Dropped acid, Blue Oyster Cult concert, fourteen years old
And I thought them lasers were a spider chasing me
On my way home, got pulled over in Rogersville, Alabama With a half-ounce of weed and case of Sterling Big Mouth
My buddy Gene was driving, he just barely turned sixteen
And I’d like to say, “I’m sorry” but we lived to tell about it
And we lived to do a whole bunch more crazy, stupid shit
And I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd
But I sure saw Molly Hatchet with 38 Special
and the Johnny Van Zant Band
– Drive-by Truckers “Let There Be Rock“
Growing up with parents who listened to the Country Outlaws (Willie, Waylon, and Johnny) meant that I had a roots in a very Southern yet rough brand of music. My parents also listened to Conway Twitty and Charlie Pride. To say they were strict country music fundamentalists would be inaccurate. They didn’t smoke weed… but they love themselves some weed and whiskey country music. Unfortunately, when they were in their prime music listening years they were subjected to late 1960s and early 1970s radio country. Their ability to branch out and hear things that were on the musical edges was hampered by the lack of iTunes and social media. My parents’ musical tastes were governed by what they were exposed to. Fortunately, they did sprinkle their album collection (and 8 tracks too) with Taj Mahal, Freddie Fender, and that swampy Texas sound. Today my mom listens to Vern Gosdin and my dad kicks his boots to Texas swing… like all of us, they have allowed themselves to mature in their musical tastes.
While my parents were rocking (without the whiskey and weed) to the Outlaws, I was listening to Motley Crue, Slayer, Anthrax, Ratt, Metallica, Megadeath, and an assorted mix of hair metal bands. Thrown in for a good mix was a collection of rock bands that fell outside the standard “metal” definition such as AC/DC and Van Halen. I was also a closet New Wave listener… but my tastes and imagined style were of the Metal Head genre… I fancied myself in leather and spikes… I worshipped at the altar of Judas Priest… even before it dawned on me that all their S&M attire was gay-related. I just knew I wanted to rock like Twisted Sister encouraged. Some used Southern rock as a gateway drug to metal… I used metal as a gateway drug to Southern rock… first I was turned on to the Crue… Allman Brothers followed later.
As Chuck Klosterman said in Fargo Rock City, no self-respecting Metal Head would admit to listening to Duran Duran… but you could admit to owning Lynryd Skynyrd, .38 Special, and Black Oak Arkansas cassettes. Time-Warner even sold a collection it referred to as “Country Fried Rock” during the commercial breaks of Friday Night Videos… on the cover of these albums and cassettes was the picture of a fried egg resting on… oozing between… electric guitar strings. “Country Fried Rock” gave you bands and songs that were deep, guitar heavy songs about voodoo priests and deadly highways. Metal Heads could, and did, listen to the Allman Brothers Band… you just couldn’t let the majority of your cassette collection be of this genre… if you did, then you were country stoner and not a Metal Head. How one classified yourself musically was an important part as a teen in the 80s. Metal had sprouted its wings (Phoenix-like) from Zeppelin and other 1970s bands such as Thin Lizzy… metal had moved from leather to lace with bands like Poison. Metal had matured and given a voice to the angst that rested in rural, and in some cases Southern rural, boys. Because of the unwritten but accepted… and known… rules of musical identification, one could be a Metal Head and listen to Southern Rock.
Later, when Motley Crue got fat and Guns N’ Roses kicked everybody else’s asses… I branched out and started listening to more Southern rock. I couldn’t stomach radio country then or now. Nirvana drove the final nail in 80s Metal’s coffin… yet I still rocked to my cassettes… but I started buying CDs of bands that were definitely not metal… in college I didn’t consider myself a Metal Head. In college, lonely masturbation and angry metal was replaced with poppy rock like R.E.M. and grunging Southern rock like Molly Hatchet and Government Mule coupled with rendezvouses with drunken college chicks.
There was no major Southern rock movement in the early 90s… but the throwback sound of the 70s and 80s that these bands represented fit in well with my alcoholic over-indulgence and tang-chasing activities. Like my parents, my musical tastes evolved… and with Southern rock, they devolved toward a sound that was more guitar and less look or attitude.
Years later and nearly a decade of military service, saw my musical collection dwindle in the metal category… and explode in classic-sounding rock music. I no longer identified myself with a certain sound, genre, or look. I no longer needed a type of music or collection of big-hair bands to represent my anger and misguided youthful outbursts. I stopped being closed-minded and opened my ears. While in Texas I was introduced to a world of strumming steel guitars and two-stepping bands. Jimmy Buffettt and college were forgotten, and Robert Earl Keen and Shiner beer were discovered. Non-radio ZZ Top songs were discovered… Tito and the Tarantula were glorified… I had found that I had always been prone to like the edgy, and sometimes swampy, sound and feel to good rock… prone to a sound that had been planted with my parents’ listening to the Outlaws.
Categorizing, or pigeon-holing, a certain sound or musical genre is difficult. In the mid-90s, Americana bands (children bands of 70s Southern rock) made themselves known to listeners like me… they included Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, Old 97s, and their offshoots like Son Volt, Wilco, and Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. Rootsy Rock, American Roots Rock, Americana, Southern Rock… on and on the categories go… on and on they inaccurately describe the growing sound of American rock music. Some of these bands harkened back to rockabilly, some attempted to sound like bluegrass and gospel… in the end all of them attempted to sound American. How these bands and their early ancestors like Lynyrd Skynyrd differed from their British and Australian cousins was the fact that these American bands heavily referenced place and history. Songs about trains, rivers, and geographical regions in the tone of Faulkner can only be American. AC/DC would have been a Southern Rock band if they hadn’t been Australian and recorded at least one song about the Mississippi River… everything else they covered was pure Southern Rock… alcohol and pussy.
Supposedly, this is the list of the top 100 Southern Rock Songs. Music nerds like to track, reference, and reveal the history of Southern rock by describing it as a subgenre of rock, and a genre within the fairly new category of Americana. They like to say it is a mix of rock, country, and blues focussed on the electric guitar and vocals. Its roots are supposedly fixed in the soil of the Delta and cotton fields with names such as Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis. The 1970s is considered the apex of Southern rock with bands such as the Allman Brothers, Charlie Daniels, ZZ Top, .38 Special, Molly Hatchet, and the Edgar Winter Group being the well-known names. Interestingly, along with the Southern rock title… there are also related musical subgenres such as Blues Rock, Country Rock, Heartland Rock, Swamp Rock, and the Tulsa Sound… basically all of them are rock-oriented genres that focus on the electric guitar, vocals, American geographical locations, alcohol, cars/highways, and pussy.
My parents weren’t rock enthusiasts by any measure… but they did like a good down-home… yet honky-tonking… edge to their country music. I have seen my mom sing along with swamp blues and Tex-Mex musicians. I have played Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt songs for my dad… and he has agreed that their sound is both reminiscent and familiar to the beer-drinking songs of his youth. I have to agree… if you are going to drink beer, Southern-feeling electric guitar songs about muddy waters and angry women are far better than Duran Duran. Musical genres and required attire is no longer important… but… you have to admit that any genre music that encourages sleeveless t-shirts is a type of music that is meant to be listened to while drinking and driving a Chevy Nova.