Video Fridays: My Embarrassing Southern Rock Phase

Ok, I admit it! When I was in high school I went through a brief but intense immersion in Southern Rock, listening almost exclusively to: Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels Band, Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, and others. The first two concerts I attended were the Allmans and The Outlaws respectively.

I was an ignorant white kid from a white suburb, drawn to the driving electric guitars and the gritty attitude of the music, and as embarrassing as it is to confess, I even put a Confederate flag on the wall of my room, because many of the bands from that era included the flag as one of their icons.

Unbelievably, as if I’d slept through all of my U.S. History classes, I never made the connection between racism and the southern pride that the Southern Rock world was infused with.

But I remember, very vividly, when the light bulb of awareness came on.

I was with my family visiting my older sister who was attending the University of Georgia, and during that trip we went to a county fair, and everywhere I looked there were Confederate flags and tough looking guys in leather and cowboy hats, and I suddenly remembered that I was a Jew.

Gulp. I was scared. And as soon as I got home the flag came off the wall, and I stopped listening to Southern Rock.

Now, years later, I’ve been able to compartmentalize the music from the culture, and if the music is good and the lyrics aren’t offensive I’m now able to enjoy it again.

Fast Forward: As I mentioned in a Video Fridays installment two weeks ago, the band I’m in has been gigging a lot lately, and it’s been a blast.

But when we played a bar in a rural community last weekend, several times, in between songs, some very vocal folks in the audience screamed out, “Skynyrd! Skynyrd!” and we had to disappoint and respond that we didn’t have any Lynyrd Skynyrd songs in our repertoire.

Our bass player, who, in the past, had played this bar with another band, had suggested for weeks that we work on Skynyrd’s song Gimme Three Steps, but we brushed it off…and I couldn’t help thinking about the lyrics of that song.

See, the narrator is being threatened at gunpoint and begs the gunman to give him a three-step head start toward the door, that he might have a decent chance to run away unscathed.

Heeding this cautionary tale, we’ve since rehearsed Gimme Three Steps, we’ve been asked back to that same bar, and we’ll be debuting it there tomorrow night.

All we have to do now is not screw it up, so that we don’t have to wonder whether or not we’ll need those three steps towards the door.

10 thoughts on “Video Fridays: My Embarrassing Southern Rock Phase

  1. The vast majority of people who listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd, ABB, etc, are not racists, just people from all states who grew up in the 70’s.

    The Allman Brothers band was the first to use twin-lead guitars playing jazz infused rock and blues.

    1. Hi Richard, Thanks for your comment, a comment I happen to agree with 100%.

      Perhaps I could have been clearer, but when I referenced racism it was meant in the context of iconography like the Confederate flag and a persistent strain of southern pride that continues to argue that the Confederate flag doesn’t have any offensive or racist connotation.

      Additionally, I did point out that over time I’ve been able to compartmentalize, separating the music from the culture from which it was born, to the extent that, if I still hear it as good music I will most certainly listen to and enjoy it.

      Finally, interesting that you should single out the Allman Brothers, since I almost didn’t even include them as belonging to the Southern Rock genre. Their Live at the Fillmore album is, in my opinion, one of the best live recordings of all time and I listen to it frequently. Likewise, my band plays three Allmans songs.

      To me, the Allmans had their roots in hippie blues more so than country, although country influences certainly became more prominent after Duane’s death and Dickie Betts’ dominance.

      1. Most places I see the ABB mentioned, people consider them the first Southern Rock band, a term Betts has often derided, as he felt they were the original jam band, and heavily influenced by Davis and Coltrane, from which they took the idea for twin lead.

        No harm done, just wanted to toss in my two-cents.

  2. I too grew up with that music, but unlike you I grew up in the South. I’m wondering what iconic image you would have a proud southerner embrace if not the confederate flag?

    1. Fair question, Jordan, but surely there must be something better than a flag that is inseparably symbolic of a racist fight to maintain the inhuman practice of slavery. Right?

      Surely there must be other symbols that represent all the many things that are good about the south: the hard working, famously hospitable people, the beautiful land, the incredible food, etc.

      As Richard points out above, and as I agreed, Southern Rock is, indeed, by no means synonymous with racism, but it’s hard to argue that the flag isn’t.

      I strongly believe that it would benefit southerners and the entire country if the Confederate flag was relegated as a piece of history, fit for a museum and history books, followed by a concerted effort by any of the amazingly creative people of the south to fashion a new symbol of their pride.

  3. I’m not a fan of the Confederate flag, in fact I desecrated a perfectly good motorcycle tank to get rid of the image. But one could argue that the Union Jack and Old Glory herself could be inextricably linked to atrocities in worldwide conflicts as severe, and far more current, than that of the war between the states. Yet we fly the US flag every single day, and the Brits and the corresponding territories in the UK haven’t given up their flag. Membership in the “countries contributing to world oppression and slavery” isn’t limited to those mentioned and would include most if not all countries worldwide if given enough latitude with date/time requirements.

    A flag is a symbol, and the meanings of symbols change over time. BMW and Mercedes crafted airplanes and engines for Germany during WWI and WWII yet that symbol is proudly displayed on one of every twenty cars in America, and on the necks of quite a few rappers. The VW beetle was designed at the behest of Hitler himself, have we boycotted the resurgence of the bug? No. Why?

    The majority of people today who fly the confederate flag are not doing so to propagate racism, or to stir up the slavery issue of 150 years ago; they are embracing a symbol that is uniquely theirs. Not unlike gay people displaying the pink triangle, or the star of David for the Jewish people. I know that all of these groups were (and in varying degrees continue to be) persecuted, but the symbolic nature of those symbols for members of those groups remains unsullied and identifies them as part of a larger society.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

    I think that when we ban a thing, or relegate it to the darkness, as a society, we may as well be endorsing fringe groups to embrace it. Bring it into the light and allow time to do it’s job.

    If you loved Southern Rock as a kid, then embrace whatever part of that memory feels right for you. And please play the music as you see fit. It’s good for the soul.

    1. That’s a lot of good stuff to chew on, Jordan, and I appreciate the dialogue.

      I’ll need more time to think through it all, but I would like to say right away that I agree wholeheartedly that the U.S.’s and other flags are or can be seen as symbols of atrocities as much as the Confederate Flag. I don’t display or adorn myself with the U.S. flag partially for that reason, but also because I’m just not into nationalism.

      As for the music, as I said in my original post and have tried to clarify in the comments, I’m already in a place where I can embrace and enjoy the Southern Rock that still appeals to me, and I also happen to be a HUGE fan of old-time Appalachian stringband music, bluegrass music, and early country music, all products of the deep south.


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