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Southern Rock: An Introduction To The Genre And Its Key Bands

An introduction to the genre and some of its key bands.

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The Allman Brothers Band, one of the great southern rock bands
The Allman Brothers Band - At Fillmore East - Cover courtesy of Universal Music

Any introduction to southern rock and its key bands must start with the blues. The genre has one big foot firmly in the blues, and another – maybe slightly smaller – foot in country music. It all comes together in a unique style that has a bit of Elvis Presley boogie, Jerry Lee Lewis attitude, Muddy Waters skill, and Buddy Guy swing while traveling a road entirely its own. The spiritual home of this music is Macon, Georgia, where Phil Walden founded Capricorn Records. The label’s 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. Since those heady days, the genre has grown to encompass the entire region and beyond. In this introduction to southern rock bands and artists, we offer a pathway into the genre for those looking to get acquainted. – Richard Havers

Looking for some tunes to accompany this article? Check out our Southern Rock playlist on Spotify.

Allman Brothers Band

If you’re looking for the beginnings of Southern Rock, there may be no better place to start than the Allman Brothers. Formed in Jacksonville, Florida by the brothers Allman, they were the catalyst for numerous other bands to introduce their own southern-ness to rock. There’s Duane Allman and his sinuous slide guitar solos, brother Gregg Allman hunched over his Hammond B3 pounding out the atmosphere as well as handling most of the vocals, and there’s Dickey Betts whose rippling counterpoint guitar offers an amazing alternative to Duane. The 1973 album Brothers and Sisters topped the charts in America and broke the band in many countries around the world. And, for many, their live album At 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. – Richard Havers

One Way Out (Live At Fillmore East, June 27, 1971)

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Lynyrd Skynyrd

Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington formed a band in 1964 and, by 1970, had finally settled on the name of a teacher from Rossington’s school – Leonard Skinner. The group’s debut album under that name, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd came out three years later. It featured “Free Bird” and “Simple Man,” two of the biggest Southern rock songs ever put to tape. While the Allman Brothers had a hint of jazz about them, Lynyrd Skynyrd were the epitome of a driving, bluesy hard rock band. This sometimes prevented people from appreciating just what a fine songwriter Ronnie Van Zant was. In four short years, however, the group put together an incredible Southern rock catalogue including eternal hits like “Sweet Home Alabama.” Then, tragedy struck. 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, a brilliant guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie, a backing singer for the band. Their legacy lives on, and their songs ensure their place at Southern Rock’s top table is guaranteed. – Richard Havers

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Ozark Mountain Daredevils

A genuine bunch of mountain-dwelling hippies, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils could play anything from folk and bluegrass, to straight-ahead pop and fist-wavers like their regional hit “If You Wanna Get to Heaven” (which of course involves raising a little hell). Their peak-era albums were finely polished in the studio by star English producer Glyn Johns, who encouraged their diversity. As good as it is, their one big hit “Jackie Blue” doesn’t really sum up their sound. You really need to listen to a few tunes to get a feel for what this group was all about. Start with the aforementioned songs, then check out “Standing on the Rock,” “You Made It Right,” and “Chicken Train.” – Brett Milano

ZZ Top

ZZ Top always stood apart musically from the rest of the Southern rock crowd, as a stripped-down blues-rock trio who were never into long jams. They stood apart even more once they got into synthesizers. But the “little ol’ band from Texas” always wore their Southern roots as a badge of honor, including locally-slanted songs like “My Head’s in Mississippi” on the synth albums and the undeniable swing of “La Grange” from Tres Hombres. – Brett Milano

The Black Crowes

Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson picked up the Southern rock banner in the 90s and waved it proudly, revitalizing the genre with an Otis Redding cover (“Hard to Handle”) and a stack of solid albums including the classic Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. In later years they’d make a few personnel shifts and go off in a rootsier, jam-based direction with Luther Dickinson on guitar. – Brett Milano

The Black Crowes - Remedy

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Potliquor

If ever an album lived up to its title, it was Louisiana Rock ‘n Roll, the third and best album from this Baton Rouge band in 1973. They seemed to have it all, including a raunchy guitar sound, a Jerry Lee-style piano pounder, a few touches of deep soul, and some ace covers. (Their “Born Under a Bad Sign” arguably beats Cream’s). But despite relentless touring and a few more good albums, they never quite broke out nationally and split at decade’s end. – Brett Milano

Hank Williams Jr.

Most of the major Southern rockers nodded toward country music; Hank Jr. was the first major country figure to nod back, tearing down a lot of country/rock boundaries in the process. 1975’s Hank Williams Jr. and Friends was his breakthrough, fusing the spirit of his father’s music with the electricity and rebel spirit of Southern rock (and some of the players as well, including Toy Caldwell from Marshall Tucker and Chuck Leavell from the Allmans). He’d celebrate his kinship with the rock outlaws a couple of years later in his defining song, “Family Tradition.” – Brett Milano

Michelle Malone

If Southern rock had been a little more fashionable in the early 90s, this Georgia native could have been the genre’s first female superstar. Her one major-label album, Relentless, showed her as a gutsy singer with boundless energy; around that time she teamed with an all-star cast (three Heartbreakers and two Georgia Satellites) for “U.S. Blues,” the hardest-rocking track on the tribute album Deadicated: A Tribute to the Grateful Dead. She’s remained productive as an indie artist, occasionally turning up with her friends in the Indigo Girls. – Brett Milano

Molly Hatchet

If one lyric line can sum up the greatness of Southern rock, a sure contender would be “Flirtin’ with disaster, y’all/Damn sure you know what I mean!’ Anthemic songs like that one and “Beatin’ the Odds” were their stock in trade, featuring gritty vocals from Danny Joe Brown and, later, Jimmy Farrar. Flying the flag for the genre, the group paid tribute to fellow travelers Skynyrd and Allmans on their live album Double Trouble. – Brett Milano

Black Oak Arkansas

Arguably the wildest of the lot, Black Oak Arkansas featured three shredders who played lead guitar all the time and a raving maniac of a frontman in Jim Dandy Mangrum, with his unearthly croak of a singing voice. The lyrics were equally steeped in whacked-out spirituality and a “back to the earth” ethos which included plenty of free love. Hit singles seemed highly unlikely until some genius at Atlantic came up with the idea of covering LaVern Baker’s R&B classic “Jim Dandy,” and damned if they didn’t match the original. – Brett Milano

Atlanta Rhythm Section

Atlanta Rhythm Section evolved out of another hitmaking band, Classics IV of “Spooky” and “Traces” fame. So even after they shifted gears, they knew their way around a hit single, and the most memorable Atlanta Rhythm Section songs – “Imaginary Lover,” “So Into You,” and the witty “Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight” – all maintained a radio-friendly, blue-eyed soul groove. Coming full circle, they closed out their hit streak with a remake of the Classics IV’s first biggie, “Spooky.” – Brett Milano

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Drive-By Truckers

The Drive-By Truckers hit the national radar with Southern Rock Opera, a double album that took the Lynyrd Skynyrd story as a jumping-off point for deeper thoughts on rock and Southern-ness, along with some great guitar solos. Leaders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have since guided the band through a few lineups, losing some key members (including Jason Isbell and his then-wife Shonna Tucker), but always coming back strong. Their songwriting is invariably sharp and topical, and sometimes downbeat, with two albums taking the pandemic head-on. – Brett Milano

Jason Isbell

Once upon a time, Jason Isbell was the young gunslinger in the Drive-By Truckers. After enduring some hard years and turning his life around, he’s now one of alt-country’s flagship artists. As a songwriter, he can do it all, wrapping the toughest of life issues into a few succinct verses, then giving you reasons to celebrate love and survival. – Brett Milano

Rossington-Collins Band

A Lynyrd Skynyrd fix was hard to come by in the dark days after the crash, but the Rossington-Collins Band was the first to rise from the ashes, with four Skynyrds in the lineup. Their 1980 radio hit “Don’t Misunderstand Me” sounded almost like something Skynyrd could have done, but the funkier groove and male/female vocal tradeoffs both added fresh touches. The band ended after two albums when its members relaunched the Skynyrd mothership. – Brett Milano

Blackberry Smoke

A modern band steeped in Southern rock traditions, Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke have played and recorded with many of their role models including ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall. They’ve got a few sensitive country songs in their set, but the rowdy stomping numbers are their real calling card. When you hear their hit “Live It Down” (as in, “Let’s live it up till we can’t….”), you’ll wonder why nobody ever thought of that one before. – Brett Milano

The Kentucky Headhunters

Good taste in cover tunes has been a requisite for any great Southern band, ever since the Allmans borrowed “Stateboro Blues” from Blind Willie McTell. But the Headhunters outdo them all, making first-class barroom raveups out of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” “Spirit in the Sky,” and Roger Miller’s high-spirited “Chug-a-Lug.” Their originals are no slouches either, especially on the essential Meet Me in Bluesland album with the great Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson. – Brett Milano

Spirit In The Sky

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The Wild Feathers

Part of a new generation of Southern bands, Georgia’s Wild Feathers have absorbed a lot of what came before, taking in everything from Tom Petty’s craftsmanship to the Eagles’ harmonies to the Black Crowes’ guitar attack. Having three singer/writers in the lineup allows them to switch gears with ease, and to pull off some grabbing harmonies. – Brett Milano

The Marshall Tucker Band

The Tucker boys had more jazz in them than most of the classic-era Southern bands, being the only one to feature a flute player – which gave a Tull-ish touch to their first radio hit, “Take the Highway” – plus a drummer (Paul Riddle) who specialized in swing. They also had two lead singers with entirely different styles; Doug Gray took the more lyrical tunes and main writer/guitarist Toy Caldwell did the harder, bluesier ones. They were respectively featured on “Heard It in a Love Song” and “Can’t You See,” two classics that sound nothing like each other. – Brett Milano

Creedence Clearwater Revival

No, Creedence weren’t from the South, or even southern California. But Bay Area native John Fogerty’s imagination sure lived in Louisiana and Mississippi, and the landmark Creedence songs “Green River,” “Proud Mary,” and “Born on the Bayou” all caught the romance and the spirit of the region. Even his guitar sound was distinctively swampy. He’d attribute all this to his childhood love of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Elvis himself was one of the many who wound up covering “Proud Mary,” as did New Orleans maestro Allen Toussaint who cut a 2000’s version with Fogerty. – Brett Milano

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Born On The Bayou (Official Lyric Video)

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38 Special

Any band fronted by Donnie Van Zant, Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother, is automatically Southern rock royalty. But 38 Special also earn their place on this list with a streak of hit singles that ran all through the 80s, beginning with the infectious fist-waver “Rockin’ Into the Night,” From there they flirted successfully with more mainstream rock, touring with Bon Jovi and scoring again with the Bryan Adams-penned rocker “Teacher, Teacher.” They closed out the decade with “Second Chance” which became their greatest hit, even if its sound was closer to the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” than anything Southern rock. – Brett Milano

Dash Rip Rock

Singer/guitarist Bill Davis has driven this Louisiana band down plenty of road in the past 30 years, taking in punk, rockabilly, power pop, and country; but always with a raw and raucous Southern feel. (Early drummer Fred LeBlanc later formed another well-liked Louisiana band, Cowboy Mouth). Dash’s good-natured sendup “Let’s Go Smoke Some Pot” made national waves in the 90s, but they’ve got plenty of tougher and swampier songs as well, even a few jangly and lyrical ones. On any given night they’ll get you dancing to all of it. – Brett Milano

Dickey Betts

The world remembers Dickey Betts as the guitarist who swapped licks with Duane Allman, then largely became the Allmans’ lead guitarist and focal point in the post-Duane years. But he also has a claim as one of the finest songwriters in Southern rock, giving the band its signature tune in “Ramblin’ Man” as well as its cornerstone instrumentals “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Jessica.” Outside the group, he first explored country on the Highway Call album, then returned to rock with his band Great Southern. – Brett Milano

Lucinda Williams

There’s always been a thin line between Southern rock and alternative country, and Lucinda Williams has enough rock in her soul to fit into either category. One of the more eloquent songwriters around, she can be thrilling when she rocks out; and there’s good reason why “Changed the Locks” (from her self-titled breakthrough album) became a bar-band standard. Her most outright rock album, Little Honey, includes some of her most joyful music; AC/DC cover and all. – Brett Milano

It's A Long Way To The Top

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Missed one of your favorite bands like Blackfoot, Charlie Daniels Band, or Black Stone Cherry? Let us know in the comments below. Looking for more? Check out our Southern Rock playlist on Spotify.

20 Comments

20 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. 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.

  6. Steve McDonald

    July 16, 2015 at 2:46 pm

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

  7. 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”

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. KEVIN L. PRICE

    February 27, 2017 at 2:58 am

    No Charlie Daniels Band?

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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?

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

  15. D. Miller

    August 6, 2018 at 3:49 am

    Wet Willie. Thanks for the reminder. Oh Leona

  16. Hitman

    February 8, 2022 at 2:40 am

    How could you not mention Marshall Tucker, Outlaws, Blackfoot?

  17. Scott Loiselle

    August 6, 2022 at 7:42 am

    How could you omit The Outlaws?

  18. Foo Barolo

    September 18, 2022 at 4:52 pm

    I’d also add Widespread Panic.

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