Today’s Arbitrary but Fun exercise blends the meanderings and divagations of Theory Tuesday and this blog’s traditional obsessions with curious pop-culture phenomena. Frequent reader, occasional critic, and fellow Horowitz Scourge Philip Klinkner, James S. Sherman Associate Professor of Government at Hamilton College, writes:
Per your earlier post about the origins of smooth jazz, what ever happened to southern rock? I was listening to some recent iTunes downloads of old Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd songs and it hit me that this type of music really dominated the charts in the 1970s, but has pretty much disappeared. Is this the result of the corporate homogenization of all music, so that now the big labels just can’t handle something as eclectic as southern rock? Or was southern rock just the musical manifestation of the post-civil rights era New South, when the region seemed willing to blend old and new in interesting ways—a musical version of Jimmy Carter, if you will. And like Carter they eventually couldn’t resist the polarization around them. Thoughts?
I replied, of course, that I would turn this question over to my readers, which I hereby do (hey, maybe there’s room in a Theory Tuesday for a discussion of performative utterances!). But I also suggested that one factor in the decline of southern rock might have been the ascendancy of “alternative” southern rock in the 1980s, from the dBs and Let’s Active to REM and Guadalcanal Diary and the Connells. When I lived in the south (1983-1989), these were the bands the Kool Kids were listening to, and I imagined that thousands of aspiring young musicians throughout the region were cutting their hair, jettisoning the eight-minute guitar solo, stripping the Confederate flags off their amps, and learning to play “Radio Free Europe” instead of “Sweet Home Alabama.”
But Professor Klinkner tells me that my suggestion is excessively formalist and subjectivist, and amounts to a form of deviationism that he will not fail to note at the upcoming Twentieth Congress of Left Cultural Critics. Insofar as it offers no account of the material base, either with regard to the transformation of the post-Civil Rights South or with regard to the transformation of the recording industry, and insofar as it overlooks the fact that none of these bands achieved much in the way of commercial success in the 1980s, my “Kool Kids” account of the decline of southern rock must be summarily rejected.
OK, readers, it’s up to you. The Allmans. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Marshall Tucker. Charlie Daniels. Molly Hatchet. .38 Special. Once, they roamed the land without let or hindrance; now, they and all their kind are confined to Classic Rock stations and the occasional state fair. Explain their rise and fall in well-argued comments of 5000 characters or less. Extra points will be awarded to anyone who can play the solos in “Blue Sky.”
One side note: when I was growing up in Queens in the 1970s, Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels and the Allmans were huge on Long Island. The closer you got to the Queens-Nassau border, the more cover bands you heard playing “Free Bird” and “The South’s Gonna Do It Again.” I found this genuinely strange. My theory at the time was that the Mason-Dixon Line actually runs out from the Maryland-Pennsylvania border into the Atlantic Ocean, takes a 90-degree turn north, and reemerges on Long Island, where it bisects Flushing-Bayside. But apparently this theory is wrong too.
taking a very brief respite from the music fest tour, and ventured back into the blogsphere to find this question of the day. Among music scene in last seven weeks was a set by Tea Leaf Green that literally featured a cover from each of the bands mentioned in the penultimate paragraph. Gov. Mule on the other hand played covers of the Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, etc. And the Dickie Betts band is playing cheap cover charge saloons along US hwy 101 this month. Go figure.
Nice to read through blog posts and comments, but dialup modem loaner laptop is too slow. I return to the comfort and peace and home and the blogsphere in late August. I look forward to playing catchup with all the musings here. Thank you, all of you, for making this such a necessary and hospitible place in our chaotic world.Posted by on 07/22 at 01:53 PM
Just to be precise on what phenomenon we’re trying to explain here, how do we account for The Georgia Satellites (fl. ca. 1987)?Posted by on 07/22 at 01:58 PM
Um. And come to that, what about Tom Petty ("Southern Accents,” “Pack Up the Plantation,” also late 1980s)?Posted by on 07/22 at 02:00 PM
I should add that growing up in Iowa in the 1970s, these sorts of bands were, I’d venture to guess, even bigger than in Queens. And lest Prof. B. imply that I’m some sort of crude Marxist intent on reducing everything to material concerns, I’m down with the PoMo cultural studies stuff that he and the other cool kids are sporting these days. Along those lines, I think gender and race have a role to play here too. In the Days of Disco and gender-bending Glam Rock, southern rockers were resolutely and masculine, and to a teenager in Iowa or Queens (I’d guess), that was pretty damn important. On race, the civil rights movement had created a period of ambiguity in the attitudes of whites. On the one hand, they no longer tolerated overt racism, but at the same time they were deeply conflicted by the demise of decades of hieararchy and white privilege. Thus, Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home, Alabama” gave voice to these ambiguities. Plus it had a hell of a beat and words you could sing to.Posted by on 07/22 at 02:03 PM
slolernr, the Georgia Satellites are clearly a “neo- historical” phenomenon, coming at the moment of southern rock in which the attempt at “restoration” is more farce than tragedy. They represent the Eighteenth Brumaire phase of hard Southern rock.
In other words, I have no idea. I’ll have to turn this one over to readers, as well.
And spyder, good to see you. We’ll be here for at least some of August.Posted by Michael on 07/22 at 02:04 PM
In the Days of Disco and gender-bending Glam Rock, southern rockers were resolutely masculine, and to a teenager in Iowa or Queens (I’d guess), that was pretty damn important.
No kidding. The curious thing is how working-class white masculinity got itself associated with long flowing hair in so short a time between, say, 1966 and 1972.
And Phil’s right, folks—he didn’t really accuse me of deviationism. He doesn’t do that kind of thing. I just made that part up—because I do do that kind of thing. (I couldn’t resist the temptation to invoke that Twentieth Congress.)Posted by Michael on 07/22 at 02:06 PM
One strike, necessary but not sufficient is that, for the recording industry, many of the big singles of the time period were cross-synergistic with movies of the time period. Think the soundtrack to Top Gun, or Flashdance. Southern Rock wasn’t going to be the theme song for any of the 80s movies that I can remember.
And don’t underestimate the Kool Kids. the early 80s is when they started to get an actual network of zines, distributors, and touring venues together, statewide on the coast and nation-wide later. This didn’t help Southern Rock one bit - it wasn’t the final nail in the coffin, but it did take a lot of youth learning guitar out of their equation.
Question though - Does Guns and Roses, et al feel like the bastardized version of this Southern Rock? That could be a puzzle piece.Posted by on 07/22 at 02:08 PM
If southern rock is understood as a post-civil rights form, might rap, and perhaps southern rap, be understood as some kind of rejoinder to 70s southern rock, an alternative post-civil rights kind of music? Are the Houston and Atlanta rap scenes the biggest southern contributions to mainstream pop these days?Posted by on 07/22 at 02:17 PM
The answer is obvious: The Republicans took over the South and ruined their music. There is alternative country now with Lucinda Williams, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, and others. Alternative country is still about hard drinkin’, cheatin’ lovers, truck stop living and the like, but it’s anti-Republican and opposed to the Stars and Bars mentality of Skynard and Daniels (I always hated that stuff).Posted by on 07/22 at 02:18 PM
I’d add that the idea of whites “no longer tolerat[ing] overt racism” is what Comrade Lenin used to deride as “official optimism.” The whole “disco sucks” phenomenon, complete with organized destruction of disco records (tied in with shitkicker AM radio station promos, of course) was overtly, unapologetically racist; the term “racist chic” had a vogue around the same time.
My Theory of Everything (with apologies to Roz Chast): everything started going to hell around 1964 but everything REALLY went to hell after 1978.Posted by on 07/22 at 02:31 PM
"Southern Accents” was 1985, to be precise. But it was released June 24, 1985, so if you’e one of those who insist the 1980s started on 1/1/1980, Petty can be argued to have released the album in the very first days of the late 1980s.
I’m a little surprised that no one has pointed out the possibility of a Buddy Holly trope in which Southern Rock died at 7:00 PM EST, October 20, 1977.
I’m also a little surprised that no one has posited a dinosaur-bird counter-trope, in which Southern Rock did not die, but merely evolved into Alternative by way of R.E.M. and - to a lesser extent - the B-52s.Posted by Chris Clarke on 07/22 at 02:39 PM
I think you overstate the Stars and Bars mentality of Skynyrd. Yes, there’s “Sweet Home, Alabama,” but as I said, that was a pretty tame version of the conservative backlash compared to say Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” or “Fightin’ Side of Me.” Plus, find me a more powerful anti-gun song than “Saturday Night Special.” Finally, how do you explain Skynyrd’s very public support for Jimmy Carter in 1976?Posted by on 07/22 at 02:42 PM
Dude, I’ve got the keys to the Camaro. Let’s us all head down Peninsula Boulevarde to Speaks and see the Stanton Anderson Band. Or we could hit the OBI East, West, North or South and catch Rat Race Choir. Oops. Sorry. Thought it was 1975.
But one sign of progress you do see these days is not so many Confederate bumper stickers in Long Island’s Dixie below Hempstead Turnpike. Oy.Posted by The Heretik on 07/22 at 02:56 PM
Philip—Agreed. I was thinking of “Sweet Home Alabama” and it is not representative of their blues-based stuff. And since you raised Merle Haggard, we should probably recall Pure Prairie League’s anti-anthem, “I’ll Fix Your Flat Tire Merle.”Posted by on 07/22 at 02:57 PM
In postmodernism, nothing dies, it just gets reused in someone’s shoddy, opportunistic remix. After masculinists Guns n Roses and Tom Petty came people like Kid Rock (a white guy from Detroit w/"southern" attitude), and Fred Durst/ Limp Bizkit from Jacksonville Florida. But that was the late 90s/early 00s.
Now in the mid 00s those bands too are defunct. But we have the beginnings of the next wave of southern kitsch: Jessica Simpson redoing Nancy Sinatra’s fake country hit ("These Boots Are Made for Walkin"), accompanying the movie remake of the TV show Dukes of Hazzard, which is incidentally directed by a guy whose parents came from India. So you see, it’s all very authentic.
Michael, I think the peculiarity of Long Island’s appropriation of the south (espcially odd since everyone still sounds like they’re from Brooklyn: “LongaiLand") has to do with the sociology of white flight starting in the 50s—though you probably already knew that.Posted by Amardeep on 07/22 at 02:59 PM
For me, southern rock died 29 October, 1971.
Really before it was born,weird.Posted by on 07/22 at 03:00 PM
Well, one other problem with the Kool Kids theory, Michael, is that good ol’ Charlottesville, VA is only marginally in the hardcore South, particularly the closer you wind your way in town to UVA. Sorta like the limitations of “third world” and “first world"-type thinking.
At any rate, what I’m saying is that the intellectual/cosmopolitan UVA South is definitely NOT the crack-a-live-chicken’s-neck-with-your-bare-hands South of, say, the rest of Charlottesville.Posted by on 07/22 at 03:01 PM
* what about bo bice?
* does text-messaging your vote count as a performative utterance?Posted by badger on 07/22 at 03:10 PM
The Heretik, you’ve got a Camaro? Fuggin ay. Next time, though, we take the Trans Am.
And Rob, I lived on the southern edge of Charlottesville, where the South begins. No horse farms there, but plenty of chickens with broken necks. On the other hand, I have to admit that most of the Kool Kids I knew were NoVa and DC exiles looking for the next Scene.
Amardeep, I think you’re right on both counts, but who knew that Levittown would become the key to the conflation of whiteness with the South in the post-Nixon United States? (Hilarious stuff on the post-postmodern Dukes, by the way.)
And Chris Clarke: you’re saying that the REM/ B-52s south was an evolutionary development on, rather than a replacement of, the era of the dinosaurs? What is this, a meliorist theory of evolution? I will not put up with any such thing. This blog stands foursquare behind the theory of punctuated rock and roll equilibrium, and believes that Robert Wright’s New Yorker attack on Steven Jay Gould’s “Buddy Holly” theory of musical discontinuities was intellectually dishonest.Posted by Michael on 07/22 at 03:15 PM
Hmm, well, hardly marking a resurgence of southern rock by themselves but the Drive-By Truckers last three cds—Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day, and The Dirty South—are really fantastic. Strong songwriting, and a passionate sense of place. Worth checking out.Posted by on 07/22 at 03:20 PM
False syllogism, Michael. The B-52s are an outlier, f’sure, but surely you’ll admit that Tom Petty constitutes a valid transitional fossil in a purported Duane Allman -> Michael Stipe lineage.Posted by Chris Clarke on 07/22 at 03:21 PM
Actually, the death of Southern Rock is the fault of the university. Note all the alternative bands tended to emerge from college town scenes--Athens, Raleigh/Durham. So, like most college kids, they spent their time looking out and not exploring where they were. After all, they didn’t plan to stay there, Howard Finster or no Howard Finster.
Don’t forget probably the best late ‘80s Southern rocker was Steve Earle circa “Copperhead Road,” which might be as much Springsteen (more of that high school mythos) as the South, anyway. Earle’s also evidence jail time can de-southify you a bit, at the least make you appreciate the white jackets of Kentucky colonels over the white lines of South Nashville (he recorded his bluegrass album with traditionalists Del McCoury Band and not somebody out there like Split Lip Rayfield).
And there is great Southern Rock now--the Drive-by Truckers, who’ve got the three-guitar, boogie-shuffle down, sing about NASCAR like they mean it, but are so smart they could change their names to Blue on Red.Posted by George on 07/22 at 03:22 PM
I like your theory on university towns. Just more evidence for my belief that fancy book larnin’ is the root of many evils. And if you don’t believe me, come to any faculty meeting.Posted by on 07/22 at 03:34 PM
I agree absolutely about Georgia Satellites being the Eighteenth Brumaire of Southern Rock. So were Southern culture on the Skids, though they knew it. Now that Black Crowes are no longer so popular, I’d venture to guess that Kings of Leon is the reigning Southern Rock act in the USA…Posted by on 07/22 at 03:38 PM
I’m surprised nobody mentioned the vogue Southern Rock enjoyed about a year ago. While some accuse them of being a poor imitation of The Strokes, The Kings of Leon, are a very good and rock band who define this trend and definitely carry the Southern Rock torch. While R.E.M. is a very important band, I would say they’re far to unique and innovative to be associated with Southern Rock as a genre just because they’re from Athens, Georgia. However the Athens of the 80’s through the present does have one of the best live music scenes in the nation.
As far as Hip-Hop goes, the south is truly rising again (ironic isn’t it). While marginalized in the formative years of Hip-Hop, the South clearly dominates the scene now. While rural artists throughout the Southeast, Midwest and Texas are all seen as emerging from this marginalization, the superstar Lil John’s production techniques have truly revolutionized the sound of all chart-topping Hip-Hop.
I hope more people comment on the rise of Southern Hip-Hop in terms of cultural theory and postmodern theory. Both can be seen clearly and interestingly here, but unfortunately too many people interested in the cutting edge of English listen to more smooth jazz than the Ying Yang Twins.Posted by on 07/22 at 03:40 PM
The Black Crows also complicate things (much more, in my opinion, than the Georgia Satellites). Still, the general claim that good-old-fashioned southern rock died with the ‘80s sounds reasonable enough.
This area is definitely not my specialty, but might it have something to do with the switch in the late ‘70’s/early ‘80s from album-oriented to hit-oriented formats for radio stations? Really, I don’t know--it just seems to me that ‘70s southern rock, though it now has its anthems (has anybody ever had this conversation and not mentioned “Freebird?"), was more about albums than songs, more about overall attitude than hits.
But, like I said, I don’t really know about these things. I was only seven, after all, when Ronnie Van Zant died.Posted by on 07/22 at 03:51 PM
What was the reason or reasons behind the popularity of Southern rock in the late seventies? I’m not convinced by the Carter connection. I think the main cause was what counted as the mainstream: Disco and sappy “Muskrat Love” AM fare. Thank God for Punk.Posted by on 07/22 at 03:55 PM
Leave it to a social scientist to posit a mult-variate explanation: the decline of the bands themselves (the Allman’s peaked with Live at the Fillmore; Marshall Tucker--my favorite second stringer Southern rock band had may be one good tune, “Running like the Wind” after “Where We All Belong"), the decline of the parallel phenomenon of country rock (from Poco to the various, later Hillman-Furay groups is a sad decline), the rise of cross-over country (a counterpart to jazz fusion and later era country rock and just as awful), and the rise of the preppy/yuppy asthetic coupled with the decline of blue collar chic. The rise of the Southern middle class (historically a bit of an oddity in an essentially feudal economic/social order) may help explain the emregence of the college boy groups like REM, although I suspect they were more popular in Cleveland (a leading edge music market in the 70s and 80s), LA, or New York than in Birmingham.
As Chris Clarke notes, Tom Petty is a significant transitional figure. In a more cult following vein, so is Steve Forbert.
The bands themseleves moved away from their bluesy roots and put out ever slicker and more boring “records” as the 70s wore on. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” will forever be associated with getting rays in quad, while I can’t imageine any pleasant lasting associations with the Brothers’ later work, which was as vapid and forgettable as the later country rock and the 70s/80s country. In a sense, they were all the same thing---watered down roots music from the South; fitting music for the strip mall culture of suburban Atlanta.
The Bands have predicatbly moved Right--people like Charlie Daniels and members of the Allmans supported one or both Bushes.
When you ask Georgia natives what happened to the progressive world of Jimy Carter, they aren’t sure themselves.Posted by on 07/22 at 03:58 PM
If you follow the connection above from Skynyrd to Molly Hatchet (good Jacksonville southern rock) onward to Fred Durst (bad Jacksonville psuedo-southern rock), you will see that the death of the genre is due to the arrival of the Jacksonville Jaguars.Posted by on 07/22 at 04:04 PM
Southern rock didn’t go anywhere. That’s 1/2 of what you’ll hear in downtown Austin any given night of the week.Posted by Amanda Marcotte on 07/22 at 04:08 PM
I think it was the success of the first Gulf war that finished it. Southern rock was about wounded pride and patriotic antiestablishmentism. After that war, it just didn’t resonate.
The last song of the genre that I remember liking was Alman’s “No Angel”Posted by on 07/22 at 04:10 PM
The older genre of Southern rock was dead and largely buried long before the 1st Gulf WarPosted by on 07/22 at 04:15 PM
potPosted by Roxanne on 07/22 at 04:18 PM
As with most things musical, the answer is:
blame the splintering of top-40 radio.
The rise of multiple, parallel, network-owned stations in most large markets—and this is not a brand new phenomenon—reinforcecd genre boundaries. Top-40, up through the early eighties, could segue easily through what today would seem like an unlistenable mish-mash of styles. Boston, the Cars, and Run-DMC? Sure, why not.
Why does this matter? Becacuse southern rock was about hybridity; some of the guitar-noodling of San Francisco psychedelia, mixed with a little R&B and a heaping spoonful of nashville. Add a pinch of Snopesism (an english lit blog, after all) and stir.
Once those styles get codified and divided, the only places for southern rock are “oldies” stations, and state fairs.Posted by on 07/22 at 04:26 PM
Actually, Amanda, wasn’t Southern rock killed by the alternative Austin compilation Bands on the Block? If you see any surviving members of Go Dog Go!, say hello from me. My band Baby Opaque shared a stage with them one night in 1985. They rocked.
But I’m perfectly willing to believe that university towns killed Southern rock. And stunned to hear Steve Forbert’s name! That one takes me back. Whatever happened to Steve Forbert?
As for Tom Petty, I think the last line of the Tractatus pretty much sums it up.Posted by Michael on 07/22 at 04:32 PM
You’re all discounting the rise of the Atlanta rock scene in the 80’s, of which REM was just the symptom therof. You can see the effects continue through the Indigo Girls and the current ingenue, John Meyer. The short version is, “As Atlanta got bigger, attracted less of a Southern emphasis, and an empahsis of being a preminent American City, the acts that made Southern Rock found less of a home in a more urban Atlanta.”
Of course, all the Athens people are asking me WTF are you talking about? UGA is solely responsibile for REM! Atlanta’s 40 miles away! If you think about it, that pretty much answers your own question. What band or group of hardcore fans refuses to visit a venue outside of a college town?
The Georgia Satellites & Black Crowes were a predictable reactionary fad out of the region not because of their style or ability, but their fairly straightforwwad acknowledgement that reminescent Rock is best enjoyed while stoned. Give that to a college crowd and they’ll eat it up.
Rich’s interpetation is different because of personal experience, but essentially parallels these thoughts.Posted by on 07/22 at 04:38 PM
There are a lot of bands from here that play that noodling, stoner-y kind of Southern rock. They actually tend to book in the punk/indie clubs here, which drives me up the wall because that kind of music makes me....sleepy. My boyfriend’s band is Southern-stoner rock-esque.Posted by Amanda Marcotte on 07/22 at 04:39 PM
Ah, I posted too soon. Michael just got it.Posted by on 07/22 at 04:41 PM
Forbert still tours. He was at Variety Playhouse (an old theatre turned music venue) in Atlanta at least once during the past year. He has a website: http://www.steveforbert.com.
It seems like a given that almost no one in the many worlds of pop music seems to retire--Jerry Butler has been a successful politician in Chicago for many, many years and still solicits club dates. Lesley Gore has a new CD and recently had a public coming out as a lesbian (she claims everyone who knew here personally already knew).Posted by on 07/22 at 04:42 PM
I grew up in Charlottesville during the same years that you folks were there in college. I think it is very true that the South begins at the southern edge of the city.
As for Southern Rock, it’s a difficult nut to crack. It still seems like a disproportionate number of rock bands come from the South. It still seems like the general American public strongly identifies many of these bands with broadly “Southern” themes. But the themes are very different. I think a depoliticization has taken place, for one thing.
The broad “Southern” themes of today’s music are:
1) Wistful/Hangdog/Flannery O’Connor/dirt-roads-and-stars/mandolin
2) Whacked-Out/Goofy/Krunkiness/funny sound effects
A good issue to explore might also be the troubled relationship between “Southern Rock” and New-Country Music. Presumably one reason why Southern Rock lost its audience was that Country started to be seen as something that young Southerners could listen to without neccesarily being seen as “hayseeds”. Even though New-Country most decidedly did not “rock”, it was “up-to-date” in terms of thematic content and instrumentation, and maybe that was enough for the last stragglers of the Camaro-driving youths of the 1980s. I could imagine many of these young men tentatively telling their best friends that “Hey, it’s kind of weird but Garth Brooks sort of rocks, man...” And it was downhill from there for Southern Rock.Posted by on 07/22 at 04:47 PM
And what of rock-a-billy, the kissin’ cousin of Southern Rock?Posted by Roxanne on 07/22 at 04:50 PM
The reason that most rock comes out of the South is Southerners invented both blues and country and pretty much most rock. My region of the country is always being derided as being uncultured and we have produced a disproportionate amount of American culture. We deserve some respect, I dare say.Posted by Amanda Marcotte on 07/22 at 04:55 PM
What happened to Southern Rock? Accidental deaths, in the case of Lynard Skynard and the Allman Brothers. Molly Hatchet was always second-rate, in my opinion. Marshall Tucker was always marginally rock (c’mon, Heard It In a Love Song ain’t rock and roll). Charlie Daniels certainly moved into the wingnut-o-sphere, but recall his first hit was “The Ballad of the Uneasy Rider"--which outlines the problems that the long-haired youth had in the South in the early seventies.
Skynard’s appeal, in my opinion, lies in their “outlaw” image. The best verse in “Sweet Home Alabama” is the Neil Young kiss-off, after all. Skynard was hugely popular with the biker crowd, themselves self-proclaimed outlaws (before the Harley mid-life crisis of every other male over twenty-five of the last ten years, anyway).Posted by on 07/22 at 04:57 PM
Paul, a couple of posts up, is on the right track. If anyone is carrying the dim torch of unreconstructed Southern rock, it’s Travis Tritt. (The Drive-By Truckers are, if anything, truer to the southern longhairs of the 70s, but they are anything but unreconstructed).Posted by on 07/22 at 05:00 PM
Invented in the South? Heck, the cotton gin was invented by a Yalie from Massachusetts. Country’s heritage is Celtic & Anglo-Saxon reels. The roots of the blues are in Africa. The term “Rock-n-Roll” came from Cleveland and the cross-over purchases of “race” music were more evident (and possible) in the North than in the South.Posted by on 07/22 at 05:04 PM
All of this talk of Athens, GA makes me think of Athens’ favorite sons, Widespread Panic. Now, dem boys play some unreconstructed Southern rock.
Half their audience is stoned out of their collective gourd out in Colorado, though, so the band just don’t get the respect they deserve.Posted by on 07/22 at 05:17 PM
well, i had a lengthy post about southern rock in the style of skynnard getting divvied up into new country and grunge in the wake of new wave and punk’s temporary dismissal of guitar rock-- especially since, as our dear Ralph Cohen (still going strong at UVa) would point out, all genres are combinatory.
but, as a native southerner who somehow never really escaped (at least geographically), i’m more interested in points that rich and amanda have made concerning the reception and popularity of southern rock and Southern Rock actually in the south. there’s certainly a lot of rock being made in the south, some very self-consciously working in that tradition (kings of leon, my morning jacket, drive-by truckers), and some not so much (although spoon doesn’t sound specifically southern to me, britt daniel does have a certain southern-boy charm), so i really don’t think we can say that it has vanished.
the popularity question troubles me, though. skynnard and the allman brothers were beloved in birmingham, but r.e.m. didn’t get popular there until about the same time they seemed to get popular everywhere else. were other 80s southern bands (pylon, the connells, fetchin bones, let’s active) more popular in the south than elsewhere? is/was any kind of southern rock more popular in the south? if so, it seems to me that, oddly, it might be the strain that doesn’t wear its Heart of Dixie on its sleeve (sorry sorry).
does this have to do with the kind of southern identity listeners want to claim? the long-haired “eat a peach” rebelliousness of the 70s era southern rock seemed to appeal more to the boys i knew growing up than did michael stipe’s southern gothic poet persona. is/was this true in other places?
and hey, the dBs are putting out a new album, so maybe some order will be restored to the universe.Posted by on 07/22 at 05:29 PM
I don’t think anybody has mentioned yet the rise of MTV. Aesthetics plays a role in the decline of Southern Rock. We were one of the first families to have MTV, which in retrospect is strange, given my father’s subsequent opposition to MTV (he served on the local cable commission with the goal of getting rid of MTV in the 1990s.) I distinctly remember referring to 38 Special as “the all ugly band” while watching with my friends. They were definitely less charismatic and visually appealing than the British new wave bands that had videos that were getting played on MTV, such as Squeeze and bands like the Talking Heads.
Was ZZ Top a Southern band? IF so, they were one of the few to make the transition to MTV popularity.Posted by on 07/22 at 05:32 PM
C’mon y’all, you seem to be overlooking the material conditions that have accrued to new “southern-ness.” The other head of the two-headed “DocMara” beast noted the arrival of the Jacksonville Jags as the turning point and tombstone of the south-as-alternative-rockspace. Southern Rock arrived just as ruralness was seeping out of the south. The transition from “Hillbilly” to “Trailer Trash” hasn’t been pretty. You get lots of glossy songs about “cuntry livin’” now, but hardly any sort of real lyrics about what it means to be poor in the south in anything remotely southern. That experience is mostly covered by disaffected genres of rap and metal. Death metal speaks more to the situation of the southern poor than twangy country or even “regionalized” rock. Michael, you mentioned the unmanly colors and piping of the Jags uniforms. Don’t you think people trapped near those uniforms will not only disavow their NFL franchise, but dissociate themselves from the region’s entertainment signifiers altogether?Posted by DocMara on 07/22 at 05:41 PM
When I moved from Nashville (which had a lot more than corporate country going on, but nothing very adventurous) to Washington DC in 1990, I heard a lot more REM, et al. than I had in two years in Nashville or the previous two Bloomington, Indiana (which is in a region that is probably more stereotypically southern than Middle Tennessee). I also heard a lot more of those boys in Chicago (a previous stop) or Cleveland (where I was settling an estate) than in Nashville. Bloomington has an excellent music school but had to have been the worst college town imaginable for buying music or hearing music in a non-academic context. The radio stations and club scene in Indianapolis were the worst and seem to remain so.
Atlanta has a fair amount of musical life, although the alt-rock stuff tends to be pretty forgettable. Besides the hip-hop noted upthread, it has a sizable number of acoustic folks (Inidago Girls, Shawn Colvin) and a good showcase venue, but those folks’ music is not widely appreciated outside of a small slice of the city (academics, CDC-types, and their fellow travelers; with some of the boho artsy crowd and lesbians, in the case of the Inidgos). They are treated as local celebs, even though most people could not name one of their songs. Atlanta’s radio stations are the worst--the narrowest play lists imaginable. Even the classical station is like this. There are a couple jazz venues, but the recent jazz festival was headlined by Kenny G.Posted by on 07/22 at 05:47 PM
I would think that “Southern Rock” died the death that most genres of classic rock did somewhere in the 80s. And the culprit was classic rock stations. How many of the songs of that format were from the 80s, even for bands that survived like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac? The format simultaneously promoted it and reified it (though the transition from the Allman Brothers to LS suggests it acquired bloat to begin with). In any case, the southerness of “Southern Rock” was always performative. The only thing that rings true are the arpeggios that many of the songs are famous for, and which Peter Buck raided for REM (which is truer to the kudzuified and slowly modernizing south that I grew up in than the bombast of Skynyrd).Posted by Robert on 07/22 at 06:20 PM
19 And Rob, I lived on the southern edge of Charlottesville, where the South begins.
Not to sound like the John Savage character in the Deer Hunter but Michael, Michael, Michael, when I went to schoool in Charlottesville, the South started way before the southern edge of that town, more like just outside the Fairfax Inn. Then you could drive all the way down Route 29, up and down rolling hills, not quite getting deeper and deeper into the Heart of Darkness in a land yacht but . . .
Once you cross the Rivanna River, you are in The Deep South, where the dead still walk, or so you would think. Man, if I had a Jefferson nickel for everytime I heard somebody refer to Mister Jefferson on The Corner . . . oy.
And yeah, next time let’s take your Trans Am. Unless I can get the keys to the Cutlass 442. Then we can head to The Right Track Inn on Sunrise Highway and maybe hang with some Sacred Heart girls. Wouldn’t that be wicked?Posted by The Heretik on 07/22 at 06:21 PM
Paula made the point I was going to make: MTV changed how bands became popular, and visual media in general became more important in determining which acts became well-known. ZZ Top (the Little Band From Texas)could cross over. They weren’t any better looking than, say, .38 special, but they had the beards and the revolving guitars, as a visually-striking gimmick, as well as the women in their videos and the cars. And there were only three of them, which translates better to video than the large bands like the Allman Brothers Band.
For country, the early 80s was the age of Gilly’s and the Urban Cowboy thing, Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrell and her variety show, etc. And in rock, visual images were even more important. Rock became more about Van Halen, Motley Crue and other hair bands in spandex (you have to remember these steps before you get to grunge and alt-country.) Alternative rock, on the other hand, comes from the punk/new wave lineage. Having been a teenager in the south during the 80s (and related to a lot of good old boys), I think the people who were playing southern rock in their garages in the 70s would have been more likely to have gone in one of these directions in the 80s, though of course some of them must have gotten into REM instead.Posted by on 07/22 at 06:35 PM
Country band, that’s where Southern Rock went to. Kinda like when the 50s rockers went country.
Garth Brooks, there’s your transitional figure. Big & Rich, that’s where Southern Rock lives now.Posted by Steven Rubio on 07/22 at 07:29 PM
Vandals disturb Ronnie Van Zant’s grave
Was Ronnie wearing a Neil Young T-shirt when he was buried?Posted by Stalin on 07/22 at 07:34 PM
I still have and listen to Marshall Tucker, the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels and Don Nix and His Hot Licks. Does anyone remember the Outlaws and the Atlanta Rhythm Sectionf? The Outlaw’s High Tides and Green Grass is as intense a rock experience as I have ever heard. I still have an Album by a woman named Barbara Keith, who covered All Along the Watchtower as well as anyone. I still catch some of this on the local Indy station in San Diego, KPRI. Personally, I think Southern Rock was a victim of the political divide and Corporate amalgamation. Genre benders were left out in the cold.Posted by on 07/22 at 07:34 PM
Explain their rise and fall in well-argued comments of 5000 characters or less.
I’ll be brief:
Crappy pilots and motorcycles.Posted by Randy Paul on 07/22 at 07:50 PM
Motorcycles plus peach trucks.Posted by The Heretik on 07/22 at 08:00 PM
After stumbling over the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out” all afternoon, I suppose you have your finger on the marketing pulse of the country, or at least the NE. Or do they usually play Southern Rock on TGIF blocks on commercial radio?
I’ve got Sonny Landreth cued up, and that’s an okay sample of REAL white-boy southern music.
("Common Law Love,” actually)Posted by on 07/22 at 08:08 PM
Okay, I left a response with some recommendations, but so far the only comments are about my spelling. I hope the damn thing makes sense.Posted by Amanda on 07/22 at 08:08 PM
There is an indie rock version of Southern Rock - The Kings of Leon. They are pretty good. I have nothing theortical to say about it though.Posted by Anthony Paul Smith on 07/22 at 08:58 PM
Okay, Doc, I may not be up on the latest literary theory, but you in mah house now. I can play “Blue Sky” (or I could a few years ago.)
I think your thesis is essentially correct—Southern rock was a phylum that did not survive - although, as Amanda and others have pointed out, certain mutations eventually branched out into other areas.
I’m not a great expert on current country singers like Travis Tritt and Kenny Chesney, but they’re the logical continuation of Southern rock (see Tritt’s “Put Some Drive in Your Country"). Montgomery Gentry’s “Didn’t I” is also powerful Southern-rock-cum-new-country, with a subversive returning-Iraq-vet message.
Explain their rise? Regional pride for Southerners, a glimpse into an alternate universe for everyone else - plus the genius of Billy Gibbons, which would’ve flowered in any art form. Their fall? Marketing of the “new country,” plus the overall decline of automous writing/playing/singing groups in rock, replaced by the synth-girls (Britneys) and boy bands.Posted by RJ Eskow on 07/22 at 09:05 PM
It all started when businesses started piping “music” into offices that was supposed to appeal to a younger generation but not “rocky” enough to draw attention to itself. Ears are a terrible thing to waste.
If you take a listen to Greg Allman’s first solo album, Laid Back, it shows that, well, laid back “rock” can be infinately better than the E-Z listening dreck that is so godawful everywhere. The blues numbers are so tasty you can eat em with a spoon and the county tinged numbers are better than the usual C&W pablum barging out of Florida cars these days.
IMHO, Duane Allman is one of the top 5 guitarists to grace a slab of vinyl ever. Relistening to Live At The Fillmore never fails to astound. Layla’s Anyday forces me to wail right along with them.Posted by on 07/22 at 09:09 PM
"I’m No Angel” is a great song, if you ask me. And I’m with you about Duane. He was great - and only 24 when he died. A shame ...Posted by RJ Eskow on 07/22 at 09:28 PM
The Allman Brothers and Jerry Jeff Walker’s album Viva Terlingua remind me strongly of my childhood and my dad especially, so I have a soft spot for them. Anyway, rumor has it that I was conceived at the Terlingua Chili Cook-off, which is such an ideally spicy story that it might be myth. My mother refuses to say, but she does say that my dad was so drunk he didn’t realize he’d broken his ankle until morning.
For the record, my parents are not alcoholics. They are both very, very light social drinkers. They were just very, very young at the time.Posted by Amanda on 07/22 at 10:00 PM
Amanda wrote: “Anyway, rumor has it that I was conceived at the Terlingua Chili Cook-off”
Foul! The rumor-starters obviously stole your birth-legend from *Gargantua & Pantagruel*.
(and why did they name the villain on the smurfs after Gargantua’s mother Gargamel, anyways? i’m just askin’....”Posted by on 07/22 at 10:28 PM
conceived at the Terlingua Chili Cook-off
I am officially in love with Amanda.Posted by Chris Clarke on 07/22 at 10:34 PM
Well, I suppose that beats being conceived in Little Italy during Fleet Week.
Nah. Nah, it doesn’t.Posted by Roxanne on 07/22 at 10:44 PM
Picking up some loose threads in the thread:
does text-messaging your vote count as a performative utterance?
badger, I hate it when people complicate perfectly simple speech acts. John Searle, white courtesy phone, paging John Searle, please demonstrate that the text message is not “parasitic” on the original utterance.
And RJ, if you can play either one of those solos, then this humble drummer’s blog gives it up to you. I am almost as impressed as I was when I learned that Jonathan Vos Post fixed the imaging problem on the Voyager 2 flyby of Uranus by dreaming the solution to the planet’s magnetic field problem. ("Blue Sky,” Voyager 2—it’s all the same on this indiscriminate cultural studies blog.) Duane’s solo, I think, never wears thin—melodic, beautifully phrased, and light of touch to boot. Also, it pushed that Mr. Betts a bit, though his sharper attack and his arpeggiatin’ at the end make his solo a little less sublime, imho.
And Amanda, I’m with you on jettisoning most of Skynyrd. The ZZ Top problem, however, has yet to be theorized.Posted by Michael on 07/22 at 11:01 PM
Cultural formulations (including my own) aside, you can’t underestimate the ability of popular genres to simply exhaust themselves. Partly, it’s because of creative sputtering and partly because something else, often largely unrelated, emerges and swamps the older genre’s appeal. The British Invasion with the Mersey beat, etc. had a very short life of maybe 3 years. Some bands continued to evolve (The Who, Stones, Kinks, Beatles), but many performers vanished and the survivors went off in varied directions. The heyday of the signature Motown acts (Tempts, Tops, Supremes) was similarly short and partly done in by their own cross-sover success. Acid rock, the progeny of the Byrds & Buffalo Springfield, etc. swamped these earlier sounds and then exhausted themselves. The Byrds admired the Beatles but didn’t try to sound like them. They recorded Dylan’s songs, but didn’t sound like him. Motown’s influence on subsequent R&B perferomers is debatable--the need & desire for crossover appeal had diminished and that’s probably part of it, along with the rapid changes in civil rights conciousness.
There are other largely dead genres---glam rock, art rock, etc. although some performers from these epochs have morphed into something else---the MOR sound of Phil Collins, e.g. OTOH, I haven’t gheard anything dimly like 10cc in a long time.
The classic Southern rock acts were exhausting themsleves by the time MTV music firmly established itself. They began with very broad appeal---the Allmans were as much or popular with the college crowd as with the proles. Springsteen probably filled some of their “proletarian but wide spectrum appeal” niche, as their music declined. The visual gimmicks helped ZZ Top, but once you get past “Sharp Dressed Man” there wasn’t much further that band was able to go.
I’m not saying that things totally vanish (although sometimes they do). And whole eras can creep into new music. Part of the appeal of grunge for me was the obvious borrowing of guitar licks, attitude, and so forth from late 60s rock bands (plus I wear a lot of flannel shirts). OTOH, they were different enough to be something fresh and a big relief from MTV music. Maybe we’ll hear echos of Dickie Betts in the next wave of “new music”.
To get back to REM----their cultural references and most of their sound really hasn’t been part of the South, beyond some of the country rock-ish guitar work on their early albums. A band whose earlier work includes a song about pollution in the Cuyahoga River isn’t exactly Southern and is more likely to resonate with the NE Ohio diaspora than with subruban kids in Gwinnett County, GA. The B-52 aren’t even in the same class--they had a great sound for doing the pogo and sophomorically clever wordplay (I still like “Living in Your Own Private Idaho” for that reason) but they are even less regional and more college boy” centric.Posted by on 07/22 at 11:08 PM
ZZ can live. I like them.
Yeah yeah yeah on the love. It’s easy to love a woman until you find out that she emits SBD farts. Vegetarianism, you know.Posted by Amanda on 07/22 at 11:26 PM
Michael, I didn’t say I could play them well, but yes, I could pretty much get through them and a few others (e.g. “One Way Out"). The result of many hours of obsessive labor, now long in decay. No dreaming involved, and no flights of associative thinking - like Murray Gell-Mann’s thinking of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism to solve a particle physics problem (which your Voyager analogy brought to mind).
I didn’t know you were a drummer! Personally, I would say that the Skynyrd works are undervalued because of the cultural associations they lug along as baggage - which is to say, they were a bunch of real rednecks, which put a lot of people off.
They were antiwar and proud, though—and I like to think Ronnie would’ve kicked his little brother’s ass for playing the Republican Convention last year. Re ZZ Top, what’s to theorize? Brilliant musically AND lyrically, although their ethics and values may be reprehensible.
Billy Gibbons is the Louis-Ferdinand Celine of rock and roll. I say give the man his props and be done with it!Posted by RJ Eskow on 07/22 at 11:26 PM
And Rich, I strongly disagree on the B-52s thing. I would have agreed with you a couple months ago, but I was at a couple’s house hanging out and drinking wine and they bust out the acoustic guitar and started singing B-52s songs like that and the country structure became immediately apparent. A revelation, really. Like I said, if you live in the South, even as far out as Texas, country and blues are mama’s milk. You can’t avoid the influence, not that you’d want to.Posted by Amanda on 07/22 at 11:28 PM
Amanda, a coupla drunk Texans with a guitar could make the Missa Solemnis sound like a country song.
(It’d probably be pretty good, too ...)Posted by RJ Eskow on 07/22 at 11:33 PM
The sad fate of Southern Guitar greats? Duane Allman’s greatest work was not recorded with the Allman Brothers. He totally schooled the Clapton that was God in multiple ssssions recorded at 461 Ocean Boulevarde: Little Wing, Layla, Bell Bottom Blues, I Looked Away.
Unfortunately I never got to see Duane perform in some of the more notable dives in Charlottesville like the West Virginian. I saw plenty of other great rockers southern and otherwise back in the day in Tom Town. Little Feat was huge. Neville Brothers, Toussaint. Laissez les bon temps roulez.
So far as I know, no national acts ever appeared at Richard’s Hilltop Hideaway.Posted by The Heretik on 07/22 at 11:35 PM
Saw Dickey Betts & Great Southern at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival just this past week, and it gave me ample (and I mean ample) time to ponder one practitioner of this genre. First, let me say that it was very enjoyable and I highly recommend them to anyone with the inclination and the time. However, the pace and lack of urgency in their music were noteworthy, especially to my teenage daughter (our running joke was that they had never met a 15-minute song they didn’t like.) I think this is one manifestation of the linkage of this music to the vestiges of the defining rural character of the South. This is great music for “just settin’”, but stands in sharp contrast to almost all elements of pop culture of the past 25 years. It stirred me to recall the words of the friend who introduced me to The Ramones - “At least these guys know how to stop.”
So I don’t know, maybe the decline of Southern rock was just collateral damage in the Punk/New Wave mercy killing of Art Rock and disco. But I think actually just one more element in the flow of culture that takes you from Flem Snopes to A Man in Full.
Related tangent: The warp and weave of all of the “Southern” music genres and their various influences do create an interesting tapestry. The three evening headliners at the festival were Edgar Winter, Elvin Bishop and Betts, which I found to be an intriguing, if a bit disquieting, mix. And together with some of more “standard” blues acts, brought to mind a possible variant of the Kevin Bacon game (or actually Star Links, see here). Link two musical groups, say The Waitresses and North Mississippi All-Stars, using a chain of acts that have performed at the same concert or themed festival.Posted by on 07/22 at 11:38 PM
To the contrary, Rox, coke (a big favorite of the Allmans). Many years ago I saw an interview with Steve Earle, where he talked about what coke did to Nashville. Where before the after-hours gatherings had been egalitarian, with big names and nobodies sitting around passing joints and guitars, once coke hit there was an immediate divide between those who could afford it and those who couldn’t.
Southern Rock was the first conservative trend in rock and roll, not counting the artificial Pat Boone-Dion-Bobby Rydell era when record companies tried to cover for the Payola-Jerry Lee-Chuck Berry scandals. It was long-haired guys in blue jeans playing rock for other long-haired guys in blue jeans who already listened to rock. The Brits in the John Mayall/Alexis Korner orbit had been playing Chicago blues-based rock for years and it was already mostly played out. Fleetwood Mac and Savoy Brown had already managed some small success in the US. Southern rock really amounted to little more than one towering guitar talent who probably would have headed off in other directions had he lived, and a bunch of second-raters in the Allmans’ wake kept alive by the corporate takeover of rock radio in the mid-70s. The kids in Iowa probably wouldn’t have taken to glam rock, or later to the Ramones and the Pistols, but it’s sure they weren’t hearing it on their radios at the time.Posted by Doghouse Riley on 07/23 at 12:14 AM
I’m late to the party. But everyone should read the article by Mike Flaherty and Seth Sanders in the Baffler from a few years back on the caucasiafication of rock in the 1970s, with Southern rock as a key symptom. Reverse engineer that history, and maybe you’ve got the story of where and why it went.Posted by on 07/23 at 12:34 AM
And it COMPLETELY explains this:
“One side note: when I was growing up in Queens in the 1970s, Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels and the Allmans were huge on Long Island. The closer you got to the Queens-Nassau border, the more cover bands you heard playing “Free Bird” and “The South’s Gonna Do It Again.” I found this genuinely strange.”
The closer you got to the Queens-Nassau border, I know from my historical research, the more violent the backlash against integration. Hint, hint: that’s Flaherty and Sanders’ point.Posted by on 07/23 at 12:37 AM
Steve Earle, North Mississippi Allstars, Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, Black Crowes, Robert Randolph, Drive-By Truckers, Kings of Leon, White Stripes, Los Lonely Boys…Posted by on 07/23 at 12:46 AM
Being a 14 year old in my first rock band, rehearsing one day in ‘71 (our organist had a real live hammond w/a freakin leslie speaker), some one came in and told us Duane Allman died.
To us, it was as momentous as other famous deaths were to others.
Duane could play.
I love listening (to this day) his solos on the infamous long jams.
On Mountain Jam, he does some really incredible things, little stuff, when he hits the low notes and then adds some high harmonics for a little taste.
To me, southern rock died that year with his and the bass player (man was he good!), Berry Oakley’s, death.
I guess the Allmans just resonated with me more than the other Southern bands because of their musicianship.
in the 70’s, San Diego did run with the Skynards and the Tuckers, but for me it was the Allman brothers.Posted by on 07/23 at 12:58 AM
Yeah yeah yeah on the love.
The Rutles thread was several months ago.Posted by Chris Clarke on 07/23 at 02:12 AM
We’ve gotten over eighty comments into this thread, and I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the Stones’ Exile on Main Street (1972), still a great album and critically important in establishing the southern rock genre, despite its national origin. (Though it’s an extreme case, the entire output of the Black Crowes seems like a gloss on Exile).
Perhaps Southern rock is another example of the story of post-1965 rock being all about Americans imitating English imitating Americans (with punk finally bringing us English imitating Americans imitating English imitating Americans).Posted by on 07/23 at 03:08 AM
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Sweet Home Alabama‘s best line is the piss off line to Neil Young - and a response to that Canadian’s Allman Brother’s-like epic jam Southern Man. Crosby, Stills and Nash themselves sound southern as does all of American rock that isn’t glam, psychodelic or grunge. Listen to Audioslave today and see if you don’t hear echoes of Charlie Daniels. Detroit’s own Bob Seger gives a Southern sensibility to his music though his contemperary Alice Cooper, also from Detroit, went glam instead.
I don’t know that Amanda’s complaint about getting no respect is right. When Robbie Robinson, another Canadian, zeros in on Memphis as ground zero of the rock explosion, thirty years ago in The Last Waltz he was just saying what everybody already knew. We might like our rock Liverpool, London, New York, Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco or (your big city here) favored but any return to rock fundamentals is accented with a twang.Posted by on 07/23 at 08:43 AM
Southern Man was obviously designed to sound “Southern” as an allegory to the lyrics. Canadian music contains many of the same Celtic & Anglo-Saxon influences because it was settled by many of the same Scots, Scots-Irish, and Welsh folks who settled the South. It’s difficult to call that a Southern influence. Ditto, they have their own frontier (we have both kinds “Country and Western”, as they say in the Blues Brothers). Exile on Main Street cam long after the Allman’s had established themsleves (in rock years that’s a a couple years) and the Stones shared the same appreciation of Blues as the ‘Brothers.
As for social trasnformations of music. College radio began to get bigger audiences in the 70s, as commercial stations became more narrow in their playlists, and this just grew in the 80s. College radio helped keep jazz alive and introduced a lot of people to “World Music”, which may have accounted for the popularity of reggae and the boomlet in Brazilian jazz (Gato Barberi, Flora Purim) in the late 70s. It’s only natural that college boy (a rarity even among singer-songwriter types) like REM would get airplay on college stations. Independent labels picked up on their importance fairly early on. College stations would have been uncool or at least too unusual for a certain segments of the “non-collegiate” crowd and that probably added to the demographic splits in the music.
The caucasianisation of music probably owes itself to several different influences---a turning away from “crossover” among African-American acts, as well as a certain degree of “backlash” against the civil rights movement. Plus, you had genres like Motown that quickly made themsleves old fashioned to White and Black audiences. To find multi-racial audiences in the 70s, you went to see BB King, Ramsey Lewis, McCoy Tyner, etc. but folks tended to be of different ages (the White folks young and the Black folks middle aged or older). The Blues still had a more interesting mix of fans then---older, mostly male, African Americans, bikers approaching middle age, and mostly white liberal arts graduate students.Posted by on 07/23 at 10:37 AM
I suspect that it was a shift in media economics towards the current genre of “Country Music.”
As I posted on Making Light’s “Crooked Timbre” thread, July 17, 2005, 01:41 PM:
I just watched the CBS-TV Sunday Morning show, with fascinating stories on the University of Texas museum/library, the sex life of lobsters, and Kenny Chesney, Country Music superstar. This last item is on-topic.
In a sense I grew up with Cowboy Music as part of my heritage, along with Broadway, Baroque & Classical, and 1940s/1950s American pop. I’m a great great grandnewphew of the immortal Lorenz Hart, a great-uncle of mine produced 2 of the top 3 radio shows in the country, my parents went to every major Broadway show, and my Dad had all these 78s of Cowboy songs, and told tales of his summers on an Arizona dude ranch.
So I have no problem with (although they are not on the top of my playlist) the original Country Music (as revived by the film “O Brother Where Art Thou"), Acuff & the Grand ol’ Opry, Western Swing, Bill Monroe & Bluegrass, Honkytonk Music, the Nashville Sound, or the “oulaws” (Willy Nelson, Waylon, Johnny, and Merle, Charley Pride, Conway Twitty, The Outlaws, The Marshall Tucker Band, David Allan Coe, The Charlie Daniels Band). Hank Williams had lyrical and vocal genius. Loved Patsy Cline.
I had no problem with the early ‘80s convergence of this with mainstream pop, through such phenomena as John Travolta’s “Urban Cowboy,” and spurred on by Dolly Parton’s movie “9 to 5.” But that seemed to me to have opened the door to music as shallow and vapid as any pop, with none of the sincerity and grit of real Country, or the tragic voice of John Conlee. I couldn’t see the point of Alabama or their wannabee imitators (Atlanta, Exile and Bandana, Restless Heart, Confederate Railroad, Desert Rose Band, the Kentucky HeadHunters). Except Reba McEntire, who sounds real.
And then I lost touch completely. With some exceptions—such as Shania Twain (maybe because of clever videos)—the field slammed shut for me with the rise of Garth Brooks, the most popular country music artist of all time, in terms of worldwide following, albums sold, and awards won, who alone has sold more than 60 million albums. I was lost when when the big money finally hit the scene. The music failed for me exactly when it reached its financial success.
Country became the most popular radio format in America, reaching 80 million adults, roughly 40 percent of the adult population in the USA.
I’m not knocking the “new traditionalists” (George Strait, Ricky Skaggs, the Judds, Randy Travis, and Ricky Van Shelton).
But just what is it that makes Garth a super-superstar? Or Kenny Chesney? My wife and I are baffled. We can’t hear anything in the lyrics, the voices, the instrumentation, of any consequence. We can’t see anything in the onstage choreography. We feel utterly alien-anthropologisty at seeing a packed football stadium go nuts over these guys.
The last time I tried was when “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus was some sort of media phenomenon, and people who never listed to Country before got excited, and line dancing caught on big time. I listened with what thought was an open mind. Nothing. No value at all in the banal lyrics and soft soft rock crossover sound. Nuthin’.
Maybe I’m too old, too urban, too something. I’m willing to admit that it’s me, and not some Quantum Mechanics barrier to people in black imitation cowboy hats and drycleaned jeans.
And don’t get me started on Rap.Posted by Jonathan Vos Post on 07/23 at 10:53 AM
What happened to progressive country rock? The same thing that happened to progressive rock in general. Ripped to shreds by capitalistic radio programmers who wouldn’t play anything longer than five minutes (unless it was “Hey Jude” by the Beatles) and by stupid rock critics (sorry for the redundancy) who wanted their rock and then disco to be as stupid as they are. Otherwise, it was called pretentious, as if David Byrne and company never fell into that.
The commodification of music was what happened overall. Even the Dixie Chicks, who have genuine musical talent, have to conform their studio songs to the model of commodities: selling short songs with no decent musical interludes and of course, selling sex.
Most music on the radio today is peanut butter. It has a shelf life not much longer than a large peanut butter one buys at Costco.
Aside: At progressive rock concerts, one of the “in” jokes among the audience was to scream out to whatever prog group was in concert to play “Whippin’ Post.” It was usually screamed out, “Hey, play ‘Whippin’ Post,’ man!” It definitely became a staple at Zappa concerts to the point where I once read Zappa had his band play “Whippin’ Post.” There was a recognition that the Allmans and even early Charlie Daniels were a part of the progressive movement, as was early Kansas up to “Leftoverture.”Posted by Mitchell Freedman on 07/23 at 11:38 AM
ok, now we’re out of deconstructionist theory, and into my mileu;>
first comment, to JVP, yes contemporary country music sucks--I was brought up on the good stuff (Johnny, Waylon, Willie et al), and imo, the only recent male country artists who deserve to be in the same league are George Strait and Dwight Yoakam. Travis Tritt deserves a mention here because he was an early crossover figure from country to southern rockin…
back to that topic, responding to the Heretik’s post--everybody hears the best Duane Allman solo all the time--you know that ripping guitar work on Layla? while it’s both EC and Duane playing simultaneously, the really killer parts are Duane, and EC is just doing what he can to keep up with him...also, his Muscle Shoals session work was tremendously influential (Otis Redding, Aretha, etc), not to mention his playing on Boz Scaggs’ first album, esp. the seminal ‘Somebody Loan Me a Dime.’
I’m suprised nobody’s mentioned Blackfoot--part of the second tier of Southern Rock bands, they did add some classic songs to the canon, with ‘Train Train’ and ‘Highway Song’--they are also linked to Skynyrd now, with former lead singer Ricky Medlock taking over the lead singing for the reconstituted version…
Also, the main inspiration for these bands was mostly homegrown--the Blues is the foremost inspiration for most of these bands, and like the bands on the other side of the channel, they added electric rock instrumentation, and went even further by creating the dual or three-guitar lineup. Jazz was an important element for the Allmans, and Country music was second only to Blues as an inspiration for most.
The first wave of Southern Rock died from its own excesses, and of natural causes--it is now kept on life support by custodians of the famous names (Skynyrd, Allmans, Marshall Tucker, all bands missing many or most of the key original members). The boogie is never really gone though--as people have already mentioned, bands like the Drive By Truckers, the Kings of Leon and Robert Randolph are carrying the torch for the ‘New South.’
I’d like to throw in a plug for another stellar keeper of the faith: The North Mississippi Allstars--my wife and I saw them at the Bowery Ballroom recently, opening for, and later backing John Hiatt, and they are everything you’d ever want in a new generation Southern Rock band…
as an aside, my wife looked at Hiatt, and said, ‘isn’t he kind of old to be a rocker?’ to which I replied, ‘no, he’s actually a young bluesman!’Posted by on 07/23 at 11:43 AM
The Other Rich - Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young) sounded Southern in other songs besides Southern Man. As did the Byrds, the Hollies and Buffalo Sringfield. Stills was born in Dallas, after all, and spent some time in the lowlands. But you make a valuable point about Allman’s Brothers love of the blues. This makes me wonder if that’s what Michael is asking - are the blues gone from Southern Music? Or does Michael wonder about the extended play songs where Whipping Post can take 7 minutes in the studio version and 22 in the the live version. Yes, they was jammin’. The blues seems gone from all pop music and from radio - and so are the extended jams of yesteryear. It’s the blues that the boomers miss in today’s music and why they (we) tend to be a bit snooty about what we heard as kids.Posted by on 07/23 at 11:55 AM
The hard drinking, travelling man side of Southern Rock underwent an urban migration. Thats why James Hetfield wears cowboy boots. Lynyrd Skynyrd is the archetype here, playing the street survivors to Allman bros hippy commune. When they reunited in 1987 there was a resurgence of interest and influence (accompanied by a kind of consolidation or simplification of the southern pride/redneck elements - complex histories became tradition, an identity trope focussed on THAT song). Suddenly you began to see bands like Poison and Bon Jovi singing ballads cribbed from the canon. Southern-boys-in-LA bands cropped up (Junkyard, Dangerous Toys etc.) and pretty soon every hair band had boots. Slash wore a Lynyrd Skynyrd top hat, and Welcome to the Jungle had country boy Axl getting off a Greyhound bus - an image that sums it up. Pantera, Kyuss and descendants continued the lineage. By then all the original country blues, bluegrass, and romance had gone, sucked up into the more artsy genres mentioned by others here...some of Chris Whitley’s work maybe.
The Allman brothers escaped most of this, perhaps because they were too slippery with all the jazz influenced jams, two drummers, and instrumentals. They were like a southern Santana, or Grateful Dead (ugh). They were also a lot prettier in the lyrics department, less of the guns and booze. Heck, Duane wore pink panties to his draft exam, in an attempt to dodge Vietnam - not exactly a good ol boy.
I wonder why Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t write a song about Randy Newman?Posted by on 07/23 at 12:20 PM
Oh yeah - a precurser: Creedence Clearwater Revival. From San Francisco...hmm.Posted by on 07/23 at 12:51 PM
Most Southern rockers recorded on Capricorn Records which at the time was the largest independent label. They were put out of business by bootlegged eight-tracks which flooded the market in the late seventies. Some suspect the major labels had a hand in this.
There was a piece in New Times magazine about this from ‘76 or so. My memory may be faulty but I believe that was the gist of it.
Without Capricorn to develop local talent southern rock took a great hit.Posted by on 07/23 at 02:01 PM
The South’s march through L.I. continued well past the Nassau border; it was a Republican-owned county during my long-ago youth, but the Jewish middle-of-the-road/liberal kids who went to the SUNY schools and marched at no-nuke rallies were into Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels also. I remember going to parties @ SUNY Albany circa 1979 and hearing that and a lot of Pure Prairie League etc.Posted by on 07/23 at 02:34 PM
The death of southern rock occurred when people realized it wasn’t good for more than 3 riffs. Sound familiar? The first wave of punk maybe? Hmmmmmm?
Well, just like good ol’ punk, southern rock is making something of comeback. Of course, southern rock will never reach its previous height, in both popularity and suck. And, well, thsi second wave is doing much better than neo-southern rock, because, well, punk is awesome, and SR is dumb. I do however present y’alls with some very modern and very southern rock-type bands: Kings of Leon and My Morning Jacket. Also Iron and Wine, although that’s much more folky.Posted by on 07/23 at 05:11 PM
Following the work of James C. Cobb, we can say that what defines the “Southern” in Southern Rock is that attitude of victimization and pride in the face of the decline of “true” civilization. Cobb argues that after the 60s, most of America, north and south, shares this feeling, and describes our culture as “southernized.” This is why nearly the whole country outside the cities is essentially south of the Mason and Dixon line.
No doubt this is why Springsteen goes from being an urban, hip, street-wise transcendentalist to being a populist, folky voice of the victimized.
So we need to talk about attitudes, not regions. REM aren’t southern because they were always urbane. Despite relocation to Chicago, Wilco used to be southern, especially on those pathos-engorged albums with Billy Bragg.Posted by on 07/23 at 05:29 PM
Fleet Week? Is that when they give out those plastic bottles with the big nozzles . . .?
Sea Level is a group that no one has mentioned and their recorded history is small, whuch is a shame. The jazzy, latin influenced piano lines of Chuck Leavell were a thing of beauty.Posted by Randy Paul on 07/23 at 05:35 PM
jacksonville fl. resident: “what fall?”Posted by on 07/23 at 07:06 PM
Re post #83, by Ben Alpers. Have you seen the Red, White, and Blues” episode in Martin Scorsese’s PBS blues series? I does an excellent job of documenting the British blues scene—all the while it does a deep defamiliarization riff by showcasing the blues chops—i kid you not—of Tom “Lounge King” Jones.Posted by bill benzon on 07/23 at 07:20 PM
maybe the Austin Lounge Lizards killed it
Mom and dad got married
and dropped out of junior high
for they were blessed with triplets
Velma, Thor and I
of children there were many more
and as the tribe increased
we found this humble home of ours
where the love has never ceased
Love in a refrigerator box
Love in a refrigerator box
they’d offer dad work, but he’d decline,
‘cause it would take away from our quality time
our home was a refrigerator box
When we were in our troubled teens we were tempted to break the law
by boosting deposit bottles and lifting trinkets we liked and saw
but mama took us down to visit convicts in the jail
We saw they were not happy, even though they lived so well…
now just try and listen to some black-bandanna anthem of nostalgia de la boue with a straight face.Posted by julia on 07/23 at 07:47 PM
I never really could tell Lynyrd Skynrd from Bachman Turner Overdrive. I suppose I should have listened closer, but jeez, isn’t that a lot to ask?Posted by Stalin on 07/23 at 07:59 PM
To some extent, LBJ southernized the USA. He did so by (1) the reindustrialization of the South, under the guise of the VP de facto running NASA (cf Quayle and the canals of Mars). Is it any wonder that the first word spoken on the Moon was “Houston”? Not stepping on the Moon. “Houston, this is Tranquillity Base. The Eagle has landed.”
(2) Losing the War in Vietnam (albeit Nixon claimed to have a “secret plan” to win, just as Bush has a secret plan to win the War on Terror). LBJ’s refusal to run for reelection was a catalytic event.
(3) Beginning the loss of the Democratic hold on the South.
There are other steps, but the USA is a proud and defeated country, transforming itself into a proud and defeated Empire. Losing to Europe (EU, Euroland, Freedom Fries), losing to Asia (outsource to India), losing to Japan (until Japan’s liquidity crisis), currently losing to China (trade gap, China about to put 2 Taikonauts in space at once).Posted by Jonathan Vos Post on 07/23 at 10:20 PM
WLIR-- “avant garde radio”. WNEW-FM-- one of the all time great free form radio staions. I think it was on NEW that I heard a DJ segue from Allman Brothers to John Coltrane-- and there you have the difference-- the Allman Brothers are gooood. Marshall Tucker, 38 Special, sorry, Lynard Skynard-- that stuff is mostly (but not entirely) cracker bullshit. Other things came along, just that simple.
Tom Petty does not belong in this conversation, nor does Merle Haggard.
C’mon. What di Molly Hatchett ever do that belongs in the room with “Jessica"-- let alone “Whipping Post”?Posted by Bill Altreuter on 07/23 at 11:32 PM
I second the mention of Wilco above as a rightful modern interpreter of the genre. For another, I’m surprised no one has so far mentioned John “Cougar” Mellencamp as someone who gets the spirit right a lot of the time (even though he’s from north (barely) of the Mason Dixon.
As for the dynamics of the change, and were truth determined by democratic processes, I’d vote for the explosive commercial success of traditional country which took off in the 80s and 90s as an explanation. It sucked a lot of the air out of the Southern rock genre, I think, since it made country music cool to a lot more people than it had been cool to before, giving them less reason to try to get their cool cred from rock-n-roll types.
Anybody else heard of Bob Schneider? If he were a bit greedier, he could make it big in Southern Rock. But he has a lot of good freebie songs at his website (http://www.bobschneidermusic.com) that might be of interest to some here on this thread.Posted by on 07/23 at 11:52 PM
Fun factoid re John Cougar (as he was then known): he wanted to use an interracial couple for the “Jack and Diane” video, but his producers wouldn’t let him.
This is especially interesting in light of the largely convincing arguments about the relationship between Southern rock fandom and white backlash.Posted by on 07/24 at 12:22 AM
FYI, I have my player on random and the last few songs have Neko Case’s country band, the Drive-By Truckers, and some stoner rock. Southern rock is dead in some places, but most definitely not in the House of Mouse.Posted by Amanda on 07/24 at 01:08 AM
As others have pointed out earlier, there are quite a few country artists who in an earlier era would have been country rockers or just plain old country-influenced rockers. Basically, country rock rebranded itself as “country” and disassociated itself (partially) from regular rock.Posted by Tim Horrigan on 07/24 at 11:07 AM
Let me give the eighth (by my count) thumbs-up to the Drive-By Truckers, and I don’t even like Southern Rock, except for a couple of songs (Can’t You See, Marshall Tucker Band, Whipping Post, Allman Brothers, and, um, there’s probably one I’m forgetting).Posted by on 07/24 at 03:07 PM
Can Keith Urban be the next mega-star in Country, as he has enough Rock for the very crossover appeal to which I’ve blamed the collapse of the kind of Country that I liked?
Please allow me to slightly modify a post I made this morning at Making Light, where the “Crooked Timbre” thread included some semantics, pragmatics, acoustics, and aesthetics of Rock as such.
Editor John Carroll of the Los Angeles Times is a lame duck, since The Tribune Company has named Dean Basquet as successor. Under the Carroll aegis, the slipping Times was resurrected, and won a slew of Pulitzers.
One of the things that the Times does in depth is coverage of the Entertainment industry. Today’s paper has a fascinating and extensive analysis edited by Robert Hilburn, pop music critic, “Pop’s Power Elite.”
21 heavy-hitting Music Producers were surveyed as to whom rated how among the “top” pop music stars and groups. They were promised anonymity, and so dished the stars rather bloodily at times. Meanwhile, 10 points were awarded for every 1st place nomination on an executive’s list, 9 points for every 2nd place listing, and so forth. The resultant Top 10 is interesting (and the Times gives analysis of each, plus many also-rans).
#1. Usher, 130 points, 17 of 21 executives put him on the Top 10.
#2. Alicia Keys, 113 points, 15 of 21 executives put her on the Top 10.
#3. Coldplay, 104 points, 14 of 21 executives put them on the Top 10.
#4. Eminem, 87 points, 12 of 21 executives put him on the Top 10.
#5. Beyonce’, 56 points, 10 of 21 executives put her on the Top 10.
#6. Timberlake, 55 points, 8 of 21 executives put him on the Top 10.
#7. Oukast, 54 points, 11 of 21 executives put them on the Top 10.
#8. 50 Cent, 53 points, 7 of 21 executives put him on the Top 10.
#9. Kayne West, 51 points, 8 of 21 executives put him on the Top 10.
#10. Dr.Dre, 37 points, 7 of 21 executives put him on the Top 10.
They do a revealing retrospective of the 2001 list and “what happened to” (Beatles, Dave Matthews band, Madonna, Limp Bizkit, Faith Hill, Celine Dion) plus “how did we miss” (Usher, N’Sync/Justin Timberlak, Britney Spears, Linkin’ Park, Jay-Z).
But one thing stands out for me. Coldplay was the only Rock entity to make the top 10 Pop list here, albeit a complicated ranking be executives about expectations (a sort of futures market).
“Many of the executives grew up on rock ‘n’ roll and were saddened they couldn’t find more room on their lists for rock artists. Though several groups, including the Red Hot Chili peppers, have generated massive sales totals in recent years, only Cold Play, U2, Linkin Park, Maroon5, and Green Day made more than 3 Top 10 lists. ‘Rock has really been hurt by the new reality in our world,’ said one executive, whose list includes only two rock acts. ‘It’s the most stolen, most pirated, whatever you want to say, genre we have now. Whatever you you think you could sell with a rock album, you have to cut it by a third.’”
This was a list about Pop, not rock. It shows the place in pantheon for R&B (is Usher the new Michael Jackson?), Hip-Hop, and Alicia Keys—who is such a talented singer that she could probably make it in any genre.
Is Coldplay the new U2? What happens in the alternate history where Eminem grew up on Rock? Where Alicia Key was enamored of Johnny Cash? One can only wonder.Posted by Jonathan Vos Post on 07/24 at 03:26 PM
Re: upthread----There’s alot of reaching to try to find some lasting impact or simple reason for the death of Southern rock. Brief boomlets do not a trend make---look at the lasting impact of the Tony Bennett or Burt Bacharach revivals (or the lack thereof). A few non-charting bands that don’t get primetime airplay on Atlanta’s supposedly alternative station are bad examples. Atlanta has atrocious radio, but it’s a good marker for what is nationally mainstream.
The Capricorn story sounds apochryphal--they had distribution through Warner-Atlantic, which was then at its’ peak and distribution tends to be a key factor in killing small labels. I think the Atlantic connection is how they got Tom Dowd to rencord some of their classic albums. By the mid 70s, 8-tracks were going out & cassettes were coming. There were a few more years of popularity in Southern rock, but the artistic wind was out of their sails by then--the earlier signature acts were well into artistic decline and the “cool kids” had abandoned the second generation of these bands. Capricorn was probably undercapitalized for the changes that were taking place in popular music in the late 70s. Even if they had survived, it’s likely the music would have declined in popularity anyway---look at what happened to Motown, despite very good capitalization. The music declined, acts left for better deals, etc. Eventually MCA bought what was left (the very valuable backlist). Southern rock and country rock definitely paved the way for watered down C&W and the popularity of Garth Brooks & Co. Those genres probably also helped less mainstream acts like Waylon Jennings and true cross-over people like Willie Nelson. That makes more sense as a legacy than the other alternatives described here.
“Southern” music is derivative of other styles that come from the Celtic & Anglo-Saxon, as well as African roots of people in the South. Many people elsewhere shared those roots, so you had an indigenous country music in Canada and the West, that owed little to Southern music, per se, although they would have mixed after the advent of radio. “Folk” music goes back to the same kinds of roots, but has mostly been kept alive by college educated poeple fromm the Coasts.
As for Coldplay---they began as the new U2, but have quickly turned into the new “Duran Duran”.Posted by on 07/24 at 04:36 PM
Actually I think most of the ‘legacy’ bands people have noted are mostly part of the same process that led to the appearance of Southern rock, rather than direct descendants. The process is this: regional variants of mainstream trends, ‘southernised’ in each case by the addition of southern blues, country, bluegrass, celtic-derived folk forms that the musicians probably grew up with. So, Allman bros were a southern version of the jazz-inflected blues improvs of Cream, Santana et al. Lynyrd Skynyrd formed because of the Yardbirds, The Who and Led Zep. Dixie Dregs were Southern jazz Fusion. Pantera were the Southern Metallica, Billy Ray Cyrus was MC Hammer, Blind Melon was Pearl Jam. Garth Brooks was Bryan Adams etc etc. A-and who was that runner up in the ‘05 season of Pop Idol, singing Sweet Home Alabama and Whipping Post? (I didnt see it - I am in the UK).
The more interesting question is why Sweet Home Alabama was a worldwide hit.Posted by on 07/24 at 05:41 PM
Because the opening riff is so dang catchy?Posted by on 07/24 at 06:09 PM
Another thing that happened to southern rock, it’s worth noting, was punk. As southern rock got mainstreamed, old-time country music got picked up by the sorts of bands Greil Marcus loves—the Mekons, for example, and X. They saw the sympathies between the stripped-down nihilism of, say, Dock Boggs and their own sound, and they ended up incorporating country music into their sound. Then you get to Uncle Tupelo (Wilco, shmilco—start here), who really sound like they’ve been listening to Skynyrd and the Carter Family *and* Iggy Pop—they did a killer cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” along with their version of “No Depression In Heaven,” which by the way gave a movement, for a while, its name. So a lot of the sort of kids who might’ve formed a more standard country rock band once upon a time had a whole different scene in which to play loud music with a fiddle line.
The bands influenced by Tupelo are legion, even if the alt-country sound never really broke through. The Drive-By Truckers have already been mentioned, as has Neko Case, but there’s also the Waco Brothers (a Mekons side-project), Bobby Bare Jr., the Sadies, Ryan Adams, and pretty much everyone who ever recorded on Bloodshot Records in Chicago. My personal favorites, the Old 97s, sound a lot more pop these days, but no one could write a lyric like “When I first met Doreen, she was only 17, she was drinking whiskey sours in the bar; the way she tossed ‘em back I shoulda had a heart attack—as it is, I let her drive my car” without spending a whole lot of time listening to country rock.
And, because it’s so apt to this thread, you should check out the <a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00006RSL9/qid=1122243087/">Amazon free download of the (now defunct) Slobberbone’s southern-arena-rock cover of the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody.”Posted by misha on 07/24 at 06:30 PM
I think that something that needs to be added to this thread is the bi-racial nature of the Allmans as a southern road not taken or the possibilty of the utopian. They have been bi or multi-racial for almost all of their history having Drummers and bass players of color. It is true that all of thier guitarists have been white but they have represented the posibilty of an ideal New South with jazz/blues oriented jams combining Black/White/Latin music with black/White/Latin musicians creating a sense of transcendent comunity. It is true that their appeal has been mostly male and their audiences have been predominately white. they always struck me as a band that achieves what the Grateful Dead supposedly did. But seeing them last March at the Beacon after having not seeing them since 1972, one was still felt part of their community which has been replaced historically by such figures of backlasha nd the Old South as Trent Lott, Bill Frist and W. I agree with many previous commentators about the importance of the Drive-by Truckers to analyzing the present predicament of the south and rock.Posted by on 07/24 at 06:41 PM
What happened to southern rock? Garth Brooks...thekeezPosted by Jeff Keezel on 07/25 at 11:48 AM
Misha is on to something about southern rock getting punked, so to speak. Misha mentions X, but the Blasters have more country diversions. (Dave Alvin was in both bands.) In fact, before the term “alt country” came about, one term for the genre was “cowpunk”—best personified by the Blasters and The Beat Farmers. (The latter especially had a sense of humor sorely lacking in much southern rock.)
Follow the same thread a little further and it lands in Los Lobos, who became popular when they paired with Steve Berlin, who was producer/saxman for the Blasters…Posted by on 07/25 at 02:20 PM
Of course, X had Billy Zoom for a while, before they started getting all commercial.Posted by Chris Clarke on 07/25 at 02:23 PM
When you bring up the Allman Bros you’re really talking about 2 bands.With Duane Allman the Bros had as much or more in common with John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins as with their mostly unimportant successors.Without brother Duane the Allmans were about as significant as Led Zeppelin without Jimmy or the Experience without Jimi.All of these bands were primarily vehicles for the exceptional genius of those Players.Those other bands were essentially just good bar bands.Since we’re giving shout outs to bands from the south,don’t forget Big Star and NRBQ.Posted by on 07/25 at 04:23 PM
[re-post, since seems not to have worked on Sat.]
Being in the Ozarks in the eye of the current heatwave, haven’t much energy to wax po’etic about issues I’ve explored a good deal in my work as a critic of southeastern music and culture (& my blog, “Waiting For Bubba,” complies/muses upon a lot of this anyhow). However, I wanted to weigh in on this thread (if only briefly) and state emphatically that southern rock as a genre never truly died out. If your view of the music is so narrowly defined to only consider it resting in the hands of such individuals as the Skydog or Ronnie VZ then, yes, perhaps the sole possible perception is that the Crash ended it all. And yes, the rock chronicles show that certain acts consciously moved away from the aesthetics of the genre as the 80s came in (and/or ran Right like Charlie Daniels).
However, it would seem that so long as the spirit and creative spark behind it have remained vital among the younger ones --- Alex Chilton, Warren H, Jimmy Herring, Derek, the Bros. Dickinson and colored artists of various stripes in rock, hip-hop, and COUNTRY (think of Andre 3000, Pharrell, David Ryan Harris and on and on...esp. projects like Mississipian blues artist Corey Harris’ outreach to griots of the Sahel)--- the boogie never stopped. Likely the best summation of this process is Mark Kemp’s memoir and account of the later New South’s rise, DIXIE LULLABY: http://www.simonsays.com/content/content.cfm?sid=33&pid=487708
Aside from Stanley Booth’s oeuvre, Mark’s is one of the few to be equally strong in expressing the sensibilities of a southerner come of age in the era of southern rock AND exploring the cultural aesthetic as well. He does not flinch from the hard parts --- and, as a (roughly contemporary) black female w/ southern roots who has never stopped listening to the music nor counting southern rock as my favorite (nope, didn’t stutter) genre, I can appreciate that.
Guess it ultimately comes down to shame --- something probed in the club sequence between Terence Howard’s pimp DJay in HUSTLE & FLOW and Luda’s mackin’ sellout: If you felt (or still feel) a will to distance yourself from the South’s past, its problematic legacies, its quotidian culture, or even just guitar armies of hirsute men that now seem “unhip” after the punk “revolution” and 80s-gen southern star Michael Stipe displaced them then the music no doubt appears dead to you. Of course, it’s interesting to look at the triumph of Bo Bice and the fact that even the INXS reality show has a contestant from Michigan who only came into his own covering Skynyrd...while working, i encounter scores of solo artists and bands who respectfully adhere to southern rock’s hybridity, even when they hail from Yankeeland and parts west. In my brief adulthood, I have seen it completely transfigure Japanese fans from Osaka, hippies from Vermont, poor Yorkshire lads from the North of England, southwestern Mormons, and yep, rich Jewish kids from Great Neck w/ rock & roll dreams --- the reach and the impact is far beyond the Wal-Mart-trolling “white trash” that many observers, North & South, show disgust over when denouncing southern rock as the output of knuckle-dragging, coon (pun-intended) huntin’ inbreds. Just as these ugly stereotypes don’t really apply to the average resident of the now browner, more diverse etc etc new South, the music too has evolved --- and transitional acts like Tom Petty, the Black Crowes, and Gov’t Mule are integral to that process. The refuge in “New Country” is too long to get in to...but if acts like Travis Tritt and Big & Rich don’t forget the traditions behind the bluenote, it ain’t so bad.
On the other hand, using “Melissa” and “Sweet Home Alabama” in TV commercials for phone companies and der Colonel might just put a final nail in southern rock’s coffin...but then that’ll bring to mind Steve Earle’s of-the-minute sellout to GM w/ “The Revolution Starts Now”...so best to bow out here.Posted by Kandia Crazy Horse on 07/25 at 06:09 PM
Actually I believe that the interplay between Duane and Dickie Betts was very memorable. I couldn’t stand to hear him sing, but Betts wrote some great instrumental tunes for the band. The alternating solos between him and Duane on In Memory of Elizabeth Reed are delicious.Posted by Randy Paul on 07/25 at 07:52 PM
Wicked godd call on the NRBQ, Bob, and a fine estimation of the Allman all good, all bad point of no return. While I saw NRBQ all over the South (they played in Charlottesville, VA at least twice a year}, I believe they actually are from the Yankee north. Of course that could be heresy . . .Posted by The Heretik on 07/25 at 09:23 PM
The Heretik,I think NRBQ is from Florida.Randy Paul,your point is my point-with Duane Allman,the Brothers made music that was transcendent.Kandia Crazy Horse,Alex Chilton isn’t a younger one-check out the Box Tops-he’s an old man,like me.Posted by on 07/25 at 10:35 PM
Southern Rock at its apex could be defined by two words:
The roots of Southern Rock began in Memphis and Muscle Shoals, and Dowd certainly helped to make this exciting “sound” grow by his work in both places.
While working as a staff engineer/producer at ATCO, he helped shape the “Southern” blues/R&B sound of everyone from Ray Charles to Wilson Pickett to Otis Redding to Aretha. Check every great Charles, Pickett, Redding, or Aretha recording and you’ll find Tom Dowd’s name associated with it. Can anyone imagine those artists’ recordings without thinking about Dowd’s immense contribution to their sound? His early use of the 8-track tape machine, plus his genius to capture the best “live” sound possible in a studio, and even further his great ability to blend different “musical flavors” into new and exciting genres, made him the godfather of so many great movements in popular music that it boggles the mind.
Then in Miami as an independent producer, he produced every great early Allman Brothers studio record, plus their brilliant live set at the Fillmore. He was also behind the knobs for the seminal Derek and the Dominoes sessions that helped define the sound that many “Southern Rock” bands would copy and reproduce for years to come.
AND THEN in the mid-70’s Dowd produced Lynyrd Skynyrd’s best studio recordings.
Southern Rock and Tom Dowd go hand-in-hand. He didn’t create the genre, but he certainly helped foster and uplift the creativity of its best artists.
The demise of Southern Rock was caused by what destroys most great rock bands or genres (like Metal, Punk, Grunge, The Manchester Scene, et al.): drugs, booze, fame, and ultimately the fickle fans.Posted by mat on 07/26 at 12:39 PM
Am well aware of the Box Tops and have met Alex...He’s old friends w/ two of mine, southern music figures who are older than him...Hence the “younger” reference --- that and the sense that any SR bands that debuted in the wake of the ABB (and LS) are followers...not a literal tie to age
Good pts on the music’s biracial birth...and how the genre has been “renovated” in the Jam Nation
And nice to see the TOM DOWD love...truly one of the most important figures of the 20th centuryPosted by Kandia Crazy Horse on 07/26 at 08:19 PM
Except for the fact that Dickie Betts is a far better composer than Duane was, yes.Posted by Randy Paul on 07/27 at 10:24 PM
I stumbled onto this blog while looking for places to book my southern rock band. If I may echo some of the good points regarding southern rock’s demise:
I strongly agree with those who pointed a finger at MTV. Being of a young and impressionable age when MTV happened, I saw the English, New-Wave face of rock and roll. It sure as hell didn’t look like Duane Allman. If southern rock (a “form” difficult to define given it’s great musical diversity) was a pool of liquid mercury, MTV was the hammer that smashed it into a million shimmering droplets. The effect of this dispersement on the record-buying public is worth a sociology master’s thesis. Some acquiesed to the New Beat, (younger people desperate to fit in) some held their musical ground, (older, more independant people who already felt MTV’s demographic lens losing it’s focus on them)and some gave up entirely and sought new experiences altogether. (usually recycled sixties styles)For many established artists, the eighties were hard times. ZZ Top squeaked by with their musical style relatively in tact because of their gimmicks. The Dixie Dregs were just as unpopular after the fall as before. Many bands from the south consciously or unconsciously swept themselves clean of musical connections to southern rock. (twangy voice, bluesy guitar solos, country beats) Tom Petty sounded more like Springsteen than he ever did Marshall Tucker. You couldn’t point to his popular albums (thinking “Damn the Torpedoes” and “Full Moon Fever") and be able to say what part of the country he was from. Same with REM and the B-52’s.
Part of it’s demise was probably also the natural evolution of styles and fashion. How long were the Eagles on the charts in the seventies? How sick was everybody of them?
Really, the music that was southern rock merged into country and blues. Stevie Ray Vaughn was blues, but southern rock guys thought he was the friggen second coming after years of Devoesque boops and beeps. Little Feat is basically a really good blues band now. And the Van Zants have gone country.
Please don’t use the word “boogie” and Drive by Truckers in the same sentence. I love “Decoration Day” to death, (no pun intended)but “boogie” refers to a specific musical style, featuring a rolling, repeating bass line in usually a traditional twelve-bar format (think “La Grange") Unless their other albums are different, Drive by Truckers are nothing like that. Many southern bands didn’t “boogie”; REM never boogied. The Black Crows never boogied (though “Hard to Handle” was cloooossseee!)Posted by on 07/29 at 02:33 AM
Dicky B. a better composer than Duane? Duane gave all song credits to his brother Greg. Listen to “Dreams” and tell me Duanes aka “Sky Dog” solo and imagine the song without it. Dicky wrote some good songs but even the great “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” (I got high on her grave many times in the 70s) would be little without the Band and Duane ripping on it. I love Dicky Betts but comparing him to Duane is like comparing Julian Lennon to John.
I went from Tampa to Mercer Univ. in Macon for many dumb reasons (drinking age 18, no school on Wed.) but one good reason was because Capricorn and the Allman brothers lived there. I must’ve listened to “Beginnings” (how about Gregs scream on “Ain’t My Cross to Bear”?) every night on a shitty cassette player my Sr. year in H.S. and was hooked. IMO, they were before Duanes death, the best American R&R band ever. “Fillmore East” is still the best live album ever made and Duanes solo on “Stormy Monday” the most beautiful I’ve ever heard.
and yes, the late, great Tom Dowd was a genius.
back to main topic: Duane and Ronnie VZ dying, both the leaders of their bands + drugs and disco. I’ll blame the Reagan Republicans, too.Posted by on 07/31 at 03:04 AM
News on every hour. http://www.bignews.comPosted by marria on 08/18 at 08:27 PM
Heads up, killer! Southern rock ain’t dead… media coverage of Southern Rock is dead.
Check out the Detroit Transit RailRoad, among other current Southern Rock bands, and you’ll see what I mean.Posted by SLick Will on 01/10 at 04:24 PM
I look forward to a definitive Southern Rock anthem to commemorate the Florida Gators chomping so mightily on the over-rated Ohio State Buckeyes in that 41-14 BCS Championship blowout. Or maybe a ballad of Boise State in their incredible Hollywood-ish victory over 7-time National Champion Oklahoma, with those never-in-real-life trick plays, and the happy ending of the final 2-point conversion dude getting down on his knee and proposing to his cheerleader girlfriend? Deserves to be sung for the Davids of the world to keep after those kick-san-in-your-face Goliaths.
Ummm, are you saying that The Press is biased?
And isn’t Southern California part of Southern Rock, if you look at the great groups nurtured in the clubs and concert venues here?
Gets into the complexities in the definition of “Country” and “Western.”
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