Southbound: An Illustrated History of Southern Rock

A self-described music geek turned rock historian has captured the golden age of southern rock in a series of photographs, stories and interviews from many of the artists of the time in his new book Southbound: An Illustrated History of Southern Rock.

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, Author Scott B. Bomar was a self-described “music geek,” always appreciated the lyrics inside the sleeve of a record album, fanzines and the encyclopedia-like volumes of rock history books with glossy, color pictures of his favorite bands. “It’s almost like a concept that the internet has sort of rendered not as prevalent. Kids have different ways to find out about bands they like and music they like now,” he says. “The concept of the whole book itself is kind of like a retro throwback to that whole era. Hopefully, this book puts readers back in the mindset of being a music fan.”

“One of the interesting things about southern rock is that 90 percent of the musicians that are considered part of the southern rock genre do not embrace the label.”

The research took two years to compile and with so many worthy artists to consider in the genre, Bomar was forced to make some cuts along the way. Since the book focuses on the southern region, Bomar decided to focus on those bands that embraced the southern rock label and stayed true to their roots. “One of the interesting things about southern rock is that 90 percent of the musicians that are considered part of the southern rock genre do not embrace the label. I think that many of the musicians feel that it was kind of an industry term and that was put upon them in ways that was limiting,” he says. “They thought ‘we’re from the south but we’re rockers.  We’re for everybody, the whole world, not just on.38 Speciale specific region’.”

During the years when the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd reigned supreme, the term “southern rock” was used by journalists or industry folks to categorize what was happening with these bands coming out of a particular area. “That label got stuck on them, so a lot of the musicians themselves don’t necessarily embrace it but a lot of the fans do, especially fans that appreciate that regional identity,” Bomar says. “I came up with who’s in and who’s out, so to speak, by considering who basically stayed rooted in the south during their heyday in the 70’s.”

Some artists with southern roots, like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, opted to break free from the stereotype and identifying with the more progressive sounds emerging from the Southern California scene and later, the British Invasion. “Even though they are southerners, they’re not necessarily southern rock,” Bomar says. The artists featured in Southbound stayed in the region at the height of their success. “They didn’t go to New York or Los Angeles. They kept their regional identity very strong.”

The desire to cut a wider swath to the west was largely due to the amazing experimentation in pop and rock music of the 70’s. The studio technology of that time allowed artists to explore new sounds and new ideas but it hadn’t gone so far that they could fake it, Bomar says. “They still had to have the talent and so there was this huge surge of really talented and creative artists. Some of the stuff that came out the 70’s was really layered and very orchestrated and in some ways, a bit overblown. And southern rock was sophisticated music but it was also accessible music. It was guys with guitars who were onstage wearing jeans and t-shirts rather than some outlandish stage persona. They were very relatable to kids in their bedrooms learning how to play guitar.”

When the influence of bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones reached stateside, rock n roll in the south kind of died for a while. The genre was identified with London and places like San Francisco and LA where the psychedelic movement was underway. “Everything got very far away from basic southern roots until bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bob Dylan began embracing the back-to-basics rock n roll,” Bomar says. “It really opened the door for an Allman Brothers band to say ‘hey, we play that kind of stuff because we grew up in it, we’re rooted in it and we’re authentic southern guys’.”

“It’s crazy how much Jacksonville, Florida and Macon, Georgia are like the twin meccas of southern rock.”

Once the period of dormancy ended in the 60’s, it was time for the south to rise again and remind the world that they gave the world rock ‘n roll. Bomar says Florida bands, especially those calling Jacksonville home, are featured prominently in Southbound, with chapters devoted to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchett, .38 Special and Grinderswitch. “Every major southern rock band has roots in Florida, specifically Jacksonville. “It’s crazy how much Jacksonville, Florida and Macon, Georgia are like the twin meccas of southern rock. Rock n roll in general sort of belongs to the south from the get-go,” he says. “When you look at Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, rock ‘n roll was almost exclusively a southern phenomenon in its infancy. You have these traditions of country and blues music coming together to form rock ‘n roll. The roots of southern rock, as a genre, begin with the Allman Brothers in 1969 but as an idea, it goes back to the very genesis of rock n roll, of how deep the roots and the history goes.”

Of the bands that remained true to their home soil was Lynyrd Skynryd, a band counted among the court of southern rock royalty. The story of the tragic 1977 plane is book-ended by the rise and fight of the Jacksonville band. Despite a contribution to southern rock that is undeniable, Bomar says the band never really earned the recognition they deserved.

“There are a lot of music critics who maybe turn up their noses a little bit at Lynyrd Skynyrd  and have negative associations or stereotypical ideas of what they were all about. But in the 70’s, Lynyrd Skynyrd was making records that were as good as the Rolling Stones. I don’t think their music has gotten the respect that it deserves,” Bomar says. “I look at the Allman Brothers Band and over time they have just sort of endured. They have reached a really wide fan base, obviously far beyond the south and all over the world. And Lynyrd Skynyrd has, too. I think Ronnie Van Zant was an incredibly talented song writer and singer. He was very interested in country music and he was a big fan of the outlaw country thing. I think if Ronnie had lived, we might have seen a very interesting between the worlds of country and rock ‘n roll.”

About Liza Mitchell