Lynyrd Skynyrd taps Geraldine native guitarist to fill-in for Gary Rossington

Damon Johnson, a Geraldine High School graduate is set to perform at Fort Payne Boom Days Heritage Festival Friday, Sept. 17.

This week, rock musician Damon Johnson added another highlight to a resume already full of them.

Johnson played guitar for Southern rockers supreme Lynyrd Skynyrd, filling in for Gary Rossington onstage, as Rossington recovered from, what the band called, “emergency heart surgery.”

“Gary Rossington’s guitar playing consumed me from day one of discovering Skynyrd’s music in my youth,” Johnson posted on social media. “It was an honor to lend a hand to the band this weekend, and my family is sending buckets of healing energy Gary’s direction. Thank you, Skynyrd Nation.”

Johnson grew up in Monroeville and Geraldine, before gaining fame in the mid ’90s with Birmingham band Brother Cane, known for hits like “Got No Shame.”

A post on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Facebook page updated fans on Rossington’s condition. “Gary is home resting and recovering with his family at home,” the post on Skynyrd’s FB reads. “He wants everyone to know he is doing good and expects a full recovery. After this past year, the country being shut down and everything we have all been thru, the Rossingtons encouraged the band to go perform in his absence. Music is a powerful healer! We all felt playing the shows and bringing the music to y’all was a better option than cancelling the performances.”

According to Skynyrd’s website, the band’s concerts this week were July 22 at Twin Cities Summer Jam in Shakopee, Minn. and July 23 at North Dakota State Fair in Minot. The next scheduled show on their “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour” is Aug. 9 at Canton, Ohio’s Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

Rossington is the sole remaining original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, now admirable fronted by Johnny Van Zant, brother of late great Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant. The band was founded in Jacksonville, Fla. Their trailer-truckload of ’70s hits includes “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Gimme Three Steps” and “Simple Man.” Rossington’s many great guitar moments with the band include his lyrical, unforgettable slide-guitar work on flaghsip anthems “Free Bird” and “Tuesday’s Gone.”

During our 2017 interview about his guitar heroes, Johnson told me Skynyrd classic “Saturday Night Special” is “a song I love to cover” and he could “go into deep worship” of any Skynyrd studio track. He compared Rossington’s guitar solo on “Saturday Night Special” to the playing of the legendary Paul Kossoff, from Free, the British band known for strutting 1970 smash “Alright Now.”

Earlier this year, Johnson released a strong solo album with his power-trio The Get Ready. A Nashville area resident these days, Johnson is also a member of iconic Irish rockers Thin Lizzy’s current lineup. With Brother Cane, he scored radio hits, including “Fools Shine On,” and toured the world with the likes of Van Halen, Robert Plant and Aerosmith.

Over the years, Johnson’s also been a member of Alice Cooper’s band and written songs recorded by stars like Santana, Sammy Hagar and Stevie Nicks. He was in a one-off band that included Steven Tyler, Sting and Jeff Beck. Cowrote with storied Guns N’ Roses collaborator West Arkeen. Was in guitar magazine photo shoots with Eddie Van Halen.

A few years back, Johnson was said to have been in the mix to replace Richie Sambora in Bon Jovi. Even before Brother Cane, his Birmingham bar band jammed Deep Purple, AC/DC and ZZ Top tunes with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich sitting in.

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