There’s a feud coming, and chances are it’s going to rival the Hatfields and the McCoys in intensity.
In this countdown of the top 20 Southern rock albums of all time, we polled writers and readers alike to find out which records were a cut above the rest in a genre that carried in its blood the essence of the place from which it came. Blending elements from country, the blues, soul, R&B, gospel, jazz and kick-like-a-mule rock ’n’ roll, Southern rock could be tender and beautiful, or as rambunctious as a roadhouse on a Saturday night.
Not surprisingly, an album by The Allman Brothers Band earned the top spot, but … it’s not the one you probably thought would be No. 1.
Idlewild South won the hearts and minds of our critics, while Live at the Fillmore East — our readers’ favorite — dropped all the way to sixth. And that’s not all they disagreed about.
So, peruse the lists at your leisure, with an open mind, and if something on there ticks you off, drink a quart of Jack Daniels and write us a note. I’ve got a feeling our Please Mr. Postman section is going to get a workout.
20. The Marshall Tucker Band
Searchin’ for a Rainbow 1975
Marshall Tucker mixed singing cowboy country with jazz and rock, making it one of the most unique bands in all of Southern rock. Its fourth album, Searchin’ for a Rainbow, saw the band move in a slightly different musical direction. Gone were the long, improvisation jams, à la the Allman Brothers, replaced with more concise songwriting with an emphasis on attainting a hit single.
The experiment worked as the band achieved its first Top 40 hit with the album’s opening track, “Fire on the Mountain,” written by George McCorkle. The song played up the band’s western image and the content of ghosts and cowboys fit perfectly into the Southern-rock boom of the mid-1970s.
The title track was a singing cowboy tune featuring Doug Gray’s unique vocals and Toy Caldwell’s thumb-picked guitar solo. Oddly enough, Tucker’s sound was heavily defined by a very non-Southern instrument, the flute. This strange mix of rough-and-tumble characters and unconventional instrumentation allowed Marshall Tucker the freedom to play outside of the box and ignore musical boundaries. The result of these diverse personalities and the musical experimentation Marshall Tucker indulged in made Searchin’ for a Rainbow a defining moment in Southern-rock’s illustrious history.
The band also threw in a live version of its classic “Can’t You See” from their debut album. The live version of the song included on … Rainbow is a treat as Toy Caldwell throws in a few guitar licks that add flavor and spice to the emotional song. The rest of Searchin’… sees the Tucker boys mix honky-tonk (“Bob Away My Blues”) with Western Swing (“Walk-in’ and Talking’”). In the end, this is a fine example of Southern rock that steps outside the traditionally accepted sound of the genre.
19. .38 Special
Wild-Eyed Southern Boys 1981
Is .38 Special a Southern-rock band or a rock band that happened to hail from the South? Southern-rock purists were probably shaking their heads at this point in the band’s career.
While the presence of singer Donnie Van Zant, a scion of one of Southern-rock’s first families, will always ensure .38 Special a place alongside Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Outlaws, the release of Wild Eyed Southern Boys in 1981 was a major stepping stone in the group’s transition away from traditional Southern boogie to a more ma