Ed King, the Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist who joined the band in 1972 to give the Southern rock group its iconic three-guitar sound, died Wednesday in Nashville. He was 68. A cause of death was not specified, though King had been battling lung cancer and had recently been hospitalized for the disease.
A message on King’s Facebook confirmed his death: “It is with great sorrow we announce the passing of Ed King who died at his home in Nashville, Tennessee on August 22nd, 2018. We thank his many friends and fans for their love and support of Ed during his life and career.”
A California native, King was a founding member of the psychedelic Sixties band Strawberry Alarm Clock, known for their hit “Incense and Peppermints.” He offered to join Skynyrd when, opening for the band at the Jacksonville, Florida, bar the Comic Book Club in 1968, he heard them rehearsing the song “Need All My Friends.” It wasn’t until 1972, however, when King would sign on with Skynyrd, temporarily replacing bassist Leon Wilkeson and then becoming a full-fledged member as the third guitarist.
King played on the band’s first three albums: 1973’s (Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd), 1974’s Second Helping and 1975’s Nuthin’ Fancy. He most famously co-wrote Second Helping‘s “Sweet Home Alabama” – that’s him counting off “1, 2, 3” in the song’s intro – which, along with “Free Bird,” has become synonymous with the group.
After a dust-up with singer Ronnie Van Zant, King, tired of the Skynyrd drama and propensity for fighting, exited the band in 1975, detailing the incident in the superb new documentary If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“I’m the hippie from Southern California. I’m not digging the violence part,” King said, recounting how a broken string at a show in Pittsburgh earned him the wrath of the mercurial Van Zant. “Ronnie and my guitar roadie who changed my strings were thrown in jail in Ann Arbor. They didn’t arrive … until 10 minutes before we went on. I had to play on old strings and I broke two strings during ‘Free Bird.’ After, Ronnie was riding me, and a lightbulb went off and I said, ‘That’s it.’ I went back to my room, packed up my stuff and left.”
King is a highlight of If I Leave Here Tomorrow, offering keen firsthand insight into the Southern band as an outsider from California. On the album cover for Pronounced, King is pictured far right, a bit detached from the group.
Guitarist Gary Rossington, the lone original member of the Lynyrd Skynyrd that tours today, quipped on King’s aloof, business-minded nature in the documentary. “He’d stop and buy $100 worth of Slim Jims and have him in a briefcase and, driving an hour or two, you get hungry, he’d sell them to us and triple the price,” he said.
Following King’s death, Rossington released a statement. “I’ve just found out about Ed’s passing and I’m shocked and saddened,” he said. “Ed was our brother, and a great songwriter and guitar player. I know he will be reunited with the rest of the boys in Rock and Roll Heaven. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 as a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd.