Styles & Forms | Southern Rock

Taking its lead from the loud blues rock of late-1960s bands such as Cream and The Grateful Dead, southern rock materialized with the release of The Allman Brothers Band’s eponymous 1969 debut album, which embellished a fusion of rock’n’roll, blues, country and jazz with a distinct good ol’ boy edge from directly below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Natives of Macon, Georgia, The Allmans always resisted the southern rock label. The band underwent many personnel changes over the years, the first of these being due to the motorcyle death of guitarist Duane Allman in October 1971, and that of bass player Berry Oakley just over a year later. Before Duane’s fatal accident, through the Idlewild South and Live At The Fillmore East albums, he and fellow lead guitarist Dickey Betts traded solos with keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Allman in a balanced line-up that enhanced its blues rock performances with sophisticated jazz structures and classical techniques. Following Duane’s death midway through the recording of the Eat A Peach album, Betts assumed all of the lead guitar duties and, while also emerging as a singer and songwriter, he led the band in a more laid-back, country-oriented direction, evident on 1973’s, Brothers And Sisters.

Hereafter, a combination of internal disputes and drink-and-drug-related problems would contribute to The Allman Brothers Band’s diminishing accomplishments throughout the remainder of the decade. Nevertheless, the band had changed the musical map of America, and in so doing it had also paved the way for numerous other southern rock acts to enjoy mainstream success. Ironically however, the band who brought the southern rock sound closest to the mainstream were a Californian outfit, Creedence Clearwater Revival. Their stomping, bayou-influenced rock is encapsulated in hits such as ‘Proud Mary’ and the ubiquitous ‘Bad Moon Rising’, which has since become a standard in every amatuer band’s repertoire.

The Success Of Skynyrd

The definitive southern rock outfit, Jacksonville, Florida natives Lynyrd Skynyrd boasted a heavy blues rock sound, the songwriting talents of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, and the three-pronged guitar formation of Allen Collins, Gary Rossington and Ed King that featured prominently on the band’s first hit song, ‘Freebird’, a tribute to the late, lamented Duane Allman. In 1974, following a support slot on The Who’s Quadrophenia tour, Skynyrd achieved a multi-platinum breakthrough with its sophomore album, Second Helping, which spawned the hit single ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and helped to cement the group’s credentials both in the studio and on the road. Van Zant was flowering as a composer and lyricist, yet tragedy struck in October 1977 when, just three days after the release of the band’s Street Survivors album, he was killed in a plane crash en route to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The accident also claimed backing vocalist Cassie Gaines and her brother Steve, who had joined Skynyrd as a guitarist following Ed King’s departure.

Like The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd broke up and subsequently reformed with a revamped line-up. Despite the emergence of...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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