Author Mark Kemp Takes On the Myths of Southern Rock

Mark Kemp's "Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race and New Beginnings in a New South" puts the lie to some perceptions of Southern Rock.
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 “The genesis of Southern Rock came with the guys who played on the soul records being made at Muscle Shoals and Stax studios,” says Mark Kemp, author of Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race and New Beginnings in a New South. “In the mid-’60s, bands were either all white or all black. A group like Booker T. & the MG’s, with two black guys and two white guys, was radical. The real genesis of the style came with Duane Allman, who was with the Swampers at Muscle Shoals, who played on sessions for great soul singers like Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, and Aretha Franklin.

“After Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968, a lot of the black artists felt they had to consider the ramifications of working with a white band. A line was drawn. So these white backing bands had to start playing with other white artists, which resulted in albums like the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, which sounded like Southern Soul music, or they formed their own bands, like Duane did with the Allman Brothers. These musicians began to look for their own sound, and it turned out to be what we think of as Southern Rock. Add to that the influence of British Invasion rock, and that’s Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers in a nutshell.

“Jazz elements also had an influence on Marshall Tucker and Charlie Daniels as well. That doesn’t mean there weren’t racists who liked black music, but that blending brought about some understanding. Charlie Daniels talks about that in my book. He says that he loved gospel and the other black music that he heard on the radio, but he still felt superior because it was ingrained within him. Yet he said that when he moved to the D.C. area and started playing with black jazz and blues musicians, he realized he’d been wrong all his life. It was just the way that he was raised.

"Missteps also came from record companies and their marketing departments. The Who were being marketed with a British flag at one time, so Lynyrd Skynyrd's label thought it would be cool to market Lynyrd Skynyrd with a rebel flag. It worked well, but it wasn’t like the guys in Skynyrd were going around wearing rebel flags. Ronnie Van Zandt was not a political guy.

In a lot of ways, the founding Southern Rock bands during the early '70s were really part of the era’s leftie hippie rock culture. The Allman Brothers were the East Coast’s version of the Grateful Dead, with long space jams and experimentation — although they were certainly tighter as musicians. And like the Dead, as the band’s fan have grown up they’re expanded from hippies to include doctors, lawyers, preachers, construction workers — people from all walks of life."