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So Just What is Southern Rock?

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For many their first exposure to Southern Rock is through Eric Clapton – By hiring the backbone of Delaney and Bonnie’s band, Clapton gave more than just a nod to Southern Rock on the Derek And The Dominos album and with Duane Allman from the Allman Brothers providing the slide guitar on the classic ‘Layla’, he brought the genre into the mainstream. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was wall-to-wall Southern Rock and chock-full of the Blues. For others, their first real piece of genuine Southern Rock was from watching BBC TV’s Top Gear who used the Allman Bothers Band’s Jessica as its theme tune.

Southern Rock has one big foot firmly in the blues, another, maybe slightly smaller foot in country music and it all comes together in a unique style that has Elvis, Jerry Lee, Muddy and Buddy as its musical Godparents while travelling along a road that’s entirely its own. The spiritual home of this music is Macon, Georgia where Phil Walden founded Capricorn Records whose artist roster read like a who’s who of Southern Rock. There was Wet Willie, Grinderswitch, Elvin Bishop, The Marshall Tucker Band and of course The Allman Brothers Band. It’s a musical family with more than its fair share of tragedy with several bands losing members in tragic circumstances. Southern Rock rocks hard, but it also has a good deal of more melodic rock with the kind of well-crafted lyrics that you would expect from music that is steeped in country roots. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Atlanta Rhythm Section and JJ Cale led the way towards a subtler form of rock.

The other musicians that made up Derek and The Dominos were keyboard player, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle on bass and drummer Jim Gordon, all of whom had been members of Delaney and Bonnie’s group which at one point included Clapton. Both Gordon and Radle played with Joe Cocker’s band, Mad Dogs & Englishman. Radle and Gordon also played on Dave Mason’s brilliant album, Alone Together, along with Delaney & Bonnie and Leon Russell, who also played with the Mad Dogs. All of these musicians were steeped in Southern Rock and helped spread the word about the sound of the South; Clapton, Cocker and Mason doing so with all the enthusiasm of converts to a cause.

If you’re looking for a band that wreaks Southern Rock then no better place to start than with the Allman Brothers. Formed in Jacksonville, Florida by the brothers Allman they were the catalyst for numerous other bands to introduce a little of their own southern-ness to rock. There’s Duane Allman and his sinuous slide guitar solos, brother Greg hunched over his Hammond B3 pounding out the atmosphere, as well as handling most of the vocals and there’s Dicky Betts whose rippling counterpoint guitar offers an amazing alternative to Duane.

The band’s self-titled debut album in 1969 failed to chart but it did include one stone-cold Southern Rock classic, Greg Allman’s Whipping Post. 1971’s Idlewild South was a minor hit while The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East almost made the US Top 10 the following year, before Eat A Peach went to No.4 in 1972. In 1973 Brothers and Sisters topped the album charts in America and broke the band in many countries around the world. Brothers and Sisters included the instrumental, Jessica ¬– the theme tune to the BBC TV’s Top Gear programme.

For many people, their live album from Fillmore East is one of rock’s definitive concert recordings. It was also the last complete recording on which Duane Allman played as he was killed in a motorcycle accident in October 1971. He can be heard on Eat a Peach, the recording on which the band were working when he died. Both Dicky Betts and Greg Allman later worked solo and produced albums that are steeped in the Southern Rock tradition. Betts’s Highway Call is a guitar players delight and demonstrates just how important he was to ‘the sound’ of the Allman Brothers and Southern Rock in general. Greg is still working and recording and his recent album, Low Country Blues, has been a critical and commercial success.

If Macon is Southern Rock’s spiritual home then Jacksonville is arguably its birthplace, because like the The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd came from the Floridian city. Similarly, theirs was a story with more than its fair share of tragedy. But before the heartaches, theirs was a story of friendship, courage, and determination as well as great music.

Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington formed a band in 1964 and by 1970 had decided to change their name and settled on the name of a teacher from Rossington’s school – Leonard Skinner. In 1972 Al Kooper saw the band at an Atlanta club and signed them to his Sounds of the South label. Their name change was reflected in the title of their first album, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd; in August 1973 the album featured the amazing Free Bird which made the Billboard charts after getting huge airplay on US rock stations and launched the triple lead guitar sound of the band.

While the Allman Brothers had a hint of the jazzy about them, Skynyrd were the epitome of a hard-driving, bluesy rock band, although this sometimes prevented people from appreciating just what a fine songwriter Ronnie Van Zant was. Following their debut release the band came up with a string of fine albums – Second Helping, Nuthin’ Fancy, Give Me Back My Bullets and One More for the Road – the obligatory live album. Standout tracks from the band include Sweet Home Alabama, Saturday Night Special and Double Trouble. Their 1977 album, Street Survivors had been out for just a week and the band two days into a major tour when their chartered aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed in Mississippi, killing Van Zant, their new brilliant guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie, a backing singer for the band. Almost inevitably the band broke up but their legacy lives on and their place at Southern Rock’s top table is guaranteed.

From Missouri the Ozark Mountain Daredevils signed to the A&M label and recorded their self titled debut album in England with Glyn Johns (well known for working with the Who and on the Eagles first three albums) in 1973. The album featured If You Wanna Get to Heaven that heralded the band’s unique mix of Southern-influenced rock, but with more than a toehold in the world of country and bluegrass. Their second album, It’ll Shine When it Shines featured Jackie Blue that was a top 3 hit in America. In all they recorded five albums for A&M and as well as remaining firm favourites on the radio their albums are always interesting and full of great songs.

Essentially the Atlanta Rhythm Section was a studio band based at Studio One in Doraville, Georgia that evolved from Classics IV who are best remembered for their pop hits, ‘Spooky’ and ‘Traces’. The Atlanta Rhythm Section’s self-titled debut came out in 1971. It was not until 1976, five albums later that the band had their breakthrough success on the singles chart with So Into You from their alum, A Rock and Roll Alternative and they followed this a year later with Imaginary Lover from the Champagne Jam album. Of their nine albums, they made for MCA and Polydor, Dog Days and Red Tape are firm favourites with their fans.

Southern Rock today is a less well defined musical genre but both The Drive By Truckers and The Kentucky Headhunters whose longevity and experience created three excellent records for Mercury are carrying a torch for the music. The Truckers with their three lead guitars and the Headhunters are fully paid up advocates for the Southern States and let us all know that the South will rise again… and again.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Kenny Engum

    June 13, 2014 at 12:34 am

    This was great and interestin imfo for an ol boy from Virginia and a huge southern rock fan! Im a musician and have songs on youtube that reflect the influence this great music has had on me. I write it like I speak it just as my heros did. Thank yall for sharin this and Rock On!

  2. Steven LeMonier

    June 13, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Really? No mention of Gram Parsons? He was the Godfather of Southern/Country Rock!

    • Someone with actual knowledge

      June 11, 2018 at 7:20 pm

      You cannot be serious?? Gram Parson the grandfather of southern rock???? hahahaha i cant stop laughing.

  3. Billy Beckett

    June 27, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    You have a lot of information on this page. Even listed a lot of bands and people. But you left out one band from the 70’s that shared the stage and studio with the Allman Brothers. Duane even was a special guest on one or their albums with credits. This band is Eric Quincy Tate. Check them out and you will see they need to be mentioned here as well. Some of the songs on The Original Drinking Man’s Friend will give you a clue as to how good these guys are. One source for information is Eric Quincy Tate’s Dave Cantonwine: The GRITZ Interview at Swampland.com. Hope you enjoy.

  4. Bob

    June 27, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    Nice article. I didn’t realize there was so much British influence.
    Fans of this genre should check out Reluctant Saints. Artimus Pyle called “The Saviors of Southern Rock”. Look them up on Facebook, YouTube, or at http://www.reluctantsaints.com.

  5. Morten Sarvig

    June 28, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Hi Great artikel – just for the record – Gram Parson was the father of “Cosmic American Rock Country Music” not Southern Music.

  6. Bob Guerrin

    June 28, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    Boz Scaggs “Loan me a Dime” was my intro to Duane. Driving home from the beach on Long Island I heard this still incredible song. I listened the whole time on WNEW-FM and waited to hear who was this group. Scott Muni gave the credits and instead of going home, I went directly to the record store and bought the Boz Scaggs album. I was already getting into the Grateful Dead. A couple of years later, February 1970, I got the treat of a lifetime. Fillmore East: opening act was Love with Arthue Lee. Wow they were spacey if you know what I mean. Next up The Allman Brothers. My first experience with them live. 44 years later and I’m still trying to catch my breath. Was coming on early in their set. A break. All the lights out with a light on the aisle, unless I was hallucinating with people carrying a wooden crate that seemed to be a sort of casket. Peaking at this time. They walk on stage and open the crate. Out steps Zacherely. Most of you probably don’t know who he was. A ghoul on TV. He says “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Grateful God Damn Fuking Dead”. It’s all over. The light show, the acid, the audience all in the same mindset as one. I saw the Dead many times but this week was special. All of a sudden near the end out comes Duane, Greg and after that it’s all a haze. I got literally transported somewhere else. Otherworldly. When IT was finally over they opened the side doors to morning. The Best Rock night ever.

  7. Hobbes Tayloe

    August 7, 2014 at 3:38 am

    Good article, some interesting info, thanks for putting this together. Only main qualm is the lack of much more details of MTB… their music is so frellin’ great, it needs more than just an obligatory passing note. And while I realize they may not be as “rock” as the others mentioned here, would have been cool to see some mention of Poco and Pure Prairie League. Nevertheless, to end on a positive note: thanks for the inclusion of some words about the Ozark Mtn Daredevils, my boys from back ‘home’. All these bands (along with many others) are such damn good music.

  8. Mark Hebert

    December 3, 2014 at 1:36 am

    Nobody mentions “Molly Hatchet”? Sacrilege!!!

    • Nathan Burns

      October 7, 2015 at 8:18 pm

      A wise man once said “Southern rock died the day Molly Hatchet released their first album”

  9. Steve McDonald

    July 16, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Nice summary. I would say the quintessential current Southern Rock band is Blackberry Smoke.

  10. Steve

    March 24, 2016 at 12:58 am

    A good article,but disappointing that Marshall Tucker Band is barely mentioned. As far as I’m concerned, the big three of southern rock are Tucker, Allmans & Skynyrd. Just as the Allmans had a really strong blues flavor, Marshall Tucker was unsurpassed in incorporating blues, country & jazz into a sound that was truly their own, making them possibly the most innovative band of the entire southern rock genre. Everyone has heard “Can’t You See”, but have you listened to “Desert Skies” , “This Ol’ Cowboy” or “Blue Ridge Mountain Sky”. Truly, some of the finest southern rock ever!

  11. Mike

    April 18, 2016 at 4:49 am

    The Outlaws…hello …Green grass and high tides…..Blackfoot?

    • Roxanne L Midulla

      September 24, 2019 at 7:17 pm

      I was wondering if anyone was going to bring up the outlaws. I am a Tampa girl and the Outlaws are near and dear to my heart.

  12. KEVIN L. PRICE

    February 27, 2017 at 2:58 am

    No Charlie Daniels Band?

  13. James Jarby

    June 11, 2017 at 11:13 am

    Ever hear of Black Oak Arkansas?

  14. Punch

    June 11, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    I am a huge Drive by Truckers fan. They have been carrying the torch of Alt Country with a touch of Southern Rock for years. A very unique blend of Americana . That being said, I can’t believe the Black Crowes are not on this list. They carried the Southern Rock torch in between 38 special/Georgia Satellites and DBT

  15. HappyJames

    June 12, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    I was privileged to see Lynyrd Skynyrd open for Stills Young Band (minus Ypung) in Miami, 1976. Great guitar rock and roll blues band.
    Saw thrm headline the next year in Hollywood Florida. Fantastic.
    Two weeks later, tragedy.
    Life hasn’t been the same since then.

  16. Daniel Fonvielle

    August 29, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Saying Jacksonville is the birthplace of southern rock doesn’t do the city justice. Besides the Allman’s and Skynyrd forming there, who are the mount Rushmore of southern rock. Blackfoot is from Jax, so is Molly Hatchett and 38 special, The Johnny Van Zant Band, The Rossington Collins Band and others. Jacksonville is ground zero of southern rock as much as Seattle is of grunge.

  17. Rebecca Webb

    August 30, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    I could be wrong, but I heard when Ronnie Van Zant was being interviewed about his Southern Rock band he said there’s no such thing he said their just a rock band from the south,this was right after they started out with Lynyrd Skynrd band & the first time I ever heard them and I have loved them ever since, Am I wrong about that?

  18. Pingback: Bigger Than Woodstock – The Ozark Music Festival 1974

  19. D. Miller

    August 6, 2018 at 3:49 am

    Wet Willie. Thanks for the reminder. Oh Leona

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