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 guitar and vocals. Although the origin of the term Southern rock is unknown, "many people feel that these important contributors to the development of rock and roll have been minimized in rock's history."
The Allman Brothers Band played Southern rock with long jams. Loosely associated with the first wave of Southern rock were acts like Barefoot Jerry and Charlie Daniels. In the early 1970s, another wave of hard rock Southern groups emerged. Their music emphasized boogie rhythms and fast guitar leads with lyrics extolling the values, aspirations - and excesses - of Southern working-class young adults, not unlike the outlaw country movement. Examples include The Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Outlaws, Atlanta Rhythm Section and Blackfoot. Bands such as Drivin N Cryin, Dash Rip Rock, and the Kentucky Headhunters emerged as popular Southern bands across the Southeastern United States during the 1980s and 1990s. The Georgia Satellites also had some widespread popularity in the mid to late 1980s. Some rock groups from the South, such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds incorporated Southern musical and lyrical themes.
The 1990s also saw the influence of Southern rock touching metal. In 2001, Kid Rock went from a rock/rapper to a southern rocker/country singer. Southern rock currently plays on the radio in the United States, but mostly on oldies stations and classic rock stations. Additionally, alternative rock groups like Kings of Leon combine Southern rock with garage rock, alt-country, and blues rock. Several of the original early 1970s hard rock Southern rock groups are still performing today, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, and Canned Heat.
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 early 1960s, the recordings of early blues-rocker Lonnie Mack seamlessly blended the blues and country musical genres within the framework of rock. These recordings are viewed by some as a "prototype of what later would be called Southern rock". In the late 1960s, Blues rock bands such as Canned Heat (from Los Angeles), Creedence Clearwater Revival (from El Cerrito, California), and The Band (Canadian, though drummer Levon Helm was a native of Arkansas) were under the influence of Southern blues, boogie and country music.
The Allman Brothers Band, based in Macon, Georgia, made their national debut 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. Because a certain type of blues music, and essentially, rock and roll, was invented in the South, Gregg Allman commented that "Southern rock" was a redundant term, like "rock rock."
The Allman Brothers were signed to Capricorn Records, a small Macon label formed and headed by Phil Walden (former manager of Otis Redding) and partner Frank Fenter, former European Managing Director of Atlantic Records. Similar acts recorded on Capricorn included The Marshall Tucker Band from Spartanburg, South Carolina, Wet Willie from Alabama, Grinderswitch from Georgia (and composed of Allman Brothers' roadies) and the Elvin Bishop Band from Oklahoma.
Loosely associated with the first wave of Southern rock were acts like Barefoot Jerry and Charlie Daniels from North Carolina. 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", the lyrics of which 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.
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. 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 said, "I remember hearing Wilson Pickett's 'Hey Jude' and just being astounded by the lead break at the end. I had to know who that was immediately—right now." Allman's performance on "Hey Jude" blew away Atlantic Records producer and executive Jerry Wexler when Hall played it over the phone for him. Wexler immediately bought Allman's recording contract from Hall and wanted to use him on sessions with all sorts of Atlantic R&B artists.
As Allman's distinctive electric bottleneck steel sound began to mature, it evolved in time into the musical voice of what would come to be known as Southern Rock, being picked up and redefined in their own styles by slide guitarists that included bandmate Dickey Betts (after Allman's death), Rory Gallagher, Derek Trucks and Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
In the early 1970s, another wave of hard rock Southern groups emerged, heavily influenced by the British rock guitar sound: notably, the sound of Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, exemplified by his riff on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," and Free guitarist Paul Kossoff's power chords and solo on "All Right Now," and (perhaps especially) guitarist Robin Trower's classic riff on Procol Harum's "Whiskey Train". The harder rocking Southern groups' music emphasized boogie rhythms and fast guitar leads with lyrics extolling the values, aspirations - and excesses - of Southern working-class young adults, not unlike the outlaw country movement. Lynyrd Skynyrd of Jacksonville, Florida dominated this genre until the deaths of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and two 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 the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, .38 Special, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, Point Blank, Black Oak Arkansas, and the Edgar Winter Group also thrived in this genre.
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, and 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. At Southern rock's peak The Allman Brothers and other Capricorn artists played a part in Jimmy Carter's 1980 campaign for the presidency.
By the beginning of the 1980s Southern rock icons the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd had broken up, Capricorn Records was bankrupt, and Carter was out of office. As with most all of rock, leading acts of the genre (In particular 38 Special.) had become thoroughly enmeshed in corporate arena rock. With the rise of MTV, new wave, R&B and glam metal, most surviving Southern rock groups were relegated to secondary or regional venues. Bands such as Molly Hatchet, Outlaws, Drivin N Cryin, Confederate Railroad, Dash Rip Rock, and Kentucky Headhunters emerged as popular Southern bands across the Southeastern United States during the 1980s and 1990s. The Georgia Satellites also 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. 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".
Some rock groups from the South, such as Georgia's R.E.M., The B-52's, Widespread Panic, and Black Crowes, Florida's Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Sister Hazel, Blind Melon's Mississippian lead guitarist Rogers Stevens, and Texas's Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Joe Ely incorporated Southern musical and lyrical themes without explicitly allying with any Southern rock movement. Confer with R.E.M.'s 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 influence of Southern rock touching metal. Several bands from the Southern United States (particularly New Orleans with its metal scene) such as Eyehategod, Acid Bath, Soilent Green, Corrosion of Conformity and Down, 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. Most notable sludge metal bands hail from the Southeastern United States. 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, Pumpjack, Black Label Society and occasionally Hellyeah.
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 relaunched the tour under the same name. In 2010 he released "Born Free" a straight southern rock album without any rap or metal on it. He has remained planted in southern rock since with Rebel Soul (2012) and First Kiss (2015).
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". In late 2007, Bo Bice joined Southern rock artists Jimmy Hall - vocals/sax/harmonica (Wet Willie Band), Henry Paul - vocals/guitar/mandolin (Outlaws, BlackHawk), Steve Gorman - drums (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, session player), Jay Boy Adams - guitar (Texas blues solo artist) to record Brothers of the Southland.
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.
Post-grunge bands such as Shinedown, Saving Abel, Pre)Thing, Nickelback, 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 recorded cover versions of Southern rock classics like "Simple Man" and "Tuesday's Gone". Metallica has also covered "Tuesday's Gone" on their Garage Inc. album. Blues rock/stoner rock band Five Horse Johnson also have a southern rock influence in their sound.
Additionally, alternative rock groups such as Drive-By Truckers, The Bottle Rockets, Black Crowes, Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, Hester, State Line Mob, The Steepwater Band, Greasy Grapes, Zach Williams & The Reformation, and Kings of Leon 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. Southern rock influence can also be seen in the metal and hardcore punk genres. This is showcased by such bands as Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, Rebel Meets Rebel, He Is Legend, Nashville Pussy, The Showdown, Alabama Thunderpussy, Every Time I Die, Cancer Bats, Clutch, Once Nothing, Memphis May Fire, Acid Bath and Down.
Several of the original early 1970s hard rock Southern rock groups are still performing in 2011. This list includes Atlanta Rhythm Section (ARS), Marshall Tucker, Molly Hatchet, Outlaws, Gregg Allman, Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Canned Heat, Black Oak Arkansas, Blackfoot, .38 Special and Dickey Betts. New groups such as Dixie Witch, Blackberry Smoke, Gator Country, Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes, Gov't Mule, Southern Rock Allstars, The Derek Trucks Band, Alligator Stew, The Young Brothers. and SONS OF ANARCHY Band Preacher Stone are continuing the Southern rock art form.
A number of books in the 2000s have chronicled Southern rock's 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. More recently Turn It Up was released by Ron Eckerman, Lynyrd Skynyrd's former manager and plane crash survivor.
Newer bands like The Deadstring Brothers, Fifth on the Floor and Whitey Morgan and the 78's combine the Southern rock sound with country, bluegrass and blues. This has been propelled by record labels like Bloodshot Records and Lost Highway Records. There are some more new Southern Rock Bands worth considering like Holman Autry Band, General Lee Band, The 484 South Band, The Don Harrison Band, Rebel Storm, Cash Box, Ryan Bales Band, Don Ray Band, Amberson-Baggett Band, The Four Horseman, Alligator Stew, The Zak Mills Band, Christopher Satterfield, Rebel Pride, Ghost Riders, Cody Cooke and the Bayou Outlaws, and more.