The South's Done It Again

Southern rock comes in for another revival

"I think people are enjoying the real rock and roll aspect of most of those bands," says Pete Gray, manager of Houston's Continental Club. (Drive-By Truckers will be appearing there this week.) "Basically it's really good old-school rock and roll. They can label it country, blues or whatever, but really what it boils down to is good old rock and roll. It's really appealing to the younger folks. You take Hank III, you couldn't call that a country show. It's a rock and roll show. Same with the North Mississippi All-Stars -- I wouldn't call that a blues show even though that's what it's labeled as."

"It's all about the roots," says Greg Ellis, Compadre Records manager of secondary distribution and a Southern rock fan since childhood. "And it is just basic rock and roll. That first song Scott Miller played Wednesday night at Rudyard's ["It Didn't Take Too Long"] was just Chuck Berry. I'd much rather hear that as an influence than Metallica, and that's what you're getting with most modern rock bands. Their influences don't go back farther than Iron Maiden, which is fine, but the hard rock and metal stuff from the '80s on -- they took the blues completely out of the equation. It's all based on the classical European metal. Maiden, Def Leppard and whatever."

The trend also reached into the South in the 1980s. "Whereas the Southern rock acts that improvised like the Allman Brothers were rooted in the blues, you had an '80s Southern rock band like Love Tractor that did a nine-minute guitar version of a Kraftwerk song. There wasn't much blues on that whole deal."

The two most successful bluesy bands of the 1970s were Led Zeppelin and Skynyrd, and both are enjoying revivals now. Bands like the Datsuns and the White Stripes have made Zep hip again, have stolen them from the Spinal Tap hell their own excesses placed them in, while the Drive-By Truckers embraced Skynyrd whole hog in 2001 with their landmark album Southern Rock Opera. This was the first time the cool kids have done so since Skynyrd's heyday. For years, Skynyrd's popularity with the wrong sort of fans rendered their cool factor nil, but what people tended to forget was that, like Zeppelin, they were a tremendous band.

"You have to listen to the cuts that aren't the superhits to tell whether those bands really had something or not," says Gray. "With both those bands you can do that. You listen to the stuff that you don't hear on the radio all the time and say, 'Hey, that's really good -- I forgot how good that is.' That's what shows whether a band has real staying power or real influence."

And now Kings of Leon are the toast of Britain and making waves over here. Los Lonely Boys have picked up where Stevie Ray Vaughan left off. The Truckers have put Bama back on the map. Polaris, the North Mississippi All-Stars' outstanding new album, has the potential to fulfill the sticker on the cover that heralds it as a whole new direction in Southern rock.

It's all making a prophet out of the self-described redneck fiddlin' man. On the second chorus of "The South's Gonna Do It Again," Charlie Daniels sings the words in the title and then adds, "And again." It appears he was right.

Scuttlebutt Caboose

Little Joe Washington has played his last Wednesday-night show at the Continental Club for a while. In addition, he has moved out of the building…Rusted Shut will be playing a show at an unlikely venue: The River Cafe. Watch the mayhem unfold September 12…From the Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: Cowboy Mouth and Great Big Sea will kick off the Houston Press Groove Tour concert series at Fitzgerald's on September 12…Another item from the D.S.S-P.: Watch for a cameo from yours truly on Channel 8. On September 30 at 9:55 p.m., and again on October 5 at 5 p.m., the PBS affiliate's show The Connection will air a special on Houston blues. The show will be hosted by Doris Childress and will feature interviews with blues artists Jewel Brown, Trudy Lynn, Texas Johnny Brown and Calvin Owens and segments on KPFT disc jockey Nuri Nuri, author and Press contributor Roger Wood, and another on the El Dorado Ballroom, not to mention performances by Owens, Jimmy "T-99" Nelson and Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters.

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