Since the beginning of Rock & Roll through today, there are elements of Southern Rock in popular music…but the genre really developed and peaked in the 1970’s.
Although The Allman Brothers Band released albums in 1969 & 1970, it wasn’t until their 1971 live two-record set, At Filmore East, that the band gained national recognition. The album contained blues covers, plus their popular originals “Whipping Post” and “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed”. Their music was a mix of rock, blues, and country with a jam-band style. They had extensive guitar solos by Duane Allman and Richard “Dickey” Betts, and they had the power of two drummers, Jaimoe Johansen and Butch Trucks. Throw in the bass work of Barry Oakley, and the R&B-style keyboards and soulful lead vocals by Gregg Allman, and you have the premier band of Southern Rock.
Duane Allman had already been a much sought-after session guitarist. Eric Clapton used Allman on “Layla” after he heard him as the lead guitarist on Wilson Pickett’s version of “Hey Jude”. Duane remained in The Allman Brothers Band, but three months after the release of their live album, he died in a motorcycle accident. It was October 29th of 1971. Duane Allman was only 24.
Despite the tragedy, The Allman Brothers Band decided to continue, and they released another double-album, Eat A Peach, in 1972. It was a success, with a great line-up of songs that included “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”, “Melissa”, “One Way Out”, “Blue Sky” and “Little Martha”. Of the nine songs on the album, Duane was on all but three.
Tragedy wasn’t done with the band. A year after the death of Duane Allman, Berry Oakley was killed in a motorcycle accident just three blocks from where Allman had crashed his motorcycle. Oakley died on November 11th, 1972, also at the age of 24. Again, The Allman Brothers Band carried on.
The Allman Brothers Band added pianist Chuck Leavell and bassist Lamar Williams. In 1973, they released their most commercially successful album, Brothers and Sisters. The album went to #1 thanks in part to their excellent single “Ramblin’ Man”. It was their only major hit (#2). This was also a big album for songwriter/guitarist Dickey Betts. Besides writing and singing lead on “Ramblin’ Man”, he wrote the popular album cuts “Southbound”, “Jessica” and “Pony Boy”. The album has sold over 7-million copies worldwide.
The Allman Brothers Band began touring arenas and stadiums, but there was too much tragedy, money, drugs, alcohol, and internal problems. The band dissolved in 1976. They reformed briefly in the late 1970’s, and then again in varying forms throughout the following decades. They were still a popular touring act, but never regained major popularity as a recording act. Their album A Decade Of Hits 1969-1979 is an excellent collection.
Gregg Allman, who had some solo success…such as a his version of “Midnight Rider” (1974), his song “I’m No Angel” (1987), and his album Low Country Blues (2011)…passed away from complications of liver cancer in May of 2017, he was 69.
Record reviewers in the early ’70’s were calling The Allman Brothers’ music Blues/Rock. Around 1973 and into the early 1980’s, the number of southern bands grew, and the musical genre became Southern Rock.
Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Marshall Tucker Band were two of the most popular Southern Rock bands of the 1970’s. Skynyrd had two anthems…”Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird”. Marshall Tucker’s biggest hits were “Heard It In A Love Song” and “Fire On The Mountain”, and were also known for featuring a flute in their arrangements. Both bands had more songs that got heavy airplay. Here’s my iTunes Playlist for some of the Southern Rock songs I own (not a deep dive): (The Allman Brothers Band has a separate list.)
- Sweet Home Alabama…Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Can’t You See…The Marshall Tucker Band
- Hold On Loosely…38 Special
- Gimme Three Steps…Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Keep Your Hands To Yourself…The Georgia Satellites
- Heard It In A Love Song…The Marshall Tucker Band
- Midnight Rider…Gregg Allman
- Caught Up In You…38 Special
- Call Me The Breeze…Lynyrd Skynyrd
- The South’s Gonna Do It Again…Charlie Daniels Band
- Fire On The Mountain…The Marshall Tucker Band
- If You Want To Get To Heaven…Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- What’s Your Name…Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Back Where You Belong…38 Special
- I’m No Angel…Gregg Allman
- The Devil Went Down To Georgia…Charlie Daniels Band
- Free Bird…Lynyrd Skynyrd
Other artists ( like The Band or CCR) that could be included here are on different playlists, such as my Country Rock lists.
We never caught any of the major Southern Rock bands in concert, but the music lives on with another generation. We saw The Tedeschi Trucks Band in Salem.
Their album Revelator won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Blues Album. Derek Trucks is the nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks. Derek was a child prodigy on guitar, and was performing in public at age 9. He joined The Allman Brothers Band in 1999, and played with them until 2014. Susan Tedeschi was also a child prodigy on guitar and was in a band by age 13. The two guitarists met while Tedeschi’s band was opening for The Allman Brothers Band, and they married in 2001.
During the concert, Susan Tedeschi mostly played rhythm guitar while she sang lead vocals…kind of in the style of Bonnie Raitt, but a little harder. Derek Trucks really impressed us with his guitar solos. Then just before the concert ended, Susan took the lead guitar part on one song…and just blew us away! There can’t be many bands with two great guitarists like them.
With new generations of Southern Rock and Blues/Rock musicians, maybe Gregg Allman was right in “Midnight Rider”…”The road goes on forever”.