FYI, Black Stone Cherry are releasing their second album and they're what we could call a modern Southern Rock band, which means it's time to look at ALL southern rock bands.
This is like walking into a hornet's nest. By geography lots of great music can be classified as "Southern" rock. Over the years country music has merged with rock to the point where there isn't much difference between Toby Keith and the Black Crowes and I'd defend your assertion that he's more "Southern Rock" than many of the bands who come closer to defining the term in the strictest sense. But I'm also not looking to give myself that headache. I'm sure there will be time to discuss country artists under a country music banner. Besides, when you see the mess I've gotten myself into with only 10 slots, you'll see that I'm actually a good person underneath it all, just trying to make my way in the world and do nobody no harm.
Not wanting to list every variation of a Lynyrd Skynyrd offshoot and keeping a promise to a friend to not include .38 Special, who I like but let's just say I'm in the pocket of "Big John" for this one, I eventually divided this up into three categories. You can't have "southern" anything without the five classic bands that I spotlight first and to pit studio pros who played on amazing, classic records from a variety of artists doesn't seem fair to the bands that came later. There was a classic southern rock era when the Allman Brothers Band and later Lynyrd Skynyrd waved their Confederate flags and sold out arenas. And there has been plenty of activity from these geographical locations in the past few decades where that spirit has been imbued and brought back to public recognition the world over. And then there's the mighty state of Texas, which should stand on its own, but I couldn't wait for a "Texas" blog to include a few, but believe me that's a state that breeds musicians.
And I had to pretty much overlook New Orleans, leaving the Meters to stand as the one band to represent that beautiful, beleaguered city.
So I listed the Five Classics First, the Legends of the Southern Rock Era Second and in a separate blog will cover the post-70s southern rock warriors.
For now, let's celebrate what did make the cut.
The Five All-Time Classics
Putting these "in order" is a matter of filing. Surely, there is no "better" here. Which day of the week is it? And there were certainly more than just these five. But who can complain with these gents?
5) Elvis Presley Sun Records Trio: Bill Black on bass, Scotty Moore on guitar and eventually D.J. Fontana on drums. Without them, there's no Elvis to speak of and the course of history takes a very different turn. Sure, the music continues to be made in sleepy backwoods juke joints and kids sneak to hear this deep, forbidden music on radios late at night but it never gains the same cultural clout. Instead, kids make kazoos out of combs and toilet paper and end up living in a world that looks like one long Mad Men rerun...
4) James Brown And The Famous Flames: Any band that plays with James Brown can stop on a dime. Because they know there will be consequences if they don't. This is the sound of tough love.
3) Hi Rhythm Section: Sure, Al Green could coax them to play soft and sultry but I'd hate to be in Memphis when the arguments started over who reigned supreme between these guys and that other studio band. Of course, the drummer, the late Al Jackson Jr., played in both. Talk about covering your bets!
2) Booker T. And The MGs: Call them what you will. They performed under a banner of names and can be heard backing Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers, and just about anybody who walked through the door at Stax Records in Memphis, which was a virtual living Hall of Fame during the late '60s.
1) Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section: These days best known to indie-rock kids for sporting a guy named David Hood whose son Patterson leads Drive-By Truckers, but once upon a time when Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett and, heck, the late, great Arthur Alexander were making records that people bought and radio played, it was these magical studio pros making northern Alabama the place to be.
The Southern Rock Era
10) Wet Willie: "Keep On Smilin'" was their one top ten hit and their name doesn't get thrown around with the same reverence as many of the bands on this list, but aside from having a great band name, they also recorded several albums that deserve to live on even if the sun dies out.
9) Blackfoot: They succeeded more with hard rock than southern rock and took a good decade to find an audience, which prompted the group to break up. And reform in different configurations, which will probably go on until the end of time. Showbiz is like that.
8) Charlie Daniels Band: Yes, the Devil Went Down to Georgia, but Charlie Daniels was also a key session musician who played on the works of many great artists including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen. His instrumental chops are indisputable.
7) The Greg Allman Band: Usually I wouldn't consider offshoots of original bands, but Greg Allman's solo work has always been as intriguing in its way as his work with his brothers. The man can sing. And he survived a bout of Cher!
6) ZZ Top: Never negate the power of the beard. These guys from Texas have outlasted just about everyone. Who would think five decades later they'd still be breathing the air? I guess they don't live as fast as the cars they drive. Or maybe it's not really them behind those beards?
5) Black Oak Arkansas: Three guitarists! And a lead singer--Jim "Dandy" Mangrum--that some have supposed resurfaced as David Lee Roth. I don't know about that, but when it comes to gutbucket boogie blues played with raw, sloppy passion, no one compares to these guys. And the electric washboard solos!
4) Creedence Clearwater Revival: I know what you're thinking. These guys weren't southern! They were from California. Yeah, but everyone on earth knows they played "Swamp Rock" (even my dad who paid no attention to rock n' roll knew that) and sang songs about being "Born on the Bayou." They may have kept their Bay Area post office box, but I'm sure somewhere in Louisiana there's a place ready willing and able to accept these boys as their honorary sons.
3) The Meters: New Orleans has a music scene like no other. It's the one city in America where you can go and feel as if you'd stumbled into another era or somehow landed in Europe without getting on a plane. Obviously, it's suffered in recent years, but its legend will always loom large, in no small part thanks to a band such as the Meters, who aside from keeping several Neville Brothers busy over the years, pioneered a funk that many have attempted but few have mastered.
2) The Allman Brothers Band: You can play all kinds of games with "What Would Duane Allman Have Done Had He Lived?" The man wasn't just an inspired guitarist but a young virtuoso with an insatiable appetite for jamming with others and trying new things. Without him, the Allmans still remained Southern Rock's first family, but there was an obvious gaping hole in their soul.
1) Lynyrd Skynyrd: Being a rock star in the late '60s and '70s didn't turn out too well for many. Lots of young corpses. Skynyrd's ghosts haunt more than most since it wasn't the usual get wasted and choke on your own puke but a plane crash that took its singer and main songwriter away. Ronnie Van Zant lived just long enough to establish Skynyrd's legacy and to just miss turning 30. The band soldiers on, but its strongest creative spark was gone. But for that brief time, they were unbeatable.