THE SOUTH is the fatherland of rock. Though not specifically indigenous to that area, rock’s basic roots are steeped in the musical lore and tradition of the south.
Blues and country music, the original elements for the synthesis that was rock, played important cultural roles in the rural south. The Mississippi Delta spawned the blues of Robert Johnson and Charley Patton that moved to the cities around the Second World War and eventually became rhythm and blues. Country music belonged to the poor white tenant farmer who eked a living from the land during the days and after supper relaxed with the Carter Family or the original Jimmy Rodgers on the Victrola.
All the early rock and roll was from the South, from Little Richard and Fats Domino up to and including Elvis Presley. The legendary pioneer record company, Sun Records (which made the first records of Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Presley), was located in Nashville. John Fogerty, leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival, was so inspired by the South, that he wrote the classic southern rock and roll song, ‘Proud Mary’, without ever having left California.
“Most of the people that I really liked came from there, or seemed to come from there,” he said, referring to the old rockers. It seems surprising, therefore — given the emergence of an urban South in recent years — that a southern rock scene would be so slow to develop. One is growing now, and the Allman Brothers band, a first class example of what this generation of southern boys can do with rock, paid their second visit to the Fillmore West recently.
The group features the singing and organ playing of Greg Allman and the guitar playing of Duane Allman and Dickie Betts. The entire personnel of the band, including managers and equipment handlers, are born and bred southerners (except bassist Berry Oakley, who was born in Chicago, “but moved south as soon as he had enough sense.”)
The group was making their second appearance in San Francisco. Though relatively unknown in the West, they have managed to attract a considerable following in the eastern half of the country.
Among instrumentalists, Duane Allman is most highly regarded, largely because of the reputation his recording session work gained him. As one of the lead guitar players in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, he helped shape and define the sound of Rick Hall’s renowned recording studio there. Duane lived and worked in the small town for eight months and during that time worked with some of America’s top soul artists.
During 1968, he recorded with Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett (he is responsible for the sterling guitar solo on Pickett’s hit version of ‘Hey Jude’), Arthur Conley and King Curtis, among other rhythm and Blues performers. He has also played on album sessions with blues stylist John Hammond (Hammond’s Southern Fried album) and San Francisco rock songwriter-performer Boz Scaggs. He is scheduled to work on Steve Stills’ next solo album in March.
“I like working in other people’s context,” he said in true sessionman ethic, “to help illuminate their work. But I prefer to be included in sessions as a part of the band” (such was the case with Clapton).
Duane quit regular session work over a year and a half ago, at the advent of the Allman Brothers Band. “It was the best band then and it still is the best I’ve ever known.
“A lot of those cats (at Muscle Shoals) couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to lay around and collect five bills a week just playing sessions. I’ve never been the sort of person to just lay around. Playing on the road broadens your scope. I’m much better off.”
© Joel Selvin, San Francisco Chronicle, 14 February 1971