Southern rock rose to prominence during the late ’60s and early ’70s at a time when it was needed most.
The British Invasion had begun to fall back and rock and roll was left divided between the self-righteously pure folk rock and its pretentiously incoherent psychedelic counterpart. Southern rock ignited heat-filled aggression that folk music was lacking and jammed with a disciplined groove that was virtually nonexistent in psychedelia.
It wasn’t long before southernness became a virtue in rock and roll, and bands everywhere—from Canada to California—were under its influence. Many outside acts charmed their way into the Southern rock canon, echoing the steely blues riffs, backwater boogie licks, and fierce declarations of regional pride that define the genre.
Bands with not so much as a tie to the Deep South began producing music so authentic—their songs sweltering like the heat from a ruthless sun, rumbling like distant thunder, humming like the cicadas’ delicate hymns—you would have thought them, native sons.
These bands committed the greatest deception and made music arguably better than the genre’s architects. Here are the Southern rockers who weren’t Southern at all.
1. Little Feat
After becoming infatuated with the New Orleans sound while on tour, Little Feat frontman Lowell George called for an album full of Southern-fried funk, resulting in Dixie Chicken (1973). It was with this album, their third, that they would find their signature sound—seductive, Southern soul meets tight, electric blues, carried by whining slide guitar and bright, jangling cajun keys.
The band’s fourth studio album followed suit. Feats Don’t Fail Me Now is another celebration of grooves below the Mason-Dixon line. Referencing the state of Georgia in its first three songs, the record features the rollicking “Oh, Atlanta” and the trance-like “Spanish Moon” both riddled with that thick, bayou feel in two very different ways.
2. Canned Heat
Relaxed boogies meet hypnotic driving rhythms and mingle with down-home country blues in Canned Heat’s sophomore album, Boogie with Canned Heat. Another Los Angeles band, the blues rockers never strayed from that sound once they found success with Southern stylings in the late ’60s.
3. The Youngbloods
Folk torchbearers turned psychedelic bandwagoners, it wasn’t until their final album that The Youngbloods found their footing as Southern rockers. The group of New Yorkers disbanded in 1972, but not before delivering their last ditch effort, High on a Rigdetop.
A band that flirted with Southern styles for most of their lifespan, The Youngbloods were no-holds-barred with this album, one unlike any in their discography. The band went for it, spicing up their arrangements with twangy mandolin, muddy slide guitar, and throaty horns.
4. Creedence Clearwater Revival
California quartet Creedence Clearwater Revival were quintessential Southern rockers, delivering a rock so swampy you’d think they had bayou in their blood. The band rarely traveled to the South but were able to evoke the imagery and the iconography of the region perfectly in song.
Their top hits saw the Southern rock treatment, not one chart-topper was without rollicking rockabilly rhythms, driving blues beats, and frontman John Fogerty’s stormy, gospel-tinged vocals.
5. The Doobie Brothers
A Bay Area band, the Doobie Brothers were another group enraptured by the sounds of New Orleans while on tour. “When I got down there it was everything I had hoped it would be,” explained frontman Patrick Simmons, “The way of life and vibe really connected with me and the roots of my music.”
That deep Delta sound gave life to a number of Doobie Brother hits, including “Black Water.”
6. The Band
The Canadian-American roots rockers fused old country with early rock, pulling elements from Americana, jazz, and R&B to create THE Band.
Even though their only connection to the southerly states was through their drummer Levon Helm, the token Arkansan, their sound was authentic. Heavy with marching beats, catchy cajun grooves, funky wah-wah tones, and lonesome, plucking strings, their songs told the stories of the South.
While Helm’s accent, mixed with his raw tenor, earned the group extra points for Southernness, it’s The Band’s sound that furthers the genre and encapsulates the region.
(Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)