When Southern Rock Bands Dominated the Airwaves
by Guest Blogger Bob Lefsetz
I know, third-rate boogie band. And I kind of agree with you. But I can still muster some enthusiasm for “Flirtin’ With Disaster,” but that’s not what I heard on Sirius today, that was “Whiskey Man.”
Once upon a time, the rednecks didn’t listen to country, but rock and roll. Before country gave up its western roots and became rock and roll lite and the acts started singing about babies, SUVs and Christianity. Hell, the country stars of yore, who built the format, the complete genre, would get no airplay on country stations today. Used to be they kept you off the format because your music didn’t fit, now they keep you off because of your morals… Huh?
But it was different in the late sixties and seventies. Country records rarely had any presence north of the Mason-Dixon line, but southern rock bands dominated the airwaves, to the point where we got imitation acts, like Molly Hatchet, third generation stuff that was easily dismissible, except for the hits.
Now if you want to draw an oblique parallel, southern rock and EDM are related. They’re both about going to the gig and getting completely messed up, the music is just an additive to the fuel you’ve imbibed, ecstasy at the electronic show, beer at the southern rock gig. The idea was to let loose, something they talk about but no longer do in country anymore. It’s all controlled and contrived. But if you watch that Skynyrd movie, you can feel the band teetering on the edge, not only with lifestyle, but music, back when rock stars were kings, not shills for the corporation.
And that’s what the rednecks and the northerners had in common. This sound. It brought us together. Because it could not be denied. And it was always played by southerners. First, the Allman Brothers. Then Lynyrd Skynyrd. Then the Outlaws and Molly Hatchet.
And the guys in Hatchet were too fat and unattractive to appear on the covers of their albums in photographs, but this was back before MTV, when how you looked was not paramount, but how you played.
And unlike today’s second-rate poseurs, the guys in Hatchet could play. And guided by Tom Werman, with a background in economic rock as opposed to southern noodling, at times Hatchet locked on and made music that today is still just as energizing, it makes you want to call somebody up and hit the bars, with this music blasting out of the convertible on the way to getting smashed.
It’s the energy. From an era where you spoke with your music. Today it’s all about the interview, the tweet, the personality, whereas back then these guys were high school losers who got laid via their tunes, they knew how to rev it up, it’s hard to sit still listening to “Whiskey Man.” Yes, Skynyrd’s “Whiskey Rock-A-Roller” is superior, but I’ve already established that Hatchet was a me-too, second-rate act, but as Tom Petty so eloquently sang, even the losers get lucky sometimes.
“Whiskey Man” is pure boogie, it sounds like it’s straight off a Foghat record, and that’s a good thing! And when the whole thing breaks down at 1:50 and you hear the bass and then the guitars start to twin and wail, you feel the power of seventies rock, which could be quite calculated, but never lost its power.
If you believe music started with the Ramones, you’ll hate this. But if you knew music before then, if you’re open to a bit more, if you’re not narrow in your tastes, you’ll have a hard time denying your affection for “Whiskey Man.”
“Dreams I’ll Never See”
From Hatchet’s debut. And you could call it a cheap shot, covering a classic Allman Brothers song. But the real story is most people still don’t know the Allmans’ debut, which featured the original, they started with “Idlewild South” at best. Furthermore, the Hatchet take is different. It’s faster. Just like Gregg Allman slowed down “Midnight Rider” for his solo debut, Hatchet ratcheted up “Dreams”…and it totally works. Instead of being plaintive, it’s active. In the Allmans’ take, the dude’s just waking up, whereas in Hatchet’s take he’s conscious, he’s already walking around, he’s facing the new day instead of being lost in the haze of yesterday. If you’ve never heard this, you’ll like this. Sacrilegious back then, good now.
“Flirtin’ With Disaster”
The piece-de-resistance. Overplayed to death back then, we boomers know it by heart and get a nostalgic thrill every time we hear it today.
Once again, it’s the energy, and the dynamics, the way the song accelerates and goes up a step, but…
“I’m travelin’ down that lonesome road
Feel like I’m draggin’ a heavy load
Yet I’ve tried to turn my head away
Feel ’bout the same most every day
You know what I’m talkin’ about man?”
That’s the difference between yesterday and today. Today the artists constantly reinforce they’re better than us, whereas back then they were a reflection of us, their music encapsulated our experience, that’s why we were drawn to them, that’s why we wanted to go to the show, to be with like-minded, alienated people and connect with the band that was speaking our truth.
And after these three, you’re on your own. If you bought the albums, you probably know more, if you want to explore, be my guest, but I’m done. I only need these three, that I heard incessantly on the radio back when we were addicted, when it was our best friend.
Spotify link: http://spoti.fi/p6HcZ8
Previous Rhinofy playlists: http://www.rhinofy.com/lefsetz
Visit the archive: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/
NOTE: Please call your Mark Sonder Productions representative to book Molly Hatchet, The Outlaws, the Allman Brothers, and/or Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Editor’s note: Bob’s words have been a fresh inspiration to me for years. Bob allows me to reprint his articles for Mark Sonder’s classes at UNLV and The George Washingtonn University. Thank you Bob for being there and continuing to share your clear thoughts with all of us!