break from my Out of Phase Blog series to share with you what I have been processing this week.
As I look back on my life I find it interesting how seemingly small things – things we often don’t give much consideration such as musical preferences, hobbies, or even the routine or mundane moments of life—can alter the course of our very existence. We live in the moment of our day to day lives, we make plans to go to certain events, take a new job, choose a certain restaurant, etc. and in those moments that seem ordinary or even inconsequential sometimes something extraordinary happens and our life is forever changed. Changed profoundly and yet with such subtleness we may not realize it for years, if ever.
I was thinking about this very thing yesterday as I spent some quiet time working in my garden with a heart full of sadness and gratitude as I processed the passing of Gary Rossington, the last living founder of my favorite band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. I have seen the band live twenty-two times. I have all their albums, have visited the graves of many of their members and if I am listening to music there’s a fifty-fifty chance it is Lynyrd Skynyrd or the offshoot Rossington Collins Band.
As I processed Gary’s passing I was reminded of Proverbs 19:21 (NIV):
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”
This thought brought me back to McCord’s Five and Dime Store in Portland, Indiana. I was just out of high school, maybe nineteen years old. I remember vividly rummaging through the cassette tapes in the discount bin.
Now, I was raised on three kinds of music. If I was with my dad the radio – or the eight track – was always on Country. If I was with my mom it was either 50’s Rock or Southern Gospel. And then, being a teenager in the 80’s, I knew all the hair bands, but I missed out on the classic rock of the 70’s. However, I remember that day at the dime store vividly. While looking through the cassettes, one by Lynyrd Skynyrd caught my eye and I remember thinking “Hank Junior mentions them in a couple of his songs and I like Hank, so I’ll give it a try.” It was their Pronounced album. Just a couple songs in and the combination of musicality and great song-writing had me hooked.
I have bought a lot of music in my life and can remember waiting with great anticipation on a hand full of albums to arrive in the mail. But other than this one time I have no recollection of any random music purchase, let alone one I can truly say changed my life.
There is a lot of music I enjoy, several artists I find truly inspiring, artists that in some way or another have helped shape the sound of my family’s music or influence me as a song-writer. And, while the same could be said of Gary and his band, those words are not enough to express their impact on my life. Even as I stop to consider this fact and take a moment to look at the budding trees of another beautiful Tennessee spring, the reality is this: I wouldn’t be sitting in this place were it not for this band.
I got a guitar for my twelfth birthday. I had a few lessons from my sixth-grade music teacher but only learned two chords and never felt inclined to pursue music. While in college I became friends with the worship leader at our church who was willing to show me a few chords. So, I purchased a ten-dollar garage sale guitar and tried to learn. I felt I was making progress but was discouraged with the fact that my fingers were sore and no one could tell what I was trying to play. I decided at that point I simply was not cut out to play guitar and I sat my guitar in the corner of the room to collect dust. Then, one day a roommate who was also learning to play guitar showed me something he had picked up; the opening riff to “Sweet Home Alabama.” I knew those chords! And, of course being a Lynyrd Skynyrd song I had to learn to play it!
God has used many people since to mentor, encourage, and challenge me in this music and ministry career. But were it not for me “randomly” picking up a cassette in the bargain bin at the five and dime I wonder how differently my life would be. I would likely have never picked the guitar back up and never written and performed the songs I’ve had the privilege of sharing. My children might not have pursued music – and even though my daughters no longer play with the Frye Family Band, they are both involved in the worship teams at their respective churches. My children would have likely pursued different career paths, I would have never moved to Tennessee. The music ministry would not have been there to open up opportunities to speak to families through our Deliberate Family Events or through my life coaching ministry and I’m sure I could add more to the list if I took more time to consider it. But that is not the point.
The reality is, we are put on this earth to serve and bless others. Often in the Christian Community, I believe we spend WAY TOO MUCH effort dividing things up and labeling them secular or sacred. There are those who would never listen to music if it didn’t have the “Christian” or “Sacred” label attached. And doing so only robs them of a great blessing – even if it is simply entertainment for entertainment sake. I have come to realize All Truth is God’s Truth, even if those communicating it do not claim His name or if their art isn’t labeled as such.
The influence of Gary and the band has not stopped there. I graduated college in the early 90’s and soon after I began playing my guitar at my small rural Indiana church. Even this made me nervous, but there was a need and I wanted to try to fill it – this was my vision, and honestly the extent of my desire for what I might do musically. It was at this same time that Skynyrd reformed. I remember being at one of their early concerts watching them play and thinking, “That looks like so much fun, but I could never do that.” It seems even then God was birthing in me the desire to use my music in greater ways than I could have imagined. While I have never played for tens of thousands, I regularly play for hundreds and have a time or two played for over a thousand.
Scripture also tells us in Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
So, once again God was using this band to direct my path when I didn’t even realize it. Label them what you want, but in my life God used a bunch of hard living rock and rollers from the seventies to push me into playing guitar. And, when the surviving members re-formed He also used this new lineup (some of whom had become followers of Jesus) to create a spark of an interest in me to share my songs: a spark others would help fan into flames.
When I was in my mid-twenties I was able to meet Gary along with Jonny Van Zant and the late Ed King at a meet and greet in Indianapolis. I was young and star struck. I got a couple of things autographed and I’m sure if I said anything it was nothing more than some typical fan-boy compliment.
Thirty years later, by virtue of doing this thing I do, I have had the privilege of meeting several musicians I know and respect. I am certain if I had had the chance to meet Gary again I would have not said the normal things a start struck fan would say. I never got that opportunity, but as I was pondering all of this yesterday while working the soil in my garden I realized if I had had the chance to have one more brief encounter with Gary I would simply want to look him in the eyes, shake his hand and say, “Gary, the music you made changed my life. Thank you.”
Rest in Peace Gary Rossington,