Ed King, the guitarist whose contributions to bands Strawberry Alarm Clock and Lynyrd Skynyrd—including songs like “Incense And Peppermints” and “Sweet Home Alabama”—led to some of both groups’ biggest and longest-lasting hits, has died. Rolling Stone reports that King’s death was announced on his Facebook page earlier this morning.
A California native, King co-founded Strawberry Alarm Clock in 1966, merging together a couple of existing bands for what would ultimately prove to be a sporadically successful, fractious, and relatively brief run. Although King’s generally known to have written the bridge for “Incense And Peppermints,” he was never given an official songwriting credit on the track, a Billboard-topping hit that proved to be the band’s one huge contribution to the cultural landscape. By 1971, the group’s gold record success was already fading rapidly, which didn’t stop them from running a tour of the southern U.S., with Skynyrd acting as their opening band.
After Strawberry Alarm Clock collapsed, King found himself falling in with Ronnie Van Zant and the rest of the Southern rockers, first as a replacement bassist for Leon Wilkeson, and then, after his return, as the final component in the band’s distinctive three-guitar sound. King played and toured with the group for its first three records, helping Van Zant and Gary Rossington flesh out the frequently-riffed “Sweet Home Alabama” into one of the band’s biggest hits. (He also co-wrote “Saturday Night Special,” and played bass on the album version of “Freebird.”) But King’s distant California style was reportedly a hard fit with the more rough-and-tumble Skynyrd, and, citing tour pressure, he quit the band in 1976, just a year before the fateful plane crash that killed Van Zant, Steve and Cassie Gaines, and several other members of the band’s crew.
King’s professional fortunes remained intertwined with Lynyrd Skynyrd for much of the rest of his life; he reunited with the band in 1987, staying on with them until health problems forced him to leave in 1996, and was inducted, alongside the rest of the band’s surviving members, into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2006. What’s most striking, looking back at his career, though, is how normal King seems, especially in contrast to his surviving Skynyrd bandmates. (To look at pictures of him standing next to Johnny Van Zant is to examine a study in contrasts of what “rock star” can mean to two very different people.) And yet, his musicianship across the decades was undeniable, laying down some of the most memorable tracks of his generation, despite consistently coming off as a fairly down-to-earth guy, aloof from the band’s frequent struggles..
King reportedly died yesterday, at the age of 68.