I have never considered myself a musically inclined person. There were several attempts to learn the piano or saxophone in high school, but all that ever produced was a jazzier rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. I never really considered myself a fan of any one genre, as I figured I lacked the attention and training to hear the nuances of different styles and bands. I still don’t even know how to work an iPod. I do however have a soft spot for a certain breed of sound that fits right in with the local atmosphere. Go to any University football game and I guarantee you the most popular song besides the Crimson Tide’s fight song is Lynard Skynard’s “Sweet Home Alabama”. There’s hardly any anthem more suited and ingrained into the culture that is Alabama and the Deep South. But aside from being a catchy song that mentions our state, is anyone aware of its history and reason for creation?
I remember growing up in Louisiana, riding in my father’s pickup, and him turning up the volume of the artists that he listened to when he was young: the Allman Brothers, the Charlie Daniels Band, and Marshall Tucker. These songs stirred feelings of rough-and-tumble pride, and the images of the freedom and lifestyle of a time I never knew, even if I only knew the names and the choruses of these band’s most popular songs. Along with the music, my father would tell me folklore surrounding these people and their music. As I got older and my musical tastes “matured”, I found myself with a working knowledge of these bands and I began to consider myself a fan of this music dubbed “southern rock”.
As of late, I’ve learned that I have no idea what I’m talking about. After meeting Scott Bomar, possibly the nation’s foremost authority on the genre of southern rock, I realized the first mistake was to not to call it that.
“Greg Allman actually has a quote that says ‘Saying southern rock is like saying ‘rock-rock’; it’s the same thing.’”, says Bomar. A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Bomar says he first became interested in the subject when he was growing up and learning how to play guitar during the late eighties. “There wasn’t much guitar music on the radio during that time. Lots of synthesizers and drum machines. So I started listening to classic rock where there was a lot of Allmans, Skynard, Wet Willie, Marshall Tucker Band. I just wanted to learn how to play guitar.” Not until much later into his career did Bomar discover the roots of rock and roll. “It really just goes back to that it’s all from the South. Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis: all these guys were Southerners that laid the foundation. It wasn’t until the seventies did the South really own its right as the rock n’ roll capital of the world.” So, Bomar began writing Southbound: An Illustrated History of Rock and Roll to chronicle the journeys of fledgling musicians all the way into legend.
Southbound is possibly the most entertaining reference/history/biography I’ve ever read. I call it a reference book because it is positively full of well-documented information that is easy to digest and indulge in. I call it a work of history due to its impressively in-depth and unbiased tone that is aware of its subject and role in the tumultuous saga that was the late 20th century. And I call it a biography, providing fascinating and candid accounts of the inspirations, back-stage antics, and tragedies from the individuals that lived through it all. Along for the ride are also a host of lesser-known, yet equally important smaller bands that still provided important contributions to history. “Lesser-known bands like Grinderswtich were my favorite type to interview”, says Bomar. “Everyone knows the stories behind Ronnie Van Zant and Charlie Daniels, but no one has ever really heard these guys side of the story.” On almost every page there are powerful images that bring you up close to the lives of these artists and their fame. Occasionally, I would find myself flipping through pages unread just to see the press photos, concerts, and albums of different eras and styles. I think that was the strongest point of Southbound: its accessibility. Having virtually no prior knowledge or interest in this subject (or music in general) and still being able to follow along at any point made the book more enjoyable. I was pleased to see myself rushing off to YouTube or Spotify to look up some mentioned song that had an interesting background or a deeper perceived meaning. Even better was to learn how important Tuscaloosa was in the creation of southern rock, such as the production of Chuck Leavell, keyboardist for the Allman Brothers Band and the Rolling Stones, and Paul Hornsby, of the Charlie Daniels Band and Wet Willie.
In short, Southbound is an interesting and quality read that everyone, regardless of interest and expertise, can enjoy and learn something from. The most important thing I took from all of it was that I now feel a bit more pride for this region of the American South that helped define an era. For me, it’s reignited an interest in music and the history of these people. I’m already planning my trip to Muscle Shoals, and who knows what inspiration lies there?

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