A Saturday in Nashville
I went back to Nashville last weekend to speak at the Country Music Hall of Fame about Southern Rock music. An odd place for such a talk, you might think, but the panel discussion was part of the Hall of Fame’s “Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy” exhibit honoring the great Hank Williams, his son Hank Jr., his grandson Hank III, as well as the recently (less than 20 years ago) discovered illegitimate daughter, Jett Williams.
Titled “Brothers & Sisters: The Rise of Southern Rock,” the panel featured Bonnie Bramlett of Delaney & Bonnie and a long time solo artist, Charlie Daniels of the Charlie Daniels Band, Ed King, guitarist with Lynyrd Skynyrd, and myself, who spent ten years working with Capricorn Records, the record label closely associated with the Southern Rock movement of the 1970’s.
Almost right out of the gate, Charlie Daniels said that he did not think that Southern Rock was a legitimate genre of music. His claim was that it was just blues, rock, and basically all forms of music rolled into one played by musicians that were from or located in the south. He asked, “Where did that expression come from in the first place?” I answered that the term was coined by a music writer named Moe Slotin. Discovery, Inc., a management and booking company in Atlanta liked the term, used it and actually created lapel pins that stated “Support Southern Rock.”
I mentioned to Charlie that when the term was created, there was no genre for Southern Rock but it was a marketing tool for people like me to separate our records from those of British bands, California bands, Canadian bands and so forth.
Ed King, who was originally from Southern California and now lives in the Nashville area, talked about joining Lynyrd Skynyrd, first as bass layer and then as third guitarist. He co-wrote “Sweet Home Alabama,” “.38 Special,” and many other memorable Skynyrd tunes. “If anyone ever tells you that they wrote the lyrics for a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, they are flat out lying,” he said. “ Ronnie Van Zandt wrote all the lyrics for all the songs until his death in 1977.”
Charlie Daniels remembered moving to Nashville in 1967 with his wife and baby son and “working in beer joints for several years just to put food on the table.” He was eventually tapped to play on records that were being recorded in Nashville by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Ringo Starr before getting his own record deal in the early 70’s and recording his first hit “Uneasy Rider.”
Bonnie Bramlett talked about living in St. Louis and working club dates with the likes of Little Milton, Albert King and other blues greats. She also knew a white rock band with blues leanings called the Hour Glass. The band featured Duane Allman and Gregg Allman as well as Johnny Sandlin and Paul Hornsby. The latter two would become successful record producers at Capricorn Records in Macon; the former two, well, you know what they did.
One of the primary topics was that because country artists of today grew up listening to Southern Rock they incorporate more of that sound into their music rather than traditional country music, consequently changing the makeup of the country genre.
Artists like Jason Aldean (who is actually from Macon, Georgia) is more of a Southern Rocker than he is a country artist, but he has hits on country radio and continues to be nominated for awards. Even the people who are working in the country music industry in Nashville are graduates of either Belmont University or Middle Tennessee State University who grew up listening to Southern Rock or just rock and roll music, and are now in power in key positions, never having listened to much traditional country music at all.
It was agreed by all that the industry has and continues to change, but usually, what goes around comes around, and before long there will be (hopefully) a swing towards more traditional country music.
The discussions were moderated by Hall of Fame writer and researcher Michael McCall who kept the questions and the conversations flowing. Vintage photos were displayed to highlight the conversation. For example, while talking about the early days at Capricorn, there was a photo of Gregg Allman and myself on a Macon street, both of us with long hair. Charlie Daniels said, “Hey Mike, what happened to your hair?” And I responded, “Not everything can last 40 years like you have, Charlie.”
It was a 90-plus-minute discussion among friends that seemed to go by in about 20 minutes. The Hall of Fame, which also owns Hatch Show Print, a block printing company that has been producing concert posters and other art for some 125 years in Nashville, created a special poster for the event and it went on sale in the Museum’s gift shop that day. In the green room before the discussion, the four of us autographed a number of them for each of us and for Hall of Fame employees.
When it was all over, Charlie headed out for an appearance at the Grand Old Opry where they would celebrate his 75th birthday. Ed and Bonnie went home, and our moderator, Michael McCall and I went out to the Opry to see Charlie cut his birthday cake on stage.
It was the perfect end to a pretty perfect day for this New Yorker. who will always be associated with Southern Rock.