It was 1977. I was, er, let’s just say, very young and had my first brush with southern American rock bands. An older cousin had handed me an LP, The South’s Greatest Hits, which had come out that year, and with it began a torrid affair with southern rock bands, an affair that, as you shall soon find out, has passed the test of time. The South’s Greatest Hits had stellar tunes by stellar bands. I got to listen to the Allman Brothers Band, Charlie Daniels Band, Elvin Bishop, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dr. John and others. I was hooked.
Soon, I found albums by each of these bands and musicians. By 1980, I’d heard and collected several Allman Brothers Band albums, both, from before their outstanding lead guitarist, Duane Allman died tragically in a motorcycle crash in 1971, as well as from the later years.
My favourite Allman albums are At Fillmore East, Eat A Peach and Brothers and Sisters (all released in the 1970s) but I also like Hittin’ The Note, an album that came out in 2003 with the super guitarist Warren Haynes on the lead. In fact, the album was also produced by Haynes who, in addition to being the frontman for his own band Gov’t Mule also plays lead with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead after Jerry Garcia died.
Lynyrd Skynyrd were the other southern band that hooked me early. Their early albums, which had guitarist, singer and primary lyricist, Ronnie Van Zant, playing on them, were, of course, their best but the band still lives on, albeit with many line-up changes. Sadly, Van Zant and two other band members and a few crew members perished when a plane carrying the Skynyrd crashed in 1977.
Southern rock’s glory years were during the 1970s, when their unique brand of music—you can hear influences of rock and roll, country and blues and, more than anything else, robust lead guitars and passionate vocals—thrived. Besides Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd and the others covered on 1977’s South’s Greatest Hits, there were southern rockers such as the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie (yes!), Blackfoot and Thunderhead, all of whom shared a similar penchant for striking lead guitar riffs and lyrics that, almost invariably, narrated a story.
In recent years, a band that has been kept southern rock’s flag flying high are The Drive-By Truckers. Based in Athens, Georgia, the band really took off with their epic third album, Southern Rock Opera. A double album (released in 2001), Southern Rock Opera delves into everything from racism, politics and the evolution of southern rock itself, all of this using the life-cycle (the rise and, literal, fall) of Lynyrd Skynyrd as their theme. The Drive-By Truckers are fronted by Patterson Hood and have three guitar players in addition to a bassist and a drummer. Hood’s vocals have a unique twang and a trademark swagger and the band’s guitar-heavy music can make you instantly like them.
Like I had, many years ago, fallen for the bands on The South’s Greatest Hits albums, it took one listen to the Southern Rock Opera to become a huge fan of the Truckers. I have meticulously collected what I could lay my hands on (they have 11 albums) and their latest, The Big To-Do, came out in mid-March this year. The album has less gravitas and more playfulness but like many southern rockers, Hood and his bandmates do songs about life in southern towns and everyday situations that invariably have a twist. There are songs where a stripper muses about her clientele (Birthday Boy), a small-town sex scandal (The Wig He Made Her Wear), the drudgery of work (This Fucking Job) and bingeing (The Fourth Night of My Drinking). The Truckers aren’t high-brow sophisticates churning out melancholic and brooding songs like many of today’s ‘hot’ musicians do. Instead, their music is kickass and very, very beer-friendly. If you haven’t tried them, you’re missing something.
Three to Tango:
- Disco Biscuits: A full concert by the trance-fusion, heavy jamming, electronica ensemble, which they played on March 23. Nearly three hours. Free!.
- E-40: Whip It Up is a track from American rapper E-40 and features Gucci Mane. Nice break if you’re overdosed on rock.
- MGMT: After their new album, Congratulations, leaked, MGMT decided to stream the entire album for free on their website.