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Interview with Scott B. Bomar

Scott B. Bomar spoke with Chapter 16 about Southbound: An Illustrated History of Southern RockRead the rest of the interview here!

Long-Haired Country Boys

Rumbling out of the South at the beginning of the 1970s, Southern rock was a mix of back-to-basics rock and roll, blues, country, and soul—wrapped in a new vision of the American South. In his new book, Southbound: An Illustrated History of Southern Rock, Nashville native Scott B. Bomar chronicles the history of this uniquely American music and the musicians who created it.

Despite the chart successes of the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, and others, the artistry and innovations these musicians brought to rock music are often overlooked, casualties of persistent and pernicious prejudices about the South. Bomar tackles those oversights directly, building a case for the importance and inclusiveness of a style that sought to embrace the most admirable aspects of Southern life and culture while rejecting old bigotries. Drawn from interviews with dozens of musicians and illustrated with scores of band photos, album covers, label shots, and concert posters, Southbound gives the stories of individual bands as well as the history of a truly American music.

Bomar recently answered questions from Chapter 16 via email:

 There’s a great quote from Gregg Allman near the start of the book: “‘Southern rock’ is like saying ‘rock rock.’ Rock and roll was born in the South.” How did you arrive at a definition of Southern rock that was workable for the book, and what is that definition?

Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee—all those guys came from the South, and understanding that is part of the Southern-rock story. When people use the term “Southern rock,” however, they’re generally talking about the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and so on. What happened was that you had these kids growing up on blues, soul, country, and rock in places like Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, or North Carolina. They had shared cultural experiences as Southerners, but they also had the shared experience of becoming long-haired music freaks in an environment that was fairly conservative. Even though Southern rock is often regarded as “redneck” music today, a “redneck” in the 1960s was a guy with a crew cut who just might be inclined to kick the ass of a freaky long-haired rocker.

So these guys were pretty countercultural and tended to stick together. As they formed bands and became successful in the early 1970s, the fact that they were Southerners made them unique in the wider world of freaky long-haired rockers. So they were fish out of water at home because they were rockers, and they were fish out of water in the rock world because they had funny accents. Needless to say, they tended to bond because they understood one another. Charlie Daniels told me that Southern rock is a genre of people more than it is a genre of music, and I think that’s a pretty good definition of something that’s a little slippery to fully define.

But I did write a book about it, so I had to come up with something more precise. In the introduction I listed four criteria that guided my decisions about who would—and would not—be included in the book. Sometimes people skip introductions, but this is one of those cases where it actually frames the entire book. And maybe it will even start a little debate.

You’re young enough to have missed the original heyday of Southern rock. How did you first discover the music?

My dad is in the music business, so I was surrounded by music as early as I can remember. Maybe I had some records for kids when I was little, but if I did, I don’t recall them. I was into Elvis and the Beatles at a very young age, so I was always looking to the past when it came to my musical choices. I started playing guitar around age twelve or thirteen. It was the 1980s, so what was on the radio wasn’t very guitar-heavy. That’s when I really got into classic rock, and it was around that time that 104.5 The Fox was just getting going in Nashville. Southern rock was a big chunk of their classic rock programming, so I was always hearing the Allmans, Skynyrd, Wet Willie, Marshall Tucker, ZZ Top, 38 Special, and those kinds of Southern groups on the radio. This was also around the time that everyone was embracing CDs, so I was building my music collection with the CD issues of classic albums.