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Southern rock

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Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers Band performing in 1971.

Southern rock is a subgenre of rock music and a genre of Americana. It developed in the Southern United States from rock and roll, country music, and blues and is focused generally on electric guitars and vocals. Author Scott B. Bomar speculates the term "Southern rock" may have been coined in 1972 by Mo Slotin, writing for Atlanta's underground paper, The Great Speckled Bird, in a review of an Allman Brothers Band concert.


1950s and 1960s: origins[edit]

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

In the 1960s, rock musician Lonnie Mack blended black and white roots-music genres within the framework of rock, beginning with the hit song "Memphis" in 1963.[1] Music historian Dick Shurman considers Mack's recordings from that era "a prototype of what later could be called Southern rock".[2]

The Allman Brothers Band, from Jacksonville, Florida, made their national debut in 1969 and soon gained a loyal following. Duane Allman's playing on the two Hour Glass albums and an Hour Glass session in early 1968 at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama had caught the ear of Rick Hall, owner of FAME.[3]

In November 1968, Hall hired Allman to play on an album with Wilson Pickett. Allman's work on that album, Hey Jude (1968), got him hired as a full-time session musician at Muscle Shoals and brought him to the attention of a number of other musicians, such as Eric Clapton, who later related how he heard Pickett's version of "Hey Jude" on his car radio and called Atlantic Records to find out who the guitarist was: "To this day," Clapton said, "I've never heard better rock guitar playing on an R&B record. It's the best."[4] Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971.[5]

Their blues rock sound incorporated long jams informed by jazz and also drew from native elements of country and folk. They were also contemporary in their electric guitar and keyboard delivery.[6] Gregg Allman commented that "Southern rock" was a redundant term, like "rock rock."[6]

From late 1960s to early 1970s, popular musicians in the southern area included Creedence Clearwater Revival (from California), Dale Hawkins, Delaney & Bonnie, Janis Joplin, Leon Russell, and Tony Joe White.[7][8]

1970s: peak of popularity[edit]

Charlie Daniels' self-titled debut album, released in 1970, was a pivotal recording in the development of the Southern rock genre, "because it points the way to how the genre could and would sound, and how country music could retain its hillbilly spirit and rock like a mother," according to Stephen Thomas Erlewine.[9]

Erlewine described Daniels as "a redneck rebel, not fitting into either the country or the rock & roll [...] but, in retrospect, he sounds like a visionary, pointing the way to the future when southern rockers saw no dividing lines between rock, country, and blues, and only saw it all as sons of the south."[10]

Daniels later formed the Charlie Daniels Band, a group which fused rock, country, blues, and jazz. Erlewine described the band's sound as "a distinctly Southern blend" which emphasized improvisation in their instrumentation. After the success of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia", a single which Erlewine described as a "roaring country-disco fusion", Daniels shifted his sound from rock to country music and "helped shape the sound of country-rock".[10]

The Marshall Tucker Band, from Spartanburg, South Carolina, opened many of The Allman Brothers Band concerts using elements of blues, country rock and blues rock in their music.[11][12] They also collaborated with Charlie Daniels.

Their self-titled album, released in 1973, included the hit "Can't You See". Perhaps known best for the single "Fire on the Mountain," the Marshall Tucker Band hit "Heard it in a Love Song" charted in 1977.

Lynyrd Skynyrd of Jacksonville, Florida, is known for "Free Bird", "Sweet Home Alabama", "Saturday Night Special", and "What's Your Name". They played British hard rock influenced music until the deaths of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and two other members of the group in a 1977 airplane crash.[13] After this tragic plane crash, members Allen Collins and Gary Rossington started the Rossington Collins Band.[14]

In the early 1970s other Southern rock groups emerged, influenced by the British rock and hard rock guitar sound exemplified by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Paul Kossoff, and Richie Blackmore, for example.

The harder rocking Southern groups' music emphasized boogie rhythms and fast guitar leads with lyrics extolling love affair, dream, desire, hard work, of Southern working-class young adults, like the outlaw country movement.

Late 1970s Southern rock bands such as The Atlanta Rhythm Section (former Classics IV)[15] and the Amazing Rhythm Aces achieved success with bluesy vocals.

The Allman Brothers Band's offshoot Sea Level explored crossover and jazz fusion.

Other popular Southern rock musicians in the 1970s included:

Loosely associated with the country music style of Southern rock were acts like Barefoot Jerry from North Carolina.

  • The Outlaws from Tampa, Florida, brought bluegrass licks into their music
  • Louisiana's Le Roux ranged from Cajun-flavored sound early years, on to a more AC, hard rock, arena rock sound later on.

1980s and 1990s: continuing influence[edit]

By the beginning of the 1980s, the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd had disbanded, and Capricorn Records had gone bankrupt. Leading acts of the genre (in particular, 38 Special) had become enmeshed in arena rock. With the rise of MTV, new wave, funk, urban contemporary, and heavy metal, most surviving Southern rock groups were relegated to secondary or regional venues. Rock musicians such as Molly Hatchet, Outlaws, Georgia Satellites, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmie Vaughan, Point Blank,[16] Tom Petty, Bruce Hornsby, Steve Earle, Widespread Panic, and Kentucky Headhunters, emerged as popular Southern bands across the southeastern United States during the 1980s and 1990s.

During the 1990s, the Allman Brothers reunited and became a strong touring and recording presence again, and the jam band scene revived interest in extended improvised music.

Georgia's alternative rock band R.E.M. released the album Fables of the Reconstruction which explicitly invokes the Reconstruction Era in the title and is considered a Southern Gothic album.

The 1990s also saw the Black Crowes rise to mainstream popularity with the releases of Shake Your Money Maker (3× platinum), the Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 and certified 2× platinum), and Amorica (certified Gold).


From 1990s to 2000s, heavy metal and punk were popular in the South. Hard rock groups with Southern rock touches such as Jackyl renewed some interest in Southern rock. Several bands from the Southern United States (particularly New Orleans with its metal scene),[17] such as Eyehategod,[18][19][20] Acid Bath, Soilent Green, Corrosion of Conformity[21] and Down,[22][23] influenced by the Melvins, mixed Black Sabbath-style metal, hardcore punk and Southern rock to give shape to what would be known as sludge metal.[24][25][26] Most notable sludge metal bands hail from the Southeastern United States.[27][28] Most bands who have tried this style have slipped out of mainstream popularity, but there are still a few who belong to the genre, such as Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, and occasionally Hellyeah. Post-grunge bands such as Shinedown, Saving Abel, Saliva, 3 Doors Down, 12 Stones, and Black Stone Cherry have included a Southern rock feel to their songs and have recorded cover versions of Southern rock classics like "Simple Man" and "Tuesday's Gone". Blues rock/stoner rock bands have a Southern rock influence.

Southern rock influence can also be seen in the metal and hardcore punk genres.[29] This is showcased by such bands as Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, He Is Legend, Nashville Pussy, the Showdown, Alabama Thunderpussy, Memphis May Fire, Acid Bath, and Down.

2000 to present[edit]

New musicians such as the Tedeschi Trucks Band (the Derek Trucks Band), Warren Haynes, Gov't Mule, Chris Duarte Group, Dixie Witch, The Marcus King Band, Whiskey Myers, Widespread Panic, the Black Crowes, Blackberry Smoke, Kid Rock,[30][31][32] JJ Grey & Mofro, and the Allman Betts Band are continuing the Southern rock art form.

In 2005, singer Bo Bice took an explicitly Southern rock sensibility and appearance to a runner-up finish on the normally pop-oriented American Idol television program, with a performance of the Allmans' "Whipping Post" and later performing Skynyrd's "Free Bird" and, with Skynyrd on stage with him, "Sweet Home Alabama".

Southern rock currently plays on the radio in the United States, but mostly on oldies stations and classic rock stations. Although this class of music gets minor radio play, there is still a following for older bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers play in venues with sizable crowds.[33]

Additionally, alternative rock groups such as Drive-By Truckers, the Bottle Rockets (Missouri), My Morning Jacket (Kentucky), Kings of Leon, and Rurally Bankrupt combine Southern rock with rawer genres, such as garage rock, alt-country, and blues rock.

Several of the original early 1970s Southern rock groups are still performing in 2020. This list includes Atlanta Rhythm Section (ARS), the Marshall Tucker Band, Molly Hatchet, Outlaws, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Black Oak Arkansas, .38 Special and Dickey Betts.

A number of books in the 2000s have chronicled Southern rock's history, including Randy Poe's Skydog: The Duane Allman Story and Rolling Stone writer Mark Kemp's Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race & New Beginnings in a New South. Turn It Up was released by Ron Eckerman, Lynyrd Skynyrd's former manager and plane crash survivor. Sociologist Jason T. Eastman analyzes contemporary Southern rock to illustrate changes in today's southern identity in his book The Southern Rock Revival: The Old South in a New World.[34]

South rock musicians like Little Big Town, Billy Currington and Ryan Adams combine the Southern rock sound with country, bluegrass and blues. This has been propelled by record labels like Capitol Records Nashville, Mercury Nashville and Lost Highway Records.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lonnie Mack Memphis Retrieved November 16, 2022
  2. ^ "Dick Shurman, as quoted in McCardle, Washington Post, "Lonnie Mack, guitarist and singer who influenced blues and rock acts, dies at 74"". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
  3. ^ George Kimball (1971). "The Allman Brothers Band; At Fillmore East". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  4. ^ "Eric Clapton Tells How a Guitar Solo Brought Him and Duane Allman Together", Guitar Player, March 29, 2015.
  5. ^ "No. 12 – Allman Brothers Band Motorcycle Accidents – Ultimate Classic Rock". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved November 10, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Allman, Gregg. "Have a Nice Decade", The History of Rock 'n' Roll (DVD). Time-Life Video.
  7. ^ Baylese, Richard (March 10, 2021). "Ten top Swamp Rock tracks". Americana UK. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  8. ^ Dye, David (October 25, 2018). "R.I.P. Tony Joe White; Listen to the master of Swamp Rock play World Cafe in 2014". XPN. Retrieved November 12, 2022.
  9. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Charlie Daniels". AllMusic. Retrieved December 16, 2022.
  10. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Charlie Daniels Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved December 16, 2022.
  11. ^ "The Marshall Tucker Band – The Marshall Tucker Band – Songs, Reviews, Credits – AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  12. ^ "Welcome to GloryDazeMusic (a.k.a GDM)". Glorydazemusic.com. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  13. ^ Ron Eckerman Turn It Up!. Smashwords.com. Retrieved on December 15, 2012.
  14. ^ Rossington Collins Band Retrieved November 10, 2022
  15. ^ "The Atlanta Rhythm Section – History". Atlantarhythmsection.com. Retrieved November 8, 2022.
  16. ^ Point Blank Retrieved November 12, 2022
  17. ^ "Doom metal". Allmusic. Archived from the original on December 20, 2010. Retrieved July 22, 2008.
  18. ^ York, William. "Eyehategod – Dopesick". Allmusic. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  19. ^ York, William. "Eyehategod – In the Name of Suffering". Allmusic. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  20. ^ York, William. "Eyehategod – Take as Needed for Pain". Allmusic. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  21. ^ Huey, Steve. "Corrosion of Conformity". AllMusic. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  22. ^ Prato, Greg. "Down". AllMusic. Retrieved July 21, 2008.
  23. ^ Reamer, David. "Down-NOLA". Allmusic. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  24. ^ Huey, Steve. "Eyehategod". Allmusic. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  25. ^ York, William. "Acid Bath". Allmusic. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  26. ^ York, William. "Soilent Green". Allmusic. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  27. ^ Huey, Steve. "Crowbar". Allmusic. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  28. ^ York, William. "Buzzov-en". Allmusic. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  29. ^ "Every Time I Die Signs with Epitaph Records". Epitaph.com. February 11, 2009. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
  30. ^ "15 Best Kid Rock singles, from 'Bawitdaba' to 'First Kiss'". Amp.azcentral.com. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  31. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian David (August 28, 2018). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-0169-8. Retrieved August 28, 2018 – via Google Books.
  32. ^ Kupfer, Thomas. "Rock Hard review". issue 308. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  33. ^ White, Dave. "Southern Rock 101" (Archived April 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine). About.com. 2010. Retrieved March 2, 2010.
  34. ^ Eastman, Jason T. (2017). The Southern Rock Revival: The Old South in a New World. Lexington Books. Retrieved May 16, 2024.
  35. ^ Record label info, Mlive.com; accessed August 6, 2014.

General and cited references[edit]

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