Episode #3: Bittersweet Home Alabama
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band (1969)
“Whipping Post (Live)” by The Allman Brothers Band (1970)
“Southern Man” by Neil Young (1970)
“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynryd Skynyrd (1973)
“Just What I Needed” by The Cars (1978)
“Hold on Loosely” by .38 Special (1981)
00:20 Amy explains that the Old South that many people thought of as “The South” was over by 1970. She uses “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band to draw a comparison to how what many people thought of as “The South” was also over in 1865, when the Civil War ended. She rightly praises Levon Helm’s voice as the perfect voice for this song and speculates that there were a lot of Virgil Caines in the South in the 70s.
02:39 Amy discusses that the Virgil Caines of the 1970s may have felt like the Virgil Caine in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” She acknowledges that some of this was due to racial issues in a post-Civil Rights Act South but also because the South was losing some of its regional distinction. This was discussed in a bit more detail in Episode 2.
04:15 The people whose job it was to write articles for the newspapers about The Band and The Allman Brothers did not really know what the call the music. Mark Kemp (who wrote the excellent book, Dixie Lullaby) said that southern rock is a marketing term. Gregg Allman said that “southern rock” is redundant because rock music came from the South.
05:41 Amy offers the theory that southern rock was created out of nostalgia that mostly white people felt for “how things used to be” in the South. Nostalgia and history are not the same thing. She also suggests that bands who use the Confederate flag in some capacity are inviting questions about why they use it.
07:50 It is not accurate or fair to suggest that all southern rock bands were catering to racists. This was especially true of the integrated Allman Brothers Band. They very well could have attracted fans simply because of the genius of Duane Allman, who is the greatest rock guitar player who ever graced this planet. They also may have connected with some young white southerners who wanted something to be feel good about, as southerners, as they were rejecting the racism of previous generations.
10:44 Here is that photo of the Allman Brothers Band posing nude in a stream for reasons likely known only to them. Props to photographer Stephen Paley for convincing them to do it…I guess?
11:38 The Allman Brothers Band was a great live band and but not a great commercial success right way. Amy plays a bit of “Whipping Post” from Live at Fillmore East to demonstrate a piece of southern rock that taps into some of the pain of being betrayed (and somehow resists the urge to play all 22 minutes of it.)
14:00 Gregg Allman campaigned for Jimmy Carter when Carter was elected president in 1976. Here is more information about the friendship between Gregg and President Carter.
14:40 The debate about the Confederate flag that is happening today is not a lot different than the debate that was happening in the 1970s. Heritage not hate? It depends on whose heritage you are talking about. Amy gives a mini-history lesson on secession and why the Confederacy existed, which is not up for debate. Southern states seceded because they were afraid Abraham Lincoln was going to interfere with slavery and they did not think the federal government was doing enough to protect their “property.” You can read it for yourself right here.
16:28 Alexander Stephens, the Vice-President of the Confederate States of American, gave “The Cornerstone Speech” on March 21, 1861. The cornerstone of the Confederacy was white supremacy. Here is a copy of the full speech.
17:00 Reasons for ignoring the hateful history of the Confederacy and the flag it represents may include being taught that be more sympathetic to the Confederacy or wanting to “own the libs” because you know it pisses them off to use the flag. Why did bands like Black Oak Arkansas or Lynyrd Skynyrd use it? Amy speculates that it is more the “rebel factor” than the race factor. Remember, the South was losing its regional distinction and this was a way for some people — white people — to reclaim some of that distinction.
20:00 A recap of the Neil Young vs Lynyrd Skynyrd controversy. Amy plays a bit of Neil Young’s “Southern Man,” which pissed off Ronnie Van Zandt, as well as other white folks in the South who said, “not all white people.”
22:35 The lyrics in “Sweet Home Alabama” do, in fact, say “Boo Boo Boo” after “In Birmingham they love the governor” but how many people realized that? Were the white guys at Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts singing it like that or were they singing “Ooo Ooo Ooo?” And what was meant by “We all did what we can do?” George Wallace was as racist as they come and praising a guy like that is not good, so these are legitimate questions. For his part, Neil Young apologized for “Southern Man” many years later, basically saying he was young and dumb when he wrote the song.
Sources Used to Create this Episode:
20 Feet from Stardom. Directed by Morgan Neville, The Weinstein Company, 2013.
.38 Special. “Hold On Loosely.” Wild Eyed Southern Boys, A&M Records, 1981.
The Allman Brothers Band. “Whipping Post (Live).” Live at the Fillmore East, Capricorn Records, 1969.
The Band. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The Band, Capitol Records, 1969.
The Cars. “Just What I Needed.” The Cars, Elektra Records, 1978.
Contreras, Felix. “Unfurling ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ A Tapestry of Southern Discomfort.” NPR. 17 December 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/12/17/676863591/sweet-home-alabama-lynyrd-skynyrd-southern-discomfort-american-anthem
Eastman, Jason T., and Douglas P. Schrock. "Southern Rock Musicians' Construction of White Trash." Race, Gender & Class 15, no. 1/2 (2008): 205-19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41675366.
Elmore, Bartow J. "Growing Roots in Rocky Soil: An Environmental History of Southern Rock." Southern Cultures 16, no. 3 (2010): 102-28. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26214128.
Hutson, Kirk. "Hot 'N' Nasty: Black Oak Arkansas and Its Effect on Rural Southern Culture." The Arkansas Historical Quarterly 54, no. 2 (1995): 185-211. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40018512.
Kijak, Stephen, dir. If I Leave Here Tomorrow. Passion Pictures, 2018.
Lynryd Skynyrd. “Sweet Home Alabama.” Second Helping, MCA Records, 1974.
Smith, Michael Buffalo. “Mark Kemp: The Gritz Interview.” Swampland.com. http://swampland.com/articles/view/title:mark_kemp_the_gritz_interview
Strauss, Duncan. “A Pop Force: .38 Special Aims for a New Image.” Los Angeles Times. 13 November, 1986.
Young, Neil. “Southern Man.” After the Gold Rush, Reprise Records, 1970.