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Southern rock

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Southern rock

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Southern rock is a style of rock music that was very popular in the 1970s, and retains a fan base to the present.


1950s and 1960s – Origins

Rock music's origins lie mostly in the music of Southerners, and many stars from the first wave of 1950s rock and roll such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis hailed from the Deep South. But the British Invasion, and the rise of folk rock and psychedelic rock in the middle 1960s, shifted the focus of new rock music away from the rural south and to large cities like Liverpool, London, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

In the late 1960s, traditionalists such as Creedence Clearwater Revival (from Northern California), and The Band (Canadian, though drummer Levon Helm is a native Arkansan) revived interest in the roots of rock music.

1970s – Peak of popularity

Eventually the spotlight once again turned to bands from the American South. The Allman Brothers Band out of Macon, Georgia made their national debut in 1969 and soon gained a loyal following. Their blues-rock sound on one hand incorporated long jams informed by jazz and classical music, and on the other hand incorporated softer elements of country and folk with a Southern feel. The death of guitarist and leader Duane Allman in 1971 did not prevent them from gaining widespread popular appeal for the next several years, until internal tensions broke them apart after 1976.

The Allmans were signed to Capricorn Records, a small Macon outfit headed by Phil Walden (former manager of Otis Redding). A number of somewhat similar acts also recorded on Capricorn, including the Marshall Tucker Band from South Carolina, Wet Willie from Alabama, Grinderswitch from Georgia (and comprised of Allmans roadies), and the Elvin Bishop Band from Oklahoma.

Not on Capricorn, but loosely associated with this first wave of Southern rock, were Barefoot Jerry from Tennessee and the Charlie Daniels Band from Tennessee. Indeed it was Charlie Daniels, a big-bearded fiddler with a knack for novelty songs, who gave Southern rock its self-identifying anthem with his 1975 hit, "The South's Gonna Do It", whose lyrics mentioned all of the above bands and then asserted: "Be proud you're a rebel / Cause the South's gonna do it again." A year earlier, Daniels had started the Volunteer Jam, an annual concert held in Tennessee that would bring together many Southern rock artists in a loose setting.

In the early 1970s, a different wave of hard rock Southern groups emerged that emphasized stripped down boogie rhythms, fast guitar leads derived from heavy metal, and lyrical themes borrowed from the concurrent outlaw country movement. Also mentioned in "The South's Gonna Do It", Lynyrd Skynyrd out of Jacksonville, Florida dominated this genre until the deaths of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and other members of the group in a 1977 airplane crash. Groups such as 38 Special, The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, and Black Oak Arkansas also thrived in this genre for a time.

This branch of Southern rock's use of Southern imagery, in particular the Confederate Rebel Flag, and lyrics seemingly extolling redneck values drew considerable criticism and derision. Some groups such as Black Oak Arkansas played up these images to the point of obvious parody. More attention was focused on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" (1974), widely perceived as a redneck anthem and containing lines pointed at Neil Young's song "Southern Man" (which indicted Alabama as a state full of George Wallace-style segregationists). How Van Zant really meant "Sweet Home Alabama" is much debated, with many taking it as ironic or satiric and pointing out that Young and Van Zant respected each other as musicians.

In any case, this redneck strain was not universal in Southern rock; the Allman Brothers had multiple African American members (percussionist Jai Johanny Johanson and bassist Lamar Williams) at a time when mainstream rock was actively resegregating. Moreover, the Allmans' Southern feel came more from the temperament of its music ("Hot 'Lanta", "Little Martha", interpolations of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken") than any explicit cultural identification. Phil Walden, the Allmans, and other Capricorn artists had also played a part in Jimmy Carter's successful, unity-based run for the presidency; Carter himself was an avowed Allmans fan. Even within the Skynyrd branch of Southern rock, the appearance of Molly Hatchet on the dance-oriented show Solid Gold showed that the redneck rock/metal combination had some universal appeal.

Not all Southern rock artists fit into the above molds. The Atlanta Rhythm Section and the Amazing Rhythm Aces were more focussed on tight vocal harmonies, while the Dixie Dregs and Allmans offshoot Sea Level explored jazz fusion.

1980s and on – Continuing influence

Southern rock gained popularity far beyond the American south, and influenced groups as far flung as Australia's AC/DC and Britain's Def Leppard. Hard rock fans appreciated the blazing guitar solos, and working class listeners responded to the lack of glamour and rock star pretension in this music.

However, by the beginning of the 1980s, with the Allmans and Skynyrd both broken, with Capricorn Records in bankruptcy, and with Jimmy Carter out of office, much of Southern rock had become thoroughly enmeshed into corporate arena rock. With the rise of MTV, New Wave, and hair metal, most surviving Southern rock groups were relegated to secondary or regional venues.

One notable exception was Texas' ZZ Top, who had started in 1970 and were the final band mentioned in "The South's Gonna Do It". In the 1980s they added slick synthesizer production to their boogie blues sound, and skillfully used music videos to achieve great popularity. There were occasional hits by groups such as the Georgia Satellites as well.

During the 1990s the Allman Brothers reunified and became a strong touring and recording presence again, and the jam band scene revived interest in extended improvisory music (although the scene also owed much to the Grateful Dead, a group that relied heavily on southern music traditions). Incarnations of Lynyrd Skynyrd also made themselves heard. Hard rock groups with southern rock touches such as Jackyl renewed some interest in Southern rock, while groups such as Kings of Leon combined Southern rock with rawer genres, such as garage rock. Classic rock radio stations played some of the more familiar 1970s works, and Daniels' Volunteer Jam concerts were still going.

But most rock groups from the South, such as Georgia's R.E.M., B-52's, Widespread Panic, and Black Crowes, and Mississippi's Blind Melon, incorporated Southern musical and lyrical themes without explicitly allying with any Southern rock movement.

In 2005 Southern rock received new exposure from an unlikely source: singer Bo Bice took an explicitly Southern rock sensibility and appearance to a runner-up finish on the massively watched but normally pop-oriented American Idol television program. Fueled by a key early performance of the Allmans' "Whipping Post" and later performing Skynyrd's "Free Bird" and, with Skynyrd on stage with him, "Sweet Home Alabama", Bice demonstrated – and Idol judge Randy Jackson celebrated – that Southern rock still had a place in the American music pantheon. More recently, metal acts like Black Label Society, Every Time I Die, The Showdown and Maylene and the Sons of Disaster have blended strong Southern Rock influences with heavy metal music. A number of crossover acts from country music also are reviving the genre. Among these are Drive-By Truckers, Ryan Adams, Cross Canadian Ragweed, The Great Divide, and Reckless Kelly. These bands often come from Oklahoma's Red Dirt music scene or the Texas music scene as opposed to mainstream country meccas like Nashville. Probably one of the more unlikely blends is that of punk and Southern Rock, most notably Slobberbone and Jason and the Scorchers (both now disbanded).


  • The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. Random House, 1980. "Southern Rock" entry by Joe Nick Patoski. ISBN 394739388.
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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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