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Heroes and Villains of Southern Rock From A to ZZ

Louisiana Leroux were perfectly acceptable

So, for some reason I recently stumbled across the band named LeRoux, who were once named Louisiana LeRoux, who I really think I saw perform in Memphis in the early 1980s. As I remember, they put on a perfectly acceptable show with a lot more Southern rock jam than I expected. This started me thinking about other Southern bands, mainly the ones that were regularly featured on Rock 103 in Memphis, the Bluff City’s classic rock station.

Here’s a list of Southern rock bands both by geography and received significant airplay on Southern hard rock stations, which subjectively knocks out stuff like Little Feat and Grinderswitch and Nantucket and the Amazing Rhythm Aces. Get your drawl on and remember the days when bands could wave a Confederate flag without inciting a riot. My thanks to Bert Cummings for a Georgia perspective that broadened my inclusion list.

The Allman Brothers. Duane, Gregg, Dickey, and company pretty much started this genre and my punk rock wired soul actually had no idea how phenomenal these guys were until I started doing some hard listening lately. From, let’s say, 1969 through 1973, these cats were pumping out polyrhythmic soul and timeless blues that can compete with any band’s best music. It’s nice to start a list with greatness.

Atlanta Rhythm Section. Evolving from the Classics IV of “Spooky” fame, which ARS would later cover, this band went soft rock for Top 40 but established their Southern rock bona fides with album cuts like “Boogie Smoogie” and “Jukin’.” I once heard Patterson Hood give a long monologue describing a time when every pawn shop and music store in the Atlanta area had amps and gear with the ARS logo on them. Guys that looked like Paul Goddard weren’t made for the MTV era.

Black Oak Arkansas. My hometown is forty-five minutes away from Black Oak and I can say with complete confidence that Black Oak is a community that would need dramatic improvement to be as glamorous as a cup of tobacco spit. Recently, Jim “Dandy” Mangrum revealed that it was not his idea to record “Jim Dandy.” Nope, the inspiration for that recording came from…(pregnant pause)…(wait for it)…THE KING, ELVIS PRESLEY! Seriously? Can’t you just imagine that Elvis is hanging out at Graceland, deciding whether to shoot the television or eat a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, and then inspiration strikes? “HOLY FUDGESICKLE, I know what song that Black Oak Arkansas needs to record to break Top 40. Somebody, get me their manager on the phone.” I wonder if John Lennon slipped Mangrum a note telling him to wear spandex pants.

Blackfoot. Rickey Medlocke did a stint as Skynyrd’s drummer in the early ‘70s and has been a guitarist for the revamped band since 1995. Betwixt Skynyrd gigs, Medlocke lead the hard charging Blackfoot, who had two hits with “Train, Train” (later covered by Dolly Parton) and “Highway Song.” Although these were minor Top 40 hits, both tunes were huge in the Southern AOR market. Medlocke is what Dusty Rhodes might call a bidnessman these days – in 2012 he handpicked a new version of Blackfoot, which he does not perform in, to make a few extra bucks off of the brand name.

The Charlie Daniels Band. A raging opportunist, Daniels was outsmarting rednecks in “Uneasy Rider” and smoking dope in “Long Haired Country Boy” before he became a bible toting, right wing reactionary. Rock 103 played a “live in studio” version of “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” for ages, which was much creepier than the official release. I’ve never been to Booger Woods, but I bet it ‘snot pleasant.

Drivin’ ‘N’ Cryin’. These Atlanta hard rockers got airplay in the early ‘90s with “Fly Me Courageous” and “Build a Fire,” before getting dumped by their major label and becoming a much better band. My most surreal musical moment of 2013 was hearing a crowd sing along of “Straight to Hell,” a tearjerker about a young man whose town slut mother curses him to eternal damnation.

Georgia Satellites. It’s a shame that these guys are only known for the equally droll and raucous “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” because they were an excellent Southern rock band and Dan Baird is a criminally underrated songwriter. Their song “Battleship Chains” was often covered live by a well lubricated Replacements and Baird had some solo success in the early 1990s with “I Love You Period.” Give this band a fresh listen and enjoy their redneck punk non-straight edge.

LeRoux. Being from Louisiana, I don’t know why these guys don’t have their own reality television series. Maybe they could do guest appearances on Cajun Pawn Stars or Duck Dynasty or Swamp People or Billy the Exterminator. Anyway, these guys had a minor hit in 1978 with “New Orleans Ladies” while recording for Capitol and then hit #18 in 1982 with “Nobody Said It Was Easy” on RCA. They even got some MTV airplay in 1981 with their melodic rocker “Addicted.” In 1980, the band played at the Texxas Jam in the Cotton Bowl. In 2013, they played at the Meat Pie Festival in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Lynyrd Skynyrd. Skynyrd were the kings of Southern rock during my era and Ronnie Van Zandt was a top-notch lyricist lurking under the Confederate trappings. Skynyrd’s history has been so watered down with replacement band members and product recycling that it’s hard to give them a fair listen in 2013. But, trust me, they were as good of a song band as they were a jam band and deserve much more respect than they get.

The Marshall Tucker Band. There was no Marshall Tucker in the Marshall Tucker Band, which is as confusing as eating a meatless hamburger. Not consistent chart toppers, but hit the airwaves enough with “Can’t You See,” “Fire on the Mountain,” and “Heard it in a Love Song” that they are still touring today. I could see them at the Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill in Dallas next month, if it wasn’t for my primal fear of gas monkeys. In any event, this band proved that a flute solo is as Southern rock as Jack Daniels.

Molly Hatchet. Legend has it that our girl Molly was an 18th century Salem prostitute with a nasty habit of beheading her patrons with an axe. I guess the lady expected a tip. Anyway, the band’s 1980 hit “Flirtin’ With Disaster” flirted with the Top 40, but stalled at #42. For years the band toured with no original members, but they are currently back on the corndog circuit with original guitarist David Hlubek churning out “Gator Country,” “Whiskey Man,” and “Fall of the Peacemakers.” Insert “too legit to quit” joke here.

The Outlaws. Wouldn’t a scarier band name be “The In-Laws”? These guys scraped into the Top 40 twice with “There Goes Another Love Song” and “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” but are best known for the extended fire hot Stratocaster jam boogie of 1975’s “Green Grass and High Tides” that clocks in at 9:48, but often went for over twenty minutes in the live set. Hey, who said you couldn’t get Quaaludes below the Mason-Dixon line. 

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils. If you think that Springfield, Missouri only gave the world Brad Pitt and Bass Pro Shops, then you are forgetting the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, the hairy philosophers who knew that if you want to get to heaven, you’ve got to raise a little hell. “Jackie Blue” completely freaked out my nine year old brain. That chick was going places that she’d never been.

Point Blank. It’s amazing how patient record labels used to be. From 1976 to 1982, the Irving, Texas based Point Blank released SIX major label albums and had one minor hit. “Nicole” undeservedly clawed up to #39 on the pop charts in 1981. Being managed by Bill Ham of ZZ Top renown undoubtedly prolonged the band’s major label run. According to one of my high placed sources, Point Blank was used as an example of major label cluelessness in the film X, The Unheard Music. There is a version of this band that still does gigs in Texas. You simply cannot kill these acts. One minor hit 32 years ago and they can still play casinos.

Rossington Collins Band. There was a dark decade after the plane crash in 1977 and before the endless profit taking reunion that started in 1987 that we lived in a Sknyryd-less world. The most legitimate gap filler was the RCB, which included Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, and Leon Wilkeson. Due to an injury from a car wreck, Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle didn’t participate in the band. I mention that solely because I like typing the name Artimus Pyle. According to my research, lead singer Dale Krantz consistently lacked male reproductive organs – a positively bold statement for a Southern rock outfit. The band’s songwriting made one undeniable statement, they really needed Ronnie.

Stillwater. Not the band from the movie Almost Famous, Stillwater grabbed the bass line from “Rocky Mountain Way” and the Talk Box from Peter Frampton for “Mind Bender,” which hit #46 in 1978. After the band broke up, lead guitarist Rob Walker did twenty years in the Air Force. Poor guy.

38 Special. Donnie Van Zandt was born sandwiched between Skynyrd lead singers older brother Ronnie and younger brother Johnny. I do not know if they had sisters named Bonnie and Connie. While it might seem like a gangsta rap move to name your band after a handgun, musically these wild-eyed Southern boys are a harmless litter of kittens. They first broke onto radio with “Rockin’ into the Night,” which sounded like Bad Company, but soon settled into a Southern pop rock groove with “Hold on Loosely” and “Caught Up in You.” Their biggest hit was the dreary “Second Chance,” as in “A heart needs a…”. Change the lyrics to “My pants need a second chance” and the song becomes marginally more enjoyable.

Wet Willie. Wet Willie was more of a blue-eyed soul band than a Southern rock outfit, their 1979 hit “Weekend” even has elements of the dreaded disco strain. Lester Bangs once wrote, “The first time I saw Wet Willie I got excited as all hell. You would too if you were in Macon, Ga., whooping it up deep Friday night down at Grant’s Lounge call of the wildest bar this side of the frontier.” I still cover my ears when I hear their name, which is a reaction that has nothing to do with their music.

ZZ Top. Billy, Dusty, and Frank were more Texas blues based than your typical Southern rock outfit, but belong on this list by both sound and geography. The band sang about brothels (“La Grange”) and backsides (“Tush”) in the ‘70s, but video really made the radio stars in the 1980s with “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.” Hiding their faces for decades was the smartest marketing move imaginable, their look has been as timeless as their Tejas deep fried boogie.

Bonus Southern Rock Remembrance!:

Redbeard – Not a band, but Redbeard gets special attention as the lead disc jockey/program director of Memphis’s Rock 103 during my youth and he later had a long and successful career in the Dallas radio market. Redbeard had the prototypical deep and commanding FM radio voice and his gimmick was that he shaved and got a haircut annually. A group of my friends ran into him once at a Memphis music festival. The dude was four feet tall and sported the silly Rip Van Winkle whiskers. We approached him and said, “Hey, Redbeard, what’s up?” and he looked like at us as though we intended to kidnap him, take him to a cave, and force him to listen to Air Supply albums before he scurried away looking sincerely frightened. For the record, we had no plans to kidnap him. No formal plans.

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