Monday, September 07, 2009

The south's gonna do it again.

Yesterday in The Arizona Republic, Ed Masley published a list article called "Six Pillars of Southern Rock," which purported to pick out the most significant Southern Rock albums without ever stating so explicitly. Here's his list
1. The Allman Brothers Band, The Allman Brothers Band (1969)
2. Lynyrd Skynyrd, (pronounced 'leh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd) (1973)
3. The Allman Brothers, At the Fillmore East (1971)
4. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Street Survivors (1977)
5. The Drive-By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera (2001)
6. The Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker (1990)
In fact Masley's weasel words descriptive qualifier for his list is "six essential albums that are probably more Southern Rock than ZZ Top." Putting aside the obvious comment on the timorous adverb. This is clearly a definition that defines nothing. From the list we can in fer that Masley is looking for some kind of traditionalist notion of Southern Rock as a guitar driven entity, coming out of the wedding of blues and country traditions, which focuses on some notionally Southern version of manhood. Thus we get such a conservative list that misses at least two bands best album and has the throwaway sixth entry, which really doesn't belong despite all Masley's protestations otherwise!

There are many ways to redo and improve this list. I will simply offer two: a better traditionalist list followed by a better list which has a much broader definition of Southern Rock. Also I fail to see why there are six pillars? Sikhism has three, the Dominican order has four, Islam has five. But wisdom (Proverbs 9:1) has seven! and surely what said list is offering is wisdom.

Seven Pillars of [Traditional] Southern Rock
1. The Allman Brothers Band, The Allman Brothers Band (1969)
2. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Second Helping (1974)
3. The Allman Brothers, At the Fillmore East (1971)
4. Lynyrd Skynyrd, One More For From the Road (1976)
5. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Street Survivors (1977)
6. The Drive-By Truckers, The Dirty South (2004)
7. Molly Hatchett, Flirtin' With Disaster (1979)

Honorable Mention:
The Outlaws, Outlaws (1975)
.38 Special Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (1981)
Derek & The Dominoes,Layla and Assorted Other Love Songs (1970)
Little Feat, Dixie Chicken (1973)
The Band, The Band (1969)
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bayou Country (1969)
This list is temporally bound as Southern Rock's great era came to a close with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, with only the Drive-By Truckers as a unique outlier. The Allmans were the originators but Skynyrd was clearly THE BAND, thus they merit 3 slots. Their second album is better than the first, plus everyone knows the version of "Free Bird" you wanna hear is on the live double LP with Cameron Crowe's famous liner notes. Molly Hatchett stands in for all the other lesser Southern bands, some of them listed in the honorable mention section. This section is provided not as a cheat on the 7, but rather to give readers a wider range of listening/investigating options. It also points to some precursors.

Seven Pillars of [Non-Traditional] Southern Rock
1. The Allman Brothers Band, The Allman Brothers Band (1969)
2. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Second Helping (1974)
3. Big Star, Radio City (1974)
4. Pylon, Gyrate (1980)
5. Archers of Loaf, Icky Mettle (1993)
6. OutKast, Stankonia (2000)
7. The Drive-By Truckers, The Dirty South (2004)

Honorable Mention:
Dusty Springfield, Dusty In Memphis (1969)
The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers (1971)
The B-52s, Wild Planet (1980)
REM, Murmur (1983) or Reconstruction of the Fables (1985)
Superchunk, Tossing Seeds: Singles 89-91 (1992)
The dBs, Stands for deciBels/Repercussion (2001)
The list veers away from strictly guitar driven rock venturing into rap and the new wave. I chose the B-52s second album because the red one is more "Southern" than the yellow one. I also, against the critical grain, like it better. Both Fame in Muscle Shoals and Stax in Memphis needed to be noticed in this list, thus the Dusty and Rolling Stones' honorable mentions.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

How many more years.

A photo essay on yesterday's 14th annual Howlin' Wolf Memorial Blues Festival at The Civic in West Point, MS.

Festival Director Richard Ramsey introduces the next act.

Big Joe Shelton does the "Black Prairie Blues!

Memorial shrine for the late Willie King.

Honored guests and members of Howlin' Wolf's immediate family.

Bill Abel from Belzoni.

Some signs at the Civic's entryway faux Juke.

Mississippi has been a "red" state since Reconstruction even whe it voted yellow Dog.

Billy Dee always was smooth . . . Bingo long anybody?

Colin Linden from Nashville via Toronto.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Sam Cooke presents a classic medley.

Seems appropriate that this blog's 350th entry is a mishmash.

Tonight I'm heading West Point way for this. With any luck some photos up in the future. And don't forget this other local festival, which will have some major news re: headliners for 2009 the Tuesday after Labor Day.

This medley by The Bishop of Soul Solomon Burke pays homage to his fellow travelers.

Looking forward to a historic opener for the Mississippi State Bulldogs as they become the first SEC team to host a SWAC HBCU team, the Jackson State Tigers. More specifically, I'm really looking forward to the halftime performance of the visiting team's band, The Sonic Boom of the South!

A few other famous show band performances with better sound:

And let's close with a classic medley from "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business . . . Mr. Dynomite . . . Mr. Please Please . . . Soul Brother #1 . . . Are you ready for Star Time?"

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dixie Chicken.

The most recent issue of the Oxford American is an extravaganza for lovers of Southern writing. They list not only the Best Southern Novels of All Time but also the Best Southern Nonfiction.

Here's the Novels Top 10
1. Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1938)
2. Robert Penn Warren, All The King's Men (1946)
3. William Faulkner, The Sound and The Fury (1929)
4. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)
5. Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird (1950)
6. Walker Percy, The Moviegoer (1961)
7. William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (1930)
8. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
9. Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood (1952)
10. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
As I've commented elsewhere, this list is surprisingly conservative in providing a narrowly focused view of one particular version of The South. Sure;y there has been a great novel or two in the last 30 years or even longer since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964! Later this week the online OA will publish the longer list from 11-50 and that's probably where the more interesting action will be. For now my thoughts. 3 Faulkner's is too much, but he's important enough I don't mind seeing him twice. I'd lose The Sound and the Fury Myself. Penn Warren's mess of about four different novels shoved together is really overrated at 2 here. I'm not convinced Invisible Man really belongs on a list of great Southern novels although I do realize it has the "Tuskegee" section. Personally I'd replace it with another forgotten Harlem Renaissance classic, Jean Toomer's Cane (1923). I'd put something modern in the place of the third Faulkner and perhaps something urban. Maybe a Florida noir by John D. MacDonald—say The Deep Blue Good-by (1964)—or something Appalachian like Ron Rash, Serena (2008) or Sharyn McCrumb, She Walks These Hills (1994). For a quirkier old school selection I'd go with George Washington Cable, The Grandissimes (1880).

Here's the Nonfiction Top 5
1. Agee & Evans, Let US Now Praise Famous Men(1941)
2. Richard Wright, Black Boy(1945)
3. W.J. Cash, The Mind of The South (1941)
4. Eudora Welty, One Writer's Beginnings (1984)
5. Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative (1958-1974)
Sure this list avoids the former's time-boundedness, but it is still pretty conservative and presents a kind if old fashioned monolithic view of the South. Agee & Evans at number one is a well-earned given as was Absalom, Absalom! I'm glad to see W.J.Cash gte his due rather than being trashed as some kind of racist by ex post facto. holier than thou academics. I'd jettison both 4 and 5 from my top 5. I was at the Harvard lectures which became One Writer's Beginnings. Professor Costello is right that this book represents an idealized and nicer little old lady version of Welty. It was also Harvard University Press's first NY Times bestseller but I'm not sure it rises to the level of greatness. Similarly I think Foote owes his prestige more to his appearance on Ken Burns' miniseries than he does for the impact of his extended history. What do I put in their place? My Mississippi book would be Willie Morris, The Courting of Marcus Dupree (1983), discussed more here. Food being so important to the South, I'd think long and hard about a food book and perhaps go with a book about food rather than one of numerous cookbooks, so John T.Edge, Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover's Companion to the South (2000).

A few other serious contenders would include something by C. Vann Woodward from the list The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955), The Burden of Southern History (1968), Origins of The New South (1951), or Mary Chestnut's Civil War (1982) any of which could be seen as a corrective to Cash. For reportage and because it became even more relevant after Katrina, John M. Barry, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America (1998). Barry's book really helped me understand the area I had moved to when took my job at Mississippi State. Penn Warren shows up either in I'll Take My Stand: The South and The Agrarian Tradition (1930) or with Cleanth Brooks, Understanding Poetry (1938). Finally one personal quirky favorite would be Gloria Jahoda, The Other Florida (1967). The essay, "Two Hundred Miles from Anywhere Else," remains the best explanation of why my hometown Tallahassee, FL is unlike any other "city in Florida, or in the South" (128).

Little Feat at the Rainbow Theatre London 1977

UPDATE [Saturday, September 5 9:37 AM]

The full Oxford American Lists were released yesterday for Underrated, Novels and Nonfiction. As I expected this is where the real interest in this categorizing/listing project lay. I was pleased to see many of my alternate suggestions there and some just outside the Top 5 or 10. For example if you collate the split votes for C. Vann Woodward across the 4 works I mentioned he gets to 22 and is 6th on that list. I was also leaed that one novel and one nonfiction pick of mine were unique (MacDonald and Edge).