Though the heyday of true Southern Rock was a couple of decades ago, its legacy survives on radio airwaves, bar room jukeboxes, and concert venues everywhere. The genre’s influence can be heard in the music of more contemporary artists like My Morning Jacket, the Black Crowes, and the Drive By Truckers, among others. Moreover, pioneering bands like the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and .38 Special are still part of many down home festivals, state fairs, and biker gatherings across the U.S., a testament to the music’s legacy.
You’re probably familiar with the classic tunes from the aforementioned legends, as well as the footstompin’ classics by Black Oak Arkansas, the Charlie Daniels Band, and others. But what follows is a list of some you may have forgotten by now, missed back in the day, or simply don’t hear much anymore. Though their original lineups may no longer be in tact, some of the artists continue to perform and make music. A few might even be labeled “one hit wonders”. Regardless, no Southern Rock playlist is really complete without ‘em!
1. “Street Corner Serenade” – Wet Willie
This Mobile, Alabama, band is best known for its breakthrough national top ten hit, “Keep On Smilin’”. Their core lineup included brothers Jimmy (lead vocals, sax, and harmonica) and Jack Hall (on bass), and the group was signed to the classic southern record label Capricorn Records during much of the 1970’s. Sure, their signature song was certainly encouraging. But if you really want to make it a sunnier day, kick back to this ode to good times crooning with friends that they released later in the decade. And for even more fun, check out “Weekend” a feel-good hit from the summer of ‘79.
2. “Third Rate Romance” – The Amazing Rhythm Aces
Though this Memphis group blended roots music into their sound, nothing made it Southern more than lead singer Russell Smith’s distinct voice and accent. It’s no surprise that he later became a country music singer as a solo artist. In the 1990’s he teamed up with former Eagle Bernie Leadon and two other songwriters to form a sort of comedy/country version of the Traveling Wilburys called Run C&W. One listen to those recordings and you’re guaranteed to recognize the voice from the Aces’ lone Top 40 hit, a story-song about two folks fumbling through a hook-up. If “you might be a redneck…” jokes had been around in 1975, this song might have inspired several of them.
3. “All Over But the Cryin’” – The Georgia Satellites
Arriving in the late ‘80’s with their huge hit single “Keep Your Hands To Yourself”, these Atlanta rockers would have had the number one song in the country were it not for the success of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer”. Unfortunately, though, that first hit would be their only one of note. They’re cover of a British Invasion hit, “Hippy Hippy Shake”, was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Cocktail, but otherwise the Satellites’ notoriety was short-lived. Beyond their big hit, though, “All Over But the Cryin’” is an overlooked breakup song with the same I’m-outta-here attitude of the Eagles’ “Already Gone”.
4. “Dreams I’ll Never See” – Molly Hatchet
One thing you couldn’t deny about these Florida boys: they didn’t skimp on their album covers. Science fiction/fantasy artists Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo painted several of them. Though the artwork had little to do with the South, their sound most assuredly did. The closest they came to a Top 40 hit was the road-appropriate “Flirtin’ With Disaster” which included a multiple-guitar attack reminiscent of “Free Bird”. But the band’s homage to another of their influences was even more obvious in their fantastic cover of this Allman Brothers’ classic.
5. “Green Grass and High Tides” – The Outlaws
Speaking of dueling guitars and Florida, Tampa’s The Outlaws first formed in the late 1960’s. But they saw their biggest success in the mid-‘70’s after signing to Arista Records, a label known more at that time for their success with Barry Manilow and the Bay City Rollers. The first single from their Arista debut LP was “There Goes Another Love Song”. But one could argue that their finest moment was this track from that same album. It’s an opus that clocked in at just less than ten minutes, and it’s worth every second.
6. “Spendin’ Cabbage” - Blackfoot
Guitarist Rickey Medlocke and bassist Greg Walker were original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd before they formed the version of Blackfoot that would record the band’s most commercially successful album, Strikes. Though “Highway Song” was the highest-charting song from that album, another track, “Train Train”, written by Medlocke’s grandfather, Shorty, (who also plays the awesome harmonica intro) is the real deal. It should absolutely be part of any Southern Rock collection. But one should not overlook the bluesy gem “Spendin’ Cabbage”, from their following album, “Tomcattin’”.
7. “Champagne Jam” – The Atlanta Rhythm Section
If you really want to get specific, they actually formed in Doraville, a town outside of Atlanta, as a recording studio house band of sorts. In terms of making the charts, this is the most accomplished band among these ten, having scored two top ten hits with “So Into You” and “Imaginary Lover” (a song that, when the vocals are speeded up, sounds exactly like Stevie Nicks…seriously). But this underrated track, the title song from the album of the same name, though not a hit, is one of their best.
8. “Can’t You See” – The Marshall Tucker Band
Let’s start with the trivia. There was no one named Marshall Tucker in the group, which hailed from Spartanburg, South Carolina. One version of the story was that a local piano-tuner whose name was on the key for their rehearsal space (he’d rented the space before them) was the inspiration. “Heard It In a Love Song” and “Fire on the Mountain” two awesome songs, made the Top 40. But one could make a very valid argument that “Can’t You See” is a Southern classic for the ages, complete with a theme of broken romance, references to trains, and wailing guitar solos between the verses. It’s also one of the few Southern classics on which you’ll hear a flute in the intro.
9. “Fooled Around and Fell In Love” – Elvin Bishop
Though blues guitarist Elvin Bishop wasn’t born in the South, he moved with his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the age of ten. If nothing else, the fact that he was known for wearing overalls much of the time would likely have qualified him as southern anyway. Bishop was in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band before embarking on a solo career that rendered this big hit, which featured vocalist Mickey Thomas, who went on to join Jefferson Starship. Yep, this track shares the same vocalist as “We Built This City”. But we’ll overlook that. Bishop’s guitar work is definitely a highlight of the song anyway. Its endurance was perhaps validated when it was included in the 1970’s-based soundtrack for the movie Boogie Nights.
10. “Don’t Misunderstand Me” – The Rossington Collins Band
Formed out of the ashes of Lynyrd Skynyrd by surviving members Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, and others, this group lasted at least long enough to release a couple of albums and to chart with only this track. As Southern Rock goes, the song’s somewhat of a rarity. It features Dale Krantz, a woman who had been a background singer for .38 Special, on vocals. Regrettably, outside of Ruby Starr, most notably a guest on the Black Oak Arkansas single “Jim Dandy”, there haven’t been many prominent female vocalists among most classic Southern Rock bands. Krantz trades lead with Barry Harwood on this great song from 1980.
Those are ten artists and some key songs I’d consider musts for any mix of essential Southern Rock. Honorable mentions, however, go to three additional songs you might remember, two of which are by artists who weren’t technically and geographically from the South, but they could’ve fooled anyone. Point Blank, from Irving, Texas, had a minor hit with “Nicole” , while the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (from Springfield, Missouri – close enough?) urged us to embrace our inner sinner with “If You Wanna Get To Heaven” . Finally, Illinois’ own Head East recorded “Never Been Any Reason” a great guitar-driven rocker guaranteed to get the adrenalin going.
So those are my picks in terms of songs that you may have missed when creating the ultimate Southern Rock playlist. Agree or disagree with any of them? What are yours? Let us know below!
Storm Gloor (yes, that’s his real name) is a music business professor at the University of Colorado Denver. He was born and raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and religiously studied rock music as a kid. He can also tell you exactly where he was when he got the news of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crash. His research paper on the length of artists’ chart careers and “one hit wonders” was published recently in the MEIEA Journal. A recent report on that study can be found here.
Note: any detailed info mentioned came from Wikipedia, the respective artist’s website, or the author’s many years of listening to Kasey Kasem’s American Top Forty radio show.