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The True Era of Southern Rock 1969-1979

by Michael Buffalo Smith

The definitive Southern Rock era began in 1969.

In Macon, Georgia. Phil Walden, who had previously been known for his work with r&b acts like Otis Redding, was given the go ahead by Atlantic Records mogul Jerry Wexler to build a new studio and record label called Capricorn that would cater to the new sounds coming out of the South at the time. Specifically,  The Allman Brothers Band, a group Walden was managing. It all began with his signing of guitarist Duane Allman, who then brought his band into the picture. The Allman brothers Band delivered their debut, self-titled album in 1969, featuring several, songs that would become immortalized in the lexicon of Southern rock - “Whipping Post,” “Dreams,” and “Trouble No More” among them.

The original lineup included the Allmans, Duane and Gregg, plus Dickey Betts (guitar), Berry Oakley (bass), Butch Trucks (drums), and Jai Johnny “Jaimoe” Johanson (drums). They quickly gained a national following. The Brothers released the very excellent Idlewild South in 1970, and in 1971 the Allmans released one of the best live albums in the history of rock and roll: The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East, which set the gold standard for all subsequent live releases, and defined the genre of Southern rock forever.

“When the Allman's started out, it was supposed to be Jaimoe and Duane and Berry,” Dickey Betts told GRITZ in 2000. “They were going to be a power trio like a Hendrix or a Cream. But the more Duane played with our band to get used to playing with Berry, the more we realized that Duane and I played great together. So then it was two guitar players, and Butch started coming around, and we saw it sounded great with two drummers. So we rehearsed that way for about two months. Duane and Gregg were in a big fight at this time. They weren't speaking. We kept telling Duane, "You've got to call your brother, man, because nobody in this band can sing good enough for the kind of band we've got. So we finally got Duane to call, and Gregg showed up and that was The Allman Brothers.”

After switching distribution from Atlantic to Warner, the Capricorn roster of the mid-1970s included Elvin Bishop (from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band) of Oklahoma, Bonnie Bramlett, The Ozark Mountsin Daredevils of Missouri, Alabama’s Alex Taylor, Texas based Eric Quincy Tate and three of Southern rock’s best loved bands- Marshall Tucker Band out of South Carolina, Cowboy from Georgia and Florida, and Wet Willie, from Mobile, Alabama.

The Marshall Tucker Band, produced by Paul Hornsby, featured a sound unlike any other band to come out of the South. It was a blend of country, rock, blues and even jazz.

“When we handed the tape over to Capricorn, it wasn't clear what they really thought either at first,” said Hornsby in a 2001 GRITZ interview. “The label was brand new, and with the success of the Allman Bros, maybe they thought this project would be cut from the same mold. Well, it wasn't. It had more country influences- steel guitars, fiddles, etc. The term "Southern Rock" was yet to be coined. By the time those two words were used in conjunction, it was perfectly normal to use all of the above ingredients within one band.”

Cowboy, led by Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton, played a smooth, country rock style reminiscent of The Eagles or Poco.

“I had just come back from California in late 1969 and had been living in LA. for a year and I was writing a lot,” said Tommy Talton in a 2007 GRITZ interview. “I was doing solo gigs in coffee houses and folk clubs. I was doing some Dylan songs and then my own stuff. (My friend) Becky says that there was this guy I needed to meet. She introduced us and we both had our guitars. I know this sounds made up but this is exactly what happened... we sat down and pulled our guitars out and Scott played me “Livin’ In The Country,” which was a song we did on the first Cowboy album. I felt it was so neat to find someone else that also wrote their own music and that the music was good, I forget what I played for him but after I showed him a song we just sat down and asked each other who could we get in the band.”

Wet Willie became one of Capricorn’s hottest bands. The r&b rockers were a staple at Grant’s Lounge in Macon early on, and soon moved to the world stage.

“I wouldn't take any amount of money for the time in which I was born, and the time in which I grew up,” said Jimmy Hall in a 1998 GRITZ interview. “I wouldn't take anything for the situation I was in. Doing what we did - rocking in the '70s - it was the best of all worlds. It was like being indestructible. I was in a rock band, we had records and we were on the road playing with everyone we'd ever idolized. How can you beat that?”

Capricorn would soon feature bands like Hydra, White Witch, Captain Beyond, The Cooper Brothers and even former Derek & The Dominos star, Bobby Whitlock. Capricorn wasn’t the only label dishing out the Southern rock, though.

Barefoot Jerry and the Charlie Daniels Band, both from Tennessee were both major players of the original Southern Rock era. Charlie Daniels, in fact, gave Southern rock its self-identifying anthem with his 1975 hit, "The South's Gonna Do It Again," whose lyrics mentioned all of the current Southern rock bands, capping it off with-  "Be proud you're a rebel / Cause the South's gonna do it again."

In 1974,Daniels started something that would become a touch stone in Southern rock’s history. The Volunteer Jam, an annual concert held in Tennessee, would bring together many Southern rock artists in a relaxed, jam fueled setting. The Winters Brothers Band from Franklin, Tennessee was a band Charlie Daniels helped to get started with great songs like "Sang Her Love Songs," "Smokey Mountain Log Cabin Jones," and others. They still are performing and have an annual jam in Nolensville, Tennessee every June.

Grinderswitch, from Jacksonville, Florida, were always on the Volunteer Jam Stage as well.  In a 2001 interview with GRITZ, the late Dru Lombar recounted some of his personal high points of the era.


“...when we went over to Europe with the Tuckers and we took Bonnie Bramlett with us. We were her band as well as being Grinderswitch. That was real cool because she is the queen of soul, man. I mean, she is probably the very best white woman soul singer on earth.”

An speaking of Jacksonville...

One of the all time greatest Southern rock bands was born on the poor side of Jax back in early 1970’s. Lynyrd Skynyrd are considered by many to be the definitive Southern rock band of all time, and their anthem “Free Bird” is perhaps the defining song of Southern rock. After the tragic plane crash in 1977, members Allen Collins and Gary Rossington started another band called Rossington-Collins band. Other Florida based groups such as .38 Special (featuring Ronnie Van Zant’s brother Donnie), The Outlaws, and Blackfoot, were getting hotter and hotter during the seventies.

actually formed during the very early 1970's, but took until 1975 to release their first album. Rickey Medlocke's grandfather Shorty Medlocke, a bluegrass picker,  had a major influence on both Blackfoot and Lynyrd Skynyrd. With Medlocke and Charlie Hargrett on guitars, Greg T. Walker on bass and the late great Jakson Spires on drums, Blackfoot was one of Southern rock’s heaviest, almost metal, bands.

Texas blues rockers ZZ Top inspired Rusty Burns and Point Blank, who became a major concert attraction for fans of the genre. Another fun loving, hard rocking band, Black Oak Arkansas also thrived in this genre for a time.

There are many who actually credit Black Oak Arkansas as being the original Southern rock band. They began their career in 1965 as The Knowbody Else, and in 1969 recorded an album on the prestigious Stax label. But in 1970, Jim Dandy Mangrum and company signed with Atco records, who changed their name and released their Southern rocking, self titled debut.

Not all Southern rock bands were guitar driven boogie. The Atlanta Rhythm Section and the Amazing Rhythm Aces featured tight vocal harmonies, while Louisiana's Le Roux ranged from Cajun-flavored Southern boogie. The Dixie Dregs and Sea Level would go Marshall Tucker one step further, incorporating huge doses of jazz into their sound.

By 1977, the Allman Brothers Band had disbanded (to regroup later in the '80s) and, plagued by financial difficulties, Phil Walden signed a distribution agreement with Polygram. Unfortunately, and without any success, Capricorn was forced into bankruptcy and Walden went into a personal low. In the mid-1990’s, Walden would miraculously bring Capricorn back from the ashes for a second run.

Following in the footsteps of Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet hit the scene just as the original Southern rock era was winding down. When Hatchet appeared on the dance oriented TV show Solid Gold, it was obvious the true roots of Southern rock were dying off. between that, disco, and MTV, Southern rock was forced into a whole new mold. But it would not die. No sir, the South would rise again.

Visit GRITZ Legends of Southern Rock

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