“Oh yeah, who says?” asks a sceptical ROY CARR who, after swigging hard on the Confederacy’s brew of Redneck Rebel Rock, remains stubbornly unintoxicated.
“Down South of the Mason-Dixon branch
The Rebels are rockin’ and rollin’ there.
You better bet money they’re ready to spin
The South’s Gonna Rise Again.”
(‘The South’s Gonna Rise Again’ by Lee and Jim Denson. Copyright Modem Music.)
THE AMERICAN Civil War may have ended over a hundred years ago but, South of the Mason-Dixon Line, most folks persist in refusing to consider themselves part of the Union.
Wherever you go, the Confederate flag continues to flutter proudly alongside that of the Stars ‘n’ Stripes; bumper stickers, T-shirts, and cigarette lighters proclaiming that “The South’s Gonna Rise Again” are on display everywhere.
And, though certain changes may have come about through the crusading of the late Dr. Martin Luther King and others, the fact remains that Governor George Wallace of Alabama — newly graduated from nigger-baiting fanatic to “radical populist” — is now considered a serious contender for the Democratic nomination in the ’76 presidential election.
Until a few years ago, being from the South was considered about as cool as a uranium isotope.
For Northerners, the South was Dylan’s ‘Only A Pawn In Their Game’; the famous news-reel of Mississippi Sheriff Eugene “Bull” Connors turning a fire hose on Civil Rights marchers; Rod Steiger in The Heat Of The Night.
Most of all, it was the last reel of Easy Rider.
BUT THE South that has risen in the Seventies has got damn all to do with Rhett Butler, Scarlet O’Hara, Magnolia Blossom or traditional Southern fried hospitality. Neither has it much in common with Elvis Presley ending every sentence with “Suh” in his first round of press conferences.
The South — as represented by Gregg Allman, Jim Dandy, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker — has more to do with getting crazed on bathtub bourbon than with the once-refined elegance of having black servants dispense mint juleps on the front porch of your plantation mansion.
In the mid ’70s, the revamped Southern populism of Wallace revolves around the hoary myth that any unsophisticated country boy can make it all the way to the Senate — or, better still, maybe onto the board of Coca Cola Ltd.
In plain language, downhome grassroots wisdom beats the crap out of citified smartaleck-ism every goddamn time. It’s the spirit of folk philosopher Will “I Never Met A Man I Didn’t Like” Rogers or, better still, it’s Sheriff McCloud making assholes out of the New York Police Department, as well as every hoodlum in the alley.
And, while it’s common knowledge that virtually the entire spectrum of contemporary American popular music has emanated from the South, it’s still taken almost half a century for the South to take advantage of its own culture. After all the rapid rise of white-dominated Southern Rock owes its genesis to the mid ’60s British Blues Boom.
“What motivated the Allmans into being,” observes Atlanta producer Buddy Buie, “was the English rock-and-roll thing, when everyone was playing what everyone called the blues. And when Duane Allman and Barry Bailey and J.R. Cobb (of the Atlanta Rhythm Section) — when they heard it they probably said to themselves, ‘Well, shit, I forgot about that music, that’s old hat’.
“So they said, ‘Well, hey, if they’re gonna do like that, we’ll show them how to really play it’.
“The Allmans,” insists Buie, “blazed all the trails for Southern music as it’s known today. They sweated blood for it.”
And, true to the American code of pioneering, two of their number fell by the trail during this mighty odyssey. Like picking and packing peaches, distilling and bottling Southern Comfort, and the predilection with merchandising the South for general consumption and export, white Southern rock music has become yet another major consumer industry to be exploited to overkill point.
THE WHOLE ‘Song Of The South’ trip is personified in the Capricorn record label. It’s Liverpool and San Francisco revisited — with, this time, the setting being the remote Macon, Georgia.
Formed in the spring of 1969, Capricorn began with a policy of cutting R&B singles. This objective soon broadened when company founder (and ex-Otis Redding manager) Phil Walden fell into conversation with a session guitarist named Duane Allman.
A few months later the Allmans — who had previously been known as The Allman Joys and Hour Glass — shuffled into Macon and laid down an impressive debut album in November of the same year. The success of The Allman Brothers Band and its followup Idlewild South quickly motivated Walden to scrap his R&B plans and gear the company towards marketing albums by contemporary white Southern rock bands.
The personae of the Allman Brothers — and subsequent Capricorn artists like Cowboy, Wet Willie, White Witch, Marshall Tucker, Hydra, James Montgomery et al — was closely identified with that of the local street-corner chauvinistic bonhomie of getting deranged, cruising for pussy, and boogieing the night away.
It was all about Dixie, going down the road feeling good or bad (depending upon where you’d been the previous night), being crossed in love, getting laid, and the curious fact that the sun always shone on Godfearing folk.
Whereas contemporary country stars have always been into garish custom tooled rhinestoned suits and footwear. Southern rockers like Gregg Allman and Jim Dandy have adopted the stylised gun-slinger chic of sweat-stained buckskins, embroidered denim shirts, chisel-toed western boots and Navajo jewellery — well in keeping with their outlaws-of-society imagery.
Or, as Jim Dandy so delicately puts it: “We’re trying to sho’ folks that rock n’ roll shouldn’t be full of court jesters. There should be a few Knights, a few Princes and Princesses, a few Kings and not just a bunch o’ Queens.”
THE SUCCESS of companies like Capricorn and the emergence of such acts as the Allmans, the Black Oakies, the Skynyrds, the Willies and Z.Z. Top owes more than just a little to parochial Southern fervour (for the males) and deprived sexual identification (for the females). It’s still about the only region in America where men are most definitely men and women are fully aware (though perhaps not always fully appreciative) of that fact.
As one Southern Belle proudly told us: “Yuh know, us Georgia Peaches sho’ love to ball a lot.” Her reasoning — other than the humidity — being: “There’s nuthin’ else to do but go to rock concerts and get stoned once a week.”
“Bands like us and the Allmans,” states Jim Dandy, “are just a reflection of our audience. They give you what they themselves want, so as you can tell their story the way they wanna hear it told.
“Rock n’ roll is still the best music to get crazed and horny to.”
As it transpires, there’s no need for Southern rock fans to make an effort to emulate their heroes, because guys like Gregg Allman, Jim Dandy and any one of a dozen other performers look so much like their audience that, if they didn’t arrive backstage by limo, they might not gain access to their own gigs.
With a modicum of talent and enough of whatever it takes to get you through a set, almost any competent Southern band can sound pretty much like the Allmans and Marshall Tucker — and most of them do.
Most innovations in rock have been stumbled upon through a certain degree of ineptitude. However, as far as new-wave Southern Rock is concerned, the ineptitude that prevails throughout most bands only produces a heavy sense of ethnic ennui as they boogie over, under, sideways and — most notably — down.
Very few of them possess any of the panache and spontaneity evident in such third generation Southerners as the Winter brothers, Doug Sahm, Jesse Winchester, Jerry Reed. Janis Joplin, J.J. Cale, Joe South, Gram Parsons, Tony Joe White, and Alex Chilton of the Box Tops (now fronting Big Star).
For example, the current promo job surrounding Capricorn’s Hydra is their musical dissimilarity to the Allmans. What has been omitted is that, whilst they don’t sound particularly like the Allmans, they do sound remarkably like substandard Status Quo.
The fact remains that British boogie bands like Savoy Brown, the Climax Blues Band, and (of course) dear ol’ Foghat have beaten down most of these bands on their own turf — as a brief glance at the American charts will show.
BEFORE THEY pressed the self-destruct button, Free had crystalised a style that many Southern bands are still trying to emulate (the immediate and colossal Stateside success of Bad Company drives this point home with a vengeance).
If the Brinsleys, Man, Chilli Willi and The Red Hot Peppers — or, for that matter, Ducks Deluxe and Ace — were from Dixie as opposed to Dingwalls, they’d probably be on Capricorn or Al Kooper’s Sounds Of The South label, be part of a constant motorised cavalcade, and have license to mint their own money… whilst beating the solid crap out of the likes of Marshall Tucker and Wet Willie.
Southern Rock, like a great deal of contemporary country music, is pretty damn parochial. Indeed, most of the big Southern bands owe their record sales to the fact that they have the ability to cut it in front of their audience.
For instance, the Marshall Tucker Band may be about as exciting as a stewed bagel on disc, but afford them an hour (or preferably two) in the late afternoon at your average one day Speedway rockfest, and they’ll annihilate any competition foolish enough to be in the vicinity.
On the other hand, jammin’ — as practiced by the Allmans and their ilk — is most definitely an ozoned spectator sport which, spread thin over three sides of a double-album, can render major surgery without sedatives quite painless.
Perhaps the only Southern band proven both on stage and on record is Lynyrd Skynyrd — but even they are prone to fulsome gestures of staunch Southern patriotism. These take the form of stage exclamations like: “If yo’ no friends of the Allman Bro’thurs then yo’ ain’t no friends of ours,” a massive Confederate flag for scenic accompaniment, and the strains of ‘Dixie’ heralding their appearance (though it’s interesting to note that they axe such devices when they play the Northern States).
Plus such defensive lyrics as:
“Well, I’ve heard Mistuh Young sing about us,
Well, I’ve heard old Neil put it down.
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember.
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow!”
(‘Sweet Home Alabama’, copyright Leeds Music Ltd. 1974.)
ONE CAN endlessly discuss the merits and weaknesses of every Southern band that’s hit paydirt and get pretty much nowhere — but one central fact keeps on re-emerging and that is that the Allman Brothers were the prime source for almost the entire movement.
The particular paradox of this band is that the post Duane Allman outfit has turned out to be the most financially successful line-up whilst simultaneously being musically the least interesting. When Duane died, the Allmans grabbed a large sympathy vote which was compounded twelve months later when bassist Berry Oakley died, leaving Gregg and Dickie Betts to salvage what remained.
Previously, all eyes and ears had been on Duane and, by his own admission, Betts had had to really sweat to trade solos with him; with the competition suddenly removed, Betts proceeded to lay right back and pick cornpone licks that did nothing to enhance the reputation he had slogged so hard to achieve on the Brothers’ first three albums.
Betts’ status as an “exploratory” musician can be evaluated through the following anecdote: one evening while the band were working up some new material, bassist Chuck Leavell chose to Shatter Traditional Values and prod out 32 instead of 12 bars — only to be brought quickly back to heel by an irate Betts shouting: “Goddam it, Chuck, I’m just a country boy and I ain’t gonna play any of those fucking space chords.”
Well, back to basics.
SO, IS there any Southern white rock that cats it outside its on context? Well, to be quite truthful, very little.
In an attempt to sort out the corn from the cotton, we present the…
Southern Rock Guide
(Jimmy Hall — lead vocal, sax, harmonica; Rick Hirsch — lead guitar; Jack Hall — bass guitar; John Anthony — keyboards; Lewis Ross — drums; Donna Hall and Ella Avery — backing vocals).
WET WILLIE are a fair little R&B combo with an OK guitar picker (Rick Hirsch) and an equally good harmonica sucker (Jimmy Hall) whose singing does not match his harp playing. Perhaps now that Elkie Brooks is due to be added to the line up the vocals will improve.
(Billy Gibbons — guitars, harmonica, vocals; Dusty Hill — bass guitar, vocals; Rube Beard— drams).
THE TEXAS TOPS whip out a more than reasonable Free imitation with an extremely tight, bass-heavy mix that does it for many heavy-metal addicts. Despite the obvious imitations of their line-up, Z.Z. Top do have their moments, though despite other bands cashing in on the Southern Rock boom, the Tops seem to have held back and haven’t issued an album in well over a year, though one is promised shortly.
THE MARSHALL TUCKER BAND:
(Toy Caldwell — lead guitar, vocals; Doug Gray — lead vocals; George McCorkle rhythm guitar; Tommy Caldwell — bass guitar, vocals, Jerry Eubanks — sax, flute, vocals; Paul Riddle — drums).
AS THEIR publicity insists, the Marshall Tucker Band may well be the South’s second most popular group, but on record they’re still one of the most disappointing. Any major success attributed to these Sons of Spartanburg, South Carolina, has been earned on the road. Says Toy Caldwell, the band’s only real asset, “We went out there and played our asses off”. A pity that they don’t manage to do just that in the recording studio.
(Wayne Bruce — lead vocals, rhythm guitar; Spencer Kirkpatrick — lead guitar; Orville Davis — bass guitar; Steve Pace — drums).
SEEMINGLY, every label needs to have its token silversleeved punk band, and Hydra is Capricorn’s answer to anything that minces as it boogies. The Stooges they ain’t.
(Ronnie Van Zant — lead vocals; Gary Rossington, Allen Collins and Ed King — guitars; Billy Powell — keyboards; Leon Wilkeson — bass guitar; Bob Burns — drums).
PRONOUNCED Leh-nerd Skin-nerd, they are almost certainly the best of the bunch of our good of boys, and are particularly noteworthy because they use — and actually play three lead guitars without falling into the trap of continuous descending runs. Combined with the gut-wrenching vocals of Ronnie Van Zant, what emerges is a not particularly original but certainly raunchy R&B outfit that comes across like a weird hybrid between Free and Little Feat.
THE ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION:
(Ronnie Hammond — lead vocals; Barry Bailey and J.R. Cobb — guitars; Dean Daughtry — keyboards; Paul Goddard — bass guitar; Robert Nix — drums).
IN COMPANY with the Daredevils, the Atlanta Rhythm Section are more song orientated than most other Southern bands and most definitely among the most accomplished. Their emergence almost parallels that of such studio-based bands as Booker T & The MGs and the Meters in the past, in that having worked with almost every Southern artist of note, and with three fine albums to their credit, the ARS are now in the process of consolidating their reputation out on the road. Much of this act’s appeal is generated through the skilled interplay between guitarists Bailey and Cobb. Indeed, Barry Bailey has already earned critical acclaim through his work with Joe South, Taj Mahal and Frankie Miler. Definitely, a band to watch.
THE OZARK MOUNTAIN DAREDEVILS:
(John Dillon — guitar, vocals, piano and various stringed instruments; Michael Granda — bass guitar, vocals; Randle Chowning — guitar, vocals, harp, mandolin; Buddy Brayfield — piano; Steve Cash — harp, vocals; Larry Lee — drums, guitar, bass guitar, vocals).
WITH GLYN JOHNS master minding their recording career, the Daredevils have the basic ingredients to repeat the success enjoyed by the Eagles, with a potent yet highly melodic fusion of soft country and hard rock. Their songs are excellent, as is their collective musicianship, though they remain something of an unknown quantity here.
KINKY FRIEDMAN & JERRY REED:
ON THE other hand, while the Skynyrds, the Daredevils and the ARS display adept musicianship, a certain degree of intelligence, and the ability to write songs with beginnings, middles, endings, words and other effete devices, the only other artists to emerge out of the morass with any real sense of style and some much needed humour are Jerry Reed and Kinky Friedman. I mean, anyone who can entertain the rednecks with a band called the Texas Jewboys has at the very least got to possess a helluva lot of chutzpah, y’lh ‘
KINKY IS a bright Jewish guy from Texas who for some totally unfathomable reason wound up as a representative of (of all things) the U.S. Peace Corp in (of all places) Borneo. While getting blitzed around the campfire, he got to thinkin’ ’bout his roots, and the sheer absurdity of being a Jew from Texas. From these and other musings came the brilliantly absurd concept of his first album Sold American and his group, The Texas Jewboys, which despite a disappointing second album, is alone sufficient to win him a place in the holy annals of Southern Freakdom.
FROM GOOD ol’ Nashville, Tenn, comes Jerry Reed, a demon picker and fully qualified bull goose loony who spends most of his time recording horrendously dull country sludge and instrumental albums with Chet Atkins. Once in a while, howevuh, the moonshine madness takes hold and he writes songs like ‘Amost Moses’, ‘Tupelo Mississippi Flash’, ‘Guitar Man’ (as in Elvis) and ‘When You’re Hot You’re Hot’, which for down-home wit, funky arrangements and brain-cell poppin’ guitar, singes the whiskers off damn near anything else in the immediate musical/social/geographical vicinity. His good moments are few and far between, but when you get enough of them together in one place (as on RCA’s Best Of Jerry Reed) the results are infinitely rewarding. That’s all. Collect your guns at the door and leave quietly.
The following is a documentary discography, recorded at our operating level. The albums marked with an asterisk are those that might repay listening.
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: Beginnings (Capricorn)*; At Filmore East (Capricorn)*; DUANE ALLMAN: Anthology (Capricorn)*; GREG ALLMAN: Laid Back (Capricorn); RICHARD BETTS: Highway Call (Capricorn); WET WILLIE: Wet Willie (Capricorn); ELVIN BISHOP: Let It Flow (Capricorn); MARSHALL TUCKER BAND: Where We All Belong (Capricorn); HYDRA: Hydra (Capricorn); LYNYRD SKYNYRD: Lynyrd Skynyrd (MCA); Second Helping (MCA)*; JOHNNY WINTER AND: Live (CBS)*; Z.Z. TOP: Rio Grande Mud (London); Tres Hombres (London); KENNY O’DELL: Kenny O’Dell (Capricorn); ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION: Back Up Against The Wall (MCA)*; Third Annual Pipe Dream (MCA)*; JERRY REED: The Best Of Jerry Reed (RCA)*; J.J. CALE: Really (A&M)*; TONY JOE WHITE: Black and White (Monument); Continued (Monument); JANIS JOPLIN: Cheap Thrills (CBS)*; EDGAR WINTER: They Only Come Out At Night (CBS); GRAM PARISONS: G.P. (Reprise)*; Grevious Angel (Reprise)*; BLACK OAK ARKANSAS: Hot ‘n’ Nasty (Atlantic); JOE SOUTH: Games People Play (Capitol); DOUG SAHM: Mendocino (Mercury); KINKY FRIEDMAN: Sold American (Vanguard)*; Kinky Friedman (ABC); JESSE WINCHESTER: Jesse Winchester (Ampex); BIG STAR: Radio City (Ardent)*; OZARK MOUNTAIN DAREDEVILS: Ozark Mountain Daredevils (ALM)*.
© Roy Carr, New Musical Express, 18 January 1975