I started writing this as a short piece for my blog, but it turned into a 2,000-word essay on Southern Rock. I think I’ll save the long version for my essay collection The Colordeaf Chronicles. Enjoy this shortened essay and check out these great southern bands.
Once upon a time in the eighties, I had a Southern Rock Mixtape. Now, that doesn’t sound that shocking, but I wonder how many other African American girls had southern rock mixtapes in the eighties. (Or even now.) I played the tape so much that it broke and I had to throw it away, apparently with the song list. But I’ll try to recreate it the best that I can.
Why do I want to recreate it? Because the best of southern rock reminds me of the best of the South, the reason I can proudly say I was born in North Carolina even though I was raised in Pennsylvania. Beyond the flag waving and the rebel yelling, a lot of good rock and roll came out of the South. The songs I do remember connect me aurally to nature and the family road trips of my youth – leaving the hills of rural western Pennsylvania for the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the blue grass of Kentucky.
I made the tape to play in my car when I drove from Pittsburgh to Virginia Beach in 1985. Most of the songs were from the seventies and most of them were album cuts. I can’t remember the order, except that it started with the Allman Brothers Band. So, with the help of several websites, few old CDs, and my flawed memories, I bring you the Lost Southern Rock Mixtape…
“Dreams” – Allman Brothers Band
Nothing says or sounds like southern rock more than the guitar work of the late Duane Allman. The way this song begins with Duane’s guitar and Greg’s organ still haunts me. The song is just so beautiful; with Duane’s guitar flowing and cascading like a waterfall. The jam in the middle expands the song to over seven minutes, but it is worth every minute.
“Melissa” – Allman Brothers Band
The song comes from the only ABB album that I owned, Eat a Peach. “Melissa” is another slow, dreamy number that features the brilliant playing of Duane Allman.
“Blue Sky” – Allman Brothers Band
Another one from Eat a Peach. Duane and Dickey play dual guitar on this masterpiece – a great early morning driving song, especially if you are “Goin’ to Carolina”. You can almost see that river flowing…
“Green Grass and High Tides” – Outlaws
And while we are talking about water, who could forget this epic tribute to the Sunshine State? Next to “Freebird,” this has to be the most popular southern rock and roll anthem. The song starts out rocking and just keeps building. Then, about six minutes in, it becomes a full tilt boogie that grabs you at the neither regions and won’t let go.
“Prisoner” – Outlaws
But my favorite Outlaws song is from the Lady in Waiting album. This song starts out with an ethereal, bluesy guitar sound before Henry Paul’s wistful vocals start. A perfect southern love song, like a “Melissa” with more twang.
“I’ll Be Loving You” – Marshall Tucker Band
Talking about love – I love the Marshall Tucker Band.. Guitarist Toy Caldwell and his bassist brother Tommy cram a lot of jamming into five minutes, trying to keep up with vocalist Doug Gray’s impassioned affirmations. Turn it up and rev your engines like a NASCAR driver while the boys from Spartanburg, South Carolina take you home.
“My Best Friend” – Marshall Tucker Band
I’m not a big fan of horns in rock songs, but they seem to work in this one. It’s a good song to play while driving; no one could go to sleep with all of the ruckus going on in this song. It may be too busy for some southern rock purists, but I love it.
“Running Like the Wind” – Marshall Tucker Band
This title song from the band’s 1980 release features Jerry Eubanks’ flute, another instrument not usually found in southern rock. It has a hypnotic beat, but not too mellow to use as a driving song. It’s a song that encourages reflection.
“Desert Skies” – Marshall Tucker Band
Okay, I had to have one “cowboy” song on this mixtape. Say what you will about this selection from Carolina Dreams, but it is another song that makes me smile from the first note. The saxophone, and what sounds like a steel guitar and fiddle, help to create the lonesome aural landscape. This is as country as I get, y’all.
“Flirtin’ With Disaster” – Molly Hatchet
Danny Joe Brown is also part of that heavenly jam band now, but when this album came out, he helped to put some rock and roll fuel into southern rock. Molly Hatchet rocked with the best of their southern kindred. And like the best boogie band, the second half of the song sped along like a racehorse.
“Dreams I’ll Never See” – Molly Hatchet
I don’t think I was clever enough in 1985 to begin and end the tape with a version of the same song, but it works. When the first Molly Hatchet album came out in 1978, everyone was shocked that they would be presumptuous enough to cover an Allman Brothers Band song. But the band from Jacksonville, Florida, the hometown of Duane and Gregg, did just that and took the song to a whole new level.
Well, that’s as many songs as I can remember from the Lost Southern Rock Mixtape. Revisiting these songs brought back a lot of good memories. And isn’t that what a good mixtape is supposed to do?