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Southern rock is a subgenre of rock music, and genre of country music. It developed in the Southern United States from rock and roll, country music, and blues, and is focused generally on electric guitar and vocals.

1950s and 1960s – origins

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

In the late 1960s, traditionalists such as Creedence Clearwater Revival (from Northern Californiamarker), and The Band (Canadianmarker, though drummer Levon Helm is a native Arkansanmarker) revived interest in the roots of rock. See Muscle Shoals Music.

1970s – peak of popularity

Attention once again turned to bands from the American South. The Allman Brothers Band from Macon, Georgiamarker made their national début in 1969 and soon gained a loyal following. Their blues-rock sound on one hand incorporated long jams informed by jazz and classical music, and on the other hand drew from native elements of country and folk. The death of guitarist and leader Duane Allman in 1971 did not prevent them from gaining popularity for the next several years, until internal tensions broke them apart after 1976. Because a certain type of blues music, and essentially, rock and roll, was invented in the South, Gregg Allman has commented that "Southern rock" is a redundant term; it's like saying "rock rock."

The Allman Brothers were signed to Capricorn Records, a small Macon label headed by Phil Walden (former manager of Otis Redding). Similar acts recorded on Capricorn, including the Marshall Tucker Band from Spartanburg, South Carolinamarker, Wet Willie from Alabamamarker,Grinderswitch from Georgia (and composed of Allman Brothers' roadies), and the Elvin Bishop Band from Oklahomamarker.

Loosely associated with this first wave of Southern rock were acts like Barefoot Jerry from Tennesseemarker and the Charlie Daniels Band from Tennessee. Charlie Daniels, a big-bearded fiddler with a knack for novelty songs, gave Southern rock its self-identifying anthem with his 1975 hit, "The South's Gonna Do It", whose lyrics mentioned all of the above bands, proclaiming: "Be proud you're a rebel / 'Cause the South's gonna do it again." A year earlier, Daniels had started the Volunteer Jam, an annual Southern rock-themed concert held in Tennessee. The Winters Brothers Band from Franklin, Tenn. was a band Charlie Daniels helped to get started with "Sang Her Love Songs", "Smokey Mountain Log Cabin Jones," and more. They still perform and hold an annual festival in Nolensville, Tennessee every year.

In the early 1970s, another wave of hard rock Southern groups emerged. Their music emphasized boogie rhythms and fast guitar leads more aligned with hard rock and heavy metal, along with lyrics concerning the values, aspirations - and excesses - of Southern working-class young adults, not unlike the outlaw country movement. Also mentioned in "The South's Gonna Do It", Lynyrd Skynyrd of Jacksonville, Floridamarker dominated this genre until the deaths of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and other members of the group in a 1977 airplane crash. After this tragic plane crash, members Allen Collins and Gary Rossington started The Rossington-Collins Band. Groups such as ZZ Top, .38 Special, Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, Thunderhead, Point Blank, Black Oak Arkansas, and the Edgar Winter Group also thrived in this genre.

The Allman Brothers Southern feel came more from the temperament of its music ("Hot 'Lanta", "Little Martha", interpolations of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken") than any explicit cultural identification. Phil Walden, the Allman Brothers, and other Capricorn artists had also played a part in Jimmy Carter's campaign for the presidency; Carter claimed to be a fan of the Allman Brothers. Even within the Skynyrd branch of Southern rock, the appearance of Molly Hatchet on the dance-oriented show Solid Gold hinted at the wider level of popularity Southern rock had achieved.

Not all Southern rock artists fit into the above molds. The Atlanta Rhythm Section and the Amazing Rhythm Aces were more focused on vocal harmonies, Louisiana's Le Roux ranged from Cajun-flavored Southern boogie early on to a more arena rock sound later on, while the Dixie Dregs and Allman Brothers' offshoot Sea Level explored jazz fusion.

1980s and 1990s – continuing influence

Southern rock gained popularity far beyond the American south. The subgenre influenced groups as far flung as Australia's AC/DC, whose original vocalist, Bon Scott, was known to wear rebel flag belt buckles at concerts.

However, by the beginning of the 1980s, with the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd both broken, with Capricorn Records in bankruptcy, and with Jimmy Carter out of office, much of Southern rock had become thoroughly enmeshed into corporate arena rock. With the rise of MTV, New Wave, and glam metal, most surviving Southern rock groups were relegated to secondary or regional venues . Bands such as Better Than Ezra, Drivin N Cryin, Cowboy Mouth, Dash Rip Rock, Kentucky Headhunters and Third Day emerged as popular Southern bands across the Southeastern United States during the 1980s and 1990s. One notable exception was the The Georgia Satellites who had some widespread popularity in the mid to late 1980s.

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 (although the scene also owed much to the Grateful Dead, a group that relied heavily on Southern music traditions). Incarnations of Lynyrd Skynyrd also made themselves heard. Hard rock groups with Southern rock touches such as Jackyl renewed some interest in Southern rock. Classic rock radio stations played some of the more familiar 1970s works, and Charlie Daniels's Volunteer Jam concerts were still going. Phil Walden resurrected Capricorn Records only to fall back into bankruptcy. One of the final Capricorn issues was a solo effort by former Wet Willie front man Jimmy Hall entitled Rendezvous With The Blues. With the demise of Capricorn this much sought after album fell off the shelves until a fortunate 2006 re-release with bonus tracks.

But some rock groups from the South, such as Georgiamarker's R.E.M., The B-52's, Widespread Panic, and Black Crowes, Floridamarker's Sister Hazel, Blind Melon's Mississippian lead guitarist, and Texasmarker's Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Joe Ely incorporated Southern musical and lyrical themes without explicitly allying with any Southern rock movement.

The 1990s also saw the influence of Southern rock touching metal. Early in the decade several bands from the Southern United States (particularly New Orleansmarker with its metal scene) such as Eyehategod, Acid Bath, Soilent Green, Corrosion of Conformity and Down, influenced by Melvins, mixed Black Sabbath style metal, hardcore punk and Southern rock to give shape to what would be known as sludge metal. Most notable sludge metal bands hail from the Southern United States.

2000 to present – the resurgence

In 2001, Kid Rock went from a hard metal rapper to a southern rocker/ country singer using 2001's album "Cocky" as the transformation album. His next two studio releases 2003's "Kid Rock" and 2007's "Rock N Roll Jesus" were mainly straight southern rock jams and country tinged ballads. His 2008 single "All Summer Long" (which samples Sweet Home Alabama and Werewolves Of London) became one of his biggest hits to date without it being available on iTunes. The Allman Brother's Dickey Betts joined Kid Rock as part of his Rock N Roll Revival Tour in 2008 and Lynyrd Skynyrd opened for him. In 2009 they will relaunch the tour under the same name.

In 2005, Southern rock received new exposure from an unlikely source: singer Bo Bice took an explicitly Southern rock sensibility and appearance to a runner-up finish on the massively watched but normally pop-oriented American Idol television program. Fueled by a key early performance of the Allmans' "Whipping Post" and later performing Skynyrd's "Free Bird" and, with Skynyrd on stage with him, "Sweet Home Alabama," Bice demonstrated that Southern rock still had a place in the American music pantheon. In late 2007, Bo Bice joined veteran Southern rock legends Jimmy Hall - Vocals/ Sax / Harmonica (Wet Willie Band), Henry Paul- Vocals / guitar / Mandolin (Outlaws, BlackHawk), Steve Gorman- Drums (The Black Crowes, Jimmy Page), "Dangerous" Dan Toler- Guitar (The Gregg Allman Band, The Allman Brothers, Dickey Betts & Great Southern), Reese Wynans- Keyboards (Stevie Ray Vaughan), Mike Brignardello- Bass (Giant, renowned session player), Jay Boy Adams- Guitar (Texas Blues Solo Artist) to record Brothers of the Southland celebrating Southern rock with a renewed spirit and maturity.

Post-grunge bands such as Shinedown, Saving Abel, Pre)Thing, Saliva, 3 Doors Down, 12 Stones, Default, Black Stone Cherry and Theory of a Deadman, have included a Southern rock feel to their songs and have gone as far as to cover Southern rock classics like "Simple Man" and "Tuesday's Gone". Metallica has also covered "Tuesday's Gone" on their Garage Inc. album.

Additionally, alternative rock groups such as Drive-By Truckers, Bottle Rockets, Kings of Leon, Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket and The Steepwater Band combine Southern rock with rawer genres, such as garage rock, alt-country, and blues-rock.

Much of the old style Southern rock (as well as other classic rock) has made its transition into the country music genre, establishing itself along the lines of outlaw country in recent years. Bands such as Skynyrd and Daniels frequently play country music venues, and the influence of Southern rock can be heard in many of today's country artists, particularly male vocalists. Examples include solo artists Toby Keith and Jimmy Aldridge and the duo of Big & Rich.

Southern rock influence can also be seen in the metal genre. This is showcased by such bands as Pantera, Clutch, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, He Is Legend, Every Time I Die, Cancer Bats and Once Nothing and the definitive tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd's drummer Artimus Pyle spawning a new sub-genre of metal, known as Southern Metal.

Several of the original early 1970s hard rock Southern rock groups are still performing in 2008. This list includes Gregg Allman, Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Black Oak Arkansas, Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, Marshall Tucker, .38 Special and Outlaws. New groups such as Gator Country, Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes, Gov't Mule, Southern Rock Allstars, Dickey Betts & Great Southern are continuing the Southern rock art form.

A number of books in the 2000s have chronicled Southern rock's rich history, including Randy Poe's Skydog - The Duane Allman Story, Gene Odom's Lynyrd Skynyrd: Remembering the Free Birds of Southern Rock and Rolling Stone writer Mark Kemp's Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race & New Beginnings in a New South.

See also



  • The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. Random House, 1980. "Southern Rock" entry by Joe Nick Patoski. ISBN 0-394-73938-8.
  • Kemp, Mark. Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race, & New Beginnings in a New South.] New York, New York: Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2004, p. 17. ISBN 0-7432-3794-3.*
  • Gene Odom on Ronnie Van Zant & Allen Collins

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