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Southern Rock

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The Allman Brothers Band
Black Oak Arkansas
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Molly Hatchet
Wet Willie

The Allman Brothers Band-  The Allman Brothers Band is special in a lot of ways.  It was the first Southern Rock group.  It was one of the first groups, and still one of the few, to have two drummers.  In the band's early days, they successfully pulled off the concept of two lead guitarists (Duane Allman and Dickey Betts).  It's also one of the few bands to have had two leaders at the same time (Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts).  Unlike a lot of groups, the Allman Brothers Band was able to survive major personnel changes.  It not only rallied after the death of Duane Allman, it became even more commercially successful.  Another unique thing about this group is that the general style of their music has not changed much since the band's inception.  If you listen to any recording of the Allman Brothers Band from 1969 on, you can tell it's the Allman Brothers Band.  They have never had to "change with the times" or be trendy to stay on top.

     Some albums are better than others, some songs are better than others, but you can't really go wrong with any of the band's releases.  My favorite period would have to be the Duane Allman years (1969-1972) because the music was a bit heavier and more based in blues-rock.  Gregg and Duane were both into blues quite a bit in the early days.  After Duane Allman, the band liked to drift into lighter music.  This is not altogether a bad thing, but I think anybody who likes the band wants to hear them really rock it.

Black Oak Arkansas-  Black Oak Arkansas was always great when it was a Southern Rock group.  In 1977 singer James "Jim Dandy" Mangrum gained control of the group and, for a while, went by the name Black Oak.  Although not bad music, Black Oak sounds more like KISS or what Van Halen would later do.  For the best Black Oak Arkansas, listen to recordings from the ATCO years (1971-1976).

    Jim Dandy was the frontman for the group.  His trademark raspy voice and onstage antics later inspired countless rock stars including David Lee Roth of Van Halen among many others of the 1980s "hair band" era.

    The group was formed in 1965 as The Knowbody Else in, you guessed it, Black Oak, Arkansas.  Sometime in late 1965, Jim Mangrum was brought in as frontman.  In 1969 they recorded and released a self-titled album for Stax Records that was shelved.  It was later released in 1974 as the album, "BOA" and sold pretty good.  In 1970, the band renamed itself after its town of origin and was signed by Atlantic/ATCO.  Their first album as Black Oak Arkansas was released in 1971.  The band's albums sold fairly well and they had a loyal following but, by 1973, they finally broke out with the hit song 'Jim Dandy' (a cover of the 1957 LaVern Baker classic).  The group rarely recorded anything but their own material, but this cover version became their biggest hit and more popular than the original!

    Big hits are tough acts to follow, and although Black Oak Arkansas would forever be a "name band", they couldn't maintain commercial success with their records.  That's a shame, because "Ain't Life Grand" (1975) is the best album they ever did!  By 1977, Jim Dandy got all new bandmates, called the group Black Oak, and released two albums with Capricorn.  Mangrum has since performed live and recorded with many different line-ups of Black Oak Arkansas, but they have not yet duplicated the success of their early years.

Blackfoot-  True Blackfoot is awesome.  Somewhere along the lines, Blackfoot forgot it was supposed to be a Southern Rock group.  Their best years were 1975-1981.  "Marauder" (1981) is the last, honest-to-goodness Blackfoot album.  They started out as a Southern Rock group.  By 1980-1981, they had become more of a heavy metal band with a Southern accent.  Shortly after that, they decided to become trendy and turned to 80s-style keyboard rock.  That was really a low point.  Blackfoot hired Ken Hensley, formerly of Uriah Heep, to play keyboards for their next two albums.  I like Ken Hensley and Uriah Heep, but a Southern Rock group hiring an English guy to play keyboards in what's supposed to be a Southern Rock band just rubs me the wrong way.  "Vertical Smiles" (1984) was pretty bad and nothing like early Blackfoot at all.  The lack of success and good gigs led founder Rickey Medlocke to officially dissolve the band in 1986.  In 1987 he formed a band with all new members called Rick Medlocke and Blackfoot.  They recorded one self-titled album, but it continued the sound of Blackfoot's last few albums and upset a lot of long-time fans.  Many different personnel changes were made over the years and two more studio albums were released in 1990 and 1994, but it was never the same.  Medlocke joined Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1996, but finished out Blackfoot's engagements into 1997 when he officially disbanded the group.

    In 2004, Blackfoot started up again with the original members except Rickey Medlocke, who was still with Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Bobby Barth became the new lead singer.  2012 saw an entirely new line-up for Blackfoot, but personally selected by Rickey Medlocke.

    The band's best-known song is 'Train, Train', written by Medlocke's grandfather, Shorty Medlocke.  Their most successful album is "Strikes" (1979), featuring their hit song.  'Highway Song', also from that album, is frequently played on classic rock radio stations.

Lynyrd Skynyrd-  I love Lynyrd Skynyrd.  It's one of my favorite groups, period, but I think any Skynyrd fan prefers the 1973-1977 era.  This is the real Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Singer Ronnie Van Zant may not have been the band's only songwriter, but he was the heart and soul of the group.  After the infamous plane crash of 1977, the band broke up for ten years.  In 1987, the surviving members reunited with new singer Johnny Van Zant (Ronnie's little brother) and new guitarist Randall Hall to replace the wheelchair-bound Allen Collins.  The Tribute Tour was awesome and musically the band was just as good as ever.  The reunion became permanent and after that things got sketchy.  The next studio album, "1991" (1991), is good, but not like old Skynyrd.  It still sounds enough like old Lynyrd Skynyrd to make the grade.  The following album, "The Last Rebel" (1993) has a few highlights, but the album generally doesn't sound much like true Skynyrd.  It sounds a lot more like then-current country music.  Any release after 1993 doesn't sound like the Lynyrd Skynyrd everyone knows.  I can understand the need to try new music, but so many of the original members left the group or died that it's literally not the same band.  Guitarist Gary Rossington is the last remaining original member.  The current band should seriously use a different name.

    Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of the most commercially successful Southern Rock groups and generally the first name that comes to mind when someone mentions "Southern Rock".

Molly Hatchet-  I like Molly Hatchet, but their songs are hit and miss.  The biggest problem with Molly Hatchet is that they don't always sound Southern.  A lot of their stuff sounds more like heavy metal.  Especially the material from the 1980s onward.  The band's best recorded material comes from the 1970s, although they do have some great stuff from the 1980s.  Molly Hatchet, in any form, is clearly hard Southern Rock.  The Allman Brothers Band is blues or pop-based.  Lynyrd Skynyrd is blues-rock or country-based.  Molly Hatchet is definitely hard rock verging on heavy metal with a Southern tinge.

    Visually, the group is best-known for its Viking album covers by legendary artist Frank Frazetta and their familiar banner logo.

Wet Willie-  Any true fan of Southern Rock loves Wet Willie.  They kick a fat a**!  I love the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd but, truthfully, no other Southern Rock band boogies as hard as Wet Willie.  The 1970s was their heyday.  Singer Jimmy Hall, who also played harmonica and saxophone, was the group's main man.  Formed in 1969 as Fox, the group was renamed Wet Willie in 1970.  From 1971-1977 the group recorded for the Capricorn label.  This was their best period of recorded music and the one that fans know best.  The switch to Epic in 1978 was kind of a letdown.  Their LP "Manorisms" was not the Wet Willie we know; it was far more pop-oriented.  They released one more LP for Epic in 1979 and that was it besides numerous compilations.

    A big part of the band's sound was the duo of backup singing girls called The Williettes.  Other groups had girl singers from time to time, but none served as big of importance to their groups as The Williettes did for Wet Willie.  Donna Hall, sister to Jimmy and Jack, was always one of the girls.  In 1974, the excellent English singer Elkie Brooks joined the group as did future Lynyrd Skynyrd Honkette Leslie Hawkins.  Their time with the group was all-too brief!  Elkie and Leslie are great!

    'Keep on Smilin'' (1974) is the band's biggest hit and their only Top Ten single.  They did have several other songs that charted and others that have become fan favorites, but Wet Willie never did have the breakout success of the Allman Brothers Band, Black Oak Arkansas, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Molly Hatchet.  They really should have, too.  Since the 1990s, two different Wet Willie groups exist.  The group called Wet Willie features Jimmy Hall.  The other group, called the Wet Willie Band, features singer/guitarist Ric Seymour who first joined the band in 1992.  The Wet Willie Band has released two live albums to date, in 2004 and 2006.