His Truth Is Marching On
It's been such a long time. A couple of months ago Southern Cross (formerly known as Renegade) released its first full-length work. That's after 14 years of togetherness, in the same lineup now as in 1986. Lack of money and of know-how and pop culture's fickle nature are to blame. Luckily for the band, interest in Southern rock has risen. Again. The band's self-released debut, Thirteen Years in the Makin', couldn't have been better timed.
Southern rock, like the kind Southern Cross gets across, has become cool once more -- special thanks to wildly successful acts like Gov't Mule (Georgie), Bottle Rockets (Missoura) and Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies (Tennuhsee), and classic rock radio's continuing fascination with the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and pre-Eliminator ZZ Top. Between the years of 1969 (when the fathers of the style, the Allman Brothers, debuted) and 1982 or thereabouts (when the genre's most popular label, Capricorn Records, descended into bankruptcy), the sound thrived. It lay dormant until the early 1990s. That's when the sympathetically Southern HORDE Tour took wheels. Bands such as the aforementioned, bald-faced purveyors who were raised on Southern rock, plus Widespread Panic (Georgie) and Blues Traveler (Yanks), reintroduced the spirit of the sound, a boogie-heavy mix of sometimes mournful vocal deliveries, sweet and melodious guitar lines and strong, straight-ahead rhythms.
The makeover Houston's longest-running (and possibly only) practitioner gives the style is refreshing. In fact, it's so refreshing -- and so bereft of irony -- that it verges on corny. Songs like "Poison," "Black Widow" and "Line upon the Sand" are built on Southern rock's best clichés: predictable arrangements and lurid lyrics about mean women and self-congratulation. Recorded piecemeal at Spanky's since 1989, Thirteen Years will sound alien to anyone whose idea of rock and roll doesn't involve sincerity. In a world of self-deprecating show-offs, Southern Cross is a true alternative.
"We've gone through years believing in this blues-based rock," says Gary Smith, Southern Cross guitarist/vocalist. "We were going against big-hair stuff and alternative stuff. Then Stevie Ray Vaughan got popular and kinda brought it back .It's exciting, it's rewarding, and it's a real confirmation for us. You know, you're always told, 'Do what you believe in and do it best you can,' and we work at that philosophy."
Gotta admire the band's Sam Houstonian perseverance. In addition to playing county fairs regularly and spending, according to Smith, anywhere between $15,000 and $20,000 (and thousands of hours) on this album, Southern Cross also recently endured a legal threat over its original band name. It all began earlier this year when Smith received a call from Allied Artists International. The folks there, out in San Dimas, California, threatened to sue if the Texas band didn't stop using the name Renegade and selling records as such.
"We had some people, through the fan club, complaining about the name," says Bob Richards, spokesman for Allied Artists. Turns out that Renegade is an Allied Artist act, a Latino pop-metal quartet that has sold more than 30 million records worldwide, with huge followings in Mexico and Japan. The band has been using the name since at least the early 1980s. Southern Cross, under guidance from renowned entertainment lawyer Edward Z. Fair, conceded. Says Fair: "The Texas Renegade [Southern Cross] knew in a sense it didn't have a major following. It was practically easy to say, 'Hey. It's not worth the fight.' "
And any band that employs Southern imagery, whether in its lyrics or stage shows or both, brings up the Dixie debate. Southern Cross does. Though the name is a sly reference to a constellation in the -- you guessed it -- southern hemisphere, it can't help but conjure up two nasty images: the Old South and burning crosses. "None of us are racist at all," says Smith. "It has nothing to do with that. We're just picking up on the symbol of Southern rock."
Being a walking, talking, performing anachronism has one distinct benefit: accessibility. Here are four guys, Smith, Tom Bowman (guitar, vocals), Tim McCrary (bass, vocals) and Keith Brazzel (drums, vocals), all middle-aged, all local scene vets, all dedicated to their band and its sound. They play a brand of music that has developed a significant following over the years, and they stick to it. (Some of the songs on Thirteen Years are indeed that old.) When you, the listener, hear the words "Southern rock" and "Renegade" (or "Southern Cross") in the same sentence, you know what you're gonna get. Southern Cross delivers.
The band's next full-length release, tentatively titled Hard-Headed Rebel, which will include two songs already receiving airplay on KPFT, will be produced by the esteemed Dan Workman of Sugar Hill Recording Studios.
Just when you think Jenny of MTV's Real World is about to take it all off, you are summoned back to the real reality of squeaky-clean cable TV-land by the sounds of rubboards and heavin'-and-wheezin' accordion riffs. That's because MTV's reality-based program is using as background music various tracks by Lil' Brian and his Zydeco Travelers. The homeboy's recent release, Funky Nation, is getting ample airtime on the show. Though none of Lil' Brian's material is included on the obligatory Real World soundtrack or is ever, as far as Amplified knows, identified as his work, the exposure is great. It's not that MTV producers couldn't find and employ any top-notch zydeco performers in New Orleans, where the show is filmed. It's just that Lil' Brian's is the hippest take on the genre, what with his mixing hip-hop beats with traditional instrumentation. And you know those MTV viewers -- gotta spoonfeed 'em.
Thar's a new label in town. Goes by the name well, it don't have no name yet. But the company, the brainchild of local R&B vets Kenny Love and Clyde Toval, is looking for talent. Prospective supah-stars must meet the following requirements: have a completed studio recording (DAT or test CD); already possess a professionally produced R&B or contemporary urban/rap recording (containing at least ten tracks); be between the ages of 18 and 25; have performed professionally over time; and be cool. Badasses-in-waiting can contact Love at email@example.com, or can submit material directly to Love's other business, the National Music Agency, P.O. Box 1404, Crockett, TX 75835-1404.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.