Smokestack, fatback, many miles of railroad track
All night radio keep on runnin’ through your rock ‘n’ roll soul
All-night diners keep you awake on a black coffee and a hard roll
Music is as important to the Southern soul as hot biscuits. And more so than any other region of the United States, the music of the South inspires a sense of place—it’s as much about rhythm and lyrics as it is about attitude and locale. Whether it’s B.B. King, Johnny Cash, or The Allman Brothers Band, the essence of this music lies in where it comes from.
With its blistering-yet-catchy guitar licks and soulful, albeit lawless, lyrics, it’s no surprise that Southern rock has received such long-standing acclaim. “Sweet Home Alabama” most wholly achieves a clear-cut message of, well, home. It has become more than a song. It is essentially a heavy hymn. It conjures both a wildness and a reverence in its listeners. By the time those famous first four notes are picked, people are whooping and hollering and raising their glasses. It’s almost Pentecostal. (I could easily devolve here into a debate about whether Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Allman Brothers Band is the quintessential Southern rock band, but I won’t.)
I said, oh /
Lord, what can a poor boy do?
Yes, it’s bad when you can’t make no money/
And your woman turns her back on you
The archetypes and stories speak to us more than any one band or artist. The roots of Southern music are anchored in despair, struggle, love, devotion, rebellion, and salvation. And these motifs speak to our collective human suffering.
Southern musicians have a deep well of soul (and souls) to inspire them. They frequently pull from gospel, blues, folk, country, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, hymns, and spirituals, and can endlessly craft music that evokes Sunday service as much as cheating women and back-door men.
Music evolves over time. Instruments and recording equipment improve. Social and political climates change. The energy changes. But the melody and message stay the same, bringing us closer to making sense of it all, and, if not, helping us to dance or cry in the meantime.
Well I’m Southbound, baby / Lord, I’m comin’ home to you /
I got that old lonesome feelin’ that’s sometimes called the blues
-THE ALLMAN BROTHERS
B.B. King’s “Chains and Things” gets at the heart of the tradition of Southern music, the heart of the blues. It reminds us that life is struggle, and that it is the grit of the human spirit that creates art. In short, he makes the grit beautiful.
Southern rock feels like you’re on the way to somewhere. Point of departure and destination unknown. Wandering can itself be a place. It’s about the urge to move, to inhabit the space between destinations. Not only are we on the run with The Allman Brothers Band when we listen to “Midnight Rider,” but we are also on dark country roads where the Spanish moss hangs like ghosts and headlights hint at strangers. These artists embody a deep and rich and honest tradition. The late Harlan Howard said country music was “three chords and the truth.” I don’t think it wrong to apply this sentiment to all Southern roots music. Its honesty carries us along.
I rolled on as the sky grew dark / I put the pedal down to make some time / There’s something good waitin’ down this road.
The music of the South is the music of the ramblin’ man. It is the music of the individual stuck in a place and time, lamenting the present and hopeful of the future. It is the music of the grit and resilience of the human spirit. It is the music of the runaway, the renegade, the prodigal. It celebrates our rebellious nature when presented with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And we love it.
Nestled within the Old Village of Mt. Pleasant, SC, Heart of Gold Gallery is an independent fine art gallery that curates and showcases lifestyle and portrait photography captured from the 1950s through present day. The gallery works directly with legendary photographers to deliver photographs derived from original negatives. From the iconic to the intimate, each image in the collection speaks to the soul.