Live Oak Trees and Spanish Moss

“It was 1965, and Gregg and Duane were at a crossroads. Not even twenty, they had crisscrossed the South playing in a band called the Allman Joys. They did gigs at rough joints like the Stork Club in Mobile, Alabama, where they played six nights a week, five sets a night, forty-five minutes per set. Gregg was weary of the road and ready to give up and go to dental school—after a week of playing the Stork, he and Duane each pocketed only $111—but if he pursued dentistry, he would be in debt and stay in debt. He decided to continue with the band. The only problem was, Gregg was eighteen and about to get drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Duane—who was exempt because their father was dead and he was the oldest son—had cooked up a scheme to get his young brother out of the draft: have Gregg shoot himself in the foot in order to get a medical pass.

“I’ve invited these nice ladies over here to see a foot shooting and you’re going to let them down?” Duane screamed.”

                                     Garden and Gun, May 2011

The Stork Club was out Cottage Hill Road, not too far from where I grew up in Mobile Alabama. I was born in 1963 and the first record I remember buying with my own money was Dixie Rock by hometown boys Wet Willie when I was almost 12. We used to listen to Wet Willie practice in a tin-roof building behind the park where we practiced football: when it rained hard it sounded like BB guns when the raindrops hit that shack.  Like everyone around me, I listened to the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, and (especially) Lynyrd Skynyrd, along with Led Zeppelin, the first Boston album, lots of Rolling Stones, and that Derek and the Dominoes record.

There were plenty of radio stations that played the music that every Southern boy wanted to listen to, but there were three stations that changed me. One was WBLX, about which, in a discussion of the Rolling Stones’ “Faraway Eyes”, I once said: “I never heard the term ‘colored radio station’ used, those were ‘soul stations’ man—and if Mick had ever listened to the wonderfully named WBLX in Mobile it would have shriveled his private parts.” Next was WABB-FM, a classic freeform 70s radio station: to this day, I remember the moment I heard the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and I realized that I didn’t have a definition for that kind of music but it described precisely an idea of a lifestyle beyond my own world. And, most importantly, WHIL. HIL as in Hill, as in Spring Hill College, the Jesuit school up the street, where they had Pitchers and Priests on Friday afternoon for socialization. One day in your life it is Physical Graffiti, then it’s Cheap Trick, and then it’s punk rock. Who has room for Lynyrd Skynyrd anymore?

As if there needed to be one, leaving Mobile in 1981 for college gave me a reason to close the door on music past. And seeing a Jason and the Nashville Scorchers/REM double bill at Cantrell’s November 3, 1981, along with discovered the Great Escape, a used record store that carried back issues of Creem, opened up dozens of new ones. I lived through the musical “Class of 1984”, and in 1985 I moved to Atlanta for eight years that brought me in close proximity to Danny Beard of Wuxtry Records and DB Records fame, and thus to the Athens musical community. I wallowed in this scene until 1993, when I moved to Boston and realized that I needed to figure out my place in the Southern world. Patterson Hood has talked about a similar journey of his own. Former MTV exec Mark Kemp wrote a pretty good book, Dixie Lullaby, about this same sequence of Southern musical and cultural abandonment and rediscovery.

So that’s the story of this mixtape. Conceptually, each disc opens and closes with signatures. After that, the first disc begins with some roots that are integral to what became classical Southern Rock and then covers the decade of the 70s through my own eyes. The second disc begins after I moved to Nashville, after punk and new wave, and seems completely foreign to the Molly Hatchet fan, only it begins to wander back to those roots over time. If there is a theme other than time, it’s captured in the title: the sound that you hear late at night after the party’s done, under a silver dollar moon and salty wind coming from the gulf, creepy sounds echoing off in the distance:

“In a little while the ambulance came and the sound of its siren mixed with the screaming girl and the spinning wheel.

But when the story was told the next day at the graduation ceremony,

Everyone said that when the ambulance came

The paramedics could hear “Free Bird” still playing on the stereo.”

“Days of Graduation” The Drive-By Truckers

Disc One:

Come On In My Kitchen       Delaney and Bonnie & Friends        A&R Recording Studios, July 22, 1971 Bootleg

Robert Johnson, a casual acoustic jam, and the mention of “Brother Duane Allman” kick off this mixtape for a reason.

Shout Bamalama       Otis Redding  single

In which proto-Otis channels Little Richard for some chicken stealing. How Southern is that?

Soldier Of Love          Arthur Alexander      single

The first sides by Arthur Alexander (Little Artie is what his much later Capricorn label-mate Gregg Allman called him) are very nearly ground zero for Fame Studios and the Muscle Shoals Sound. This is also where the Beatles first enter this story.

I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water        Stonewall Jackson

With a name like that, you’ve gotta have an inkling of what to expect. A honky tonk B-lister, except that being on the B-list is kind of what honky tonk music is all about.

I Met Her In Church The Box Tops single

Well, how about some gospel? And young white kids with vocal chops that send Little Stevie Winwood back to the woodshed. Imagine how crazy it would be if the Drive-By Truckers backed ‘N Sync for four albums over two years. That is the Box Tops.

Sweet Thang  Jerry Lee and Linda Gail Lewis Together

There is one and only one Jerry Lee Lewis in every Southern town I’ve ever visited.

The Road Of Love      Clarence Carter         single

Clarence Carter is like John Lee Hooker but with a bus pass, dark glasses, and Skydog on guitar.

Hey Jude        Wilson Pickett            Hey Jude

Well, this is the sound of a whole new thing. Eric Clapton recognized genius the moment he heard this. There is a choice in this song: lots of “na-na-na”s or a punchy guitar that requires you to sit down and shut up.

One Way Out The Allman Brothers Band  At the Fillmore

I am in awe of the confidence with which the brothers shaped Sonny Boy and Elmore’s tune into their own amalgamated torrent of blues notes.

Airport            Wet Willie     

Hometown boy John Anthony wrote this impossible funk orgasm. “She was lookin’ real good and she sounded alright/you know my baby knocked me around and she found a fight”.

I Walk On Gilded Splinters   Johnny Jenkins          Ton-Ton Macoute!     

Taking Dr. John’s Bo Diddley riff and adding so much skank and husky poison that a guy who called himself Beck squeezed his career out of it.

Gimme Back My Bullets        Lynyrd Skynyrd        Gimme Back My Bullets

Grave-digger music.

Please Be With Me    Cowboy         

This sadly forgotten band is Steely Dan with magnolia petals, and this song is Duane Allman’s last dance with the living.

Comin’ Home Delaney & Bonnie

It’s about sex.

Take The Highway    The Marshall Tucker Band  Where We All Belong

I bet you thought they were MOR.

Get Off In It    Eddie Hinton Very Extremely Dangerous

An abstract nitrous reverie by a husky, hard-living Muscle Shoals lifer.

I Ain’t The One          Lynyrd Skynyrd        One More From the Road

This song goes impossibly deep into the funk cadences of Southern music, written with the wily swagger of someone who knows how to point the finger at the other guy if that’s what it takes to stay out of trouble.

Glitter Queen Hydra Hydra

Heavy and down south is generally a bad mix. cf. Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, etc. Here heavy makes me happy.

Dixie Rock      Wet Willie      Dixie Rock

A riff that marries “Sweet Home Alabama” and … whoa, “Mystery Train”.

Disc Two:

Crazy  Pylon  Chomp

This is what the mystery and foreboding that I associate with the South sounds like. The perfect song for a band named after a Faulkner novel.

The EMI Song (Smile For Me)         Alex Chilton   Demos

Softly symphonic, transitional, and indicating firmly the ascension of Chilton as his own man.

Stroke It Noel             Big Star           Big Star’s 3rd

Every single song on the three Big Star albums could fit here, but this apocalyptic lay swings a little and lilts a lot.

I Am The Cosmos      Chris Bell        single

The sound of a soul ascending to heaven too soon.

52 Girls           The B-52’s     single

The original 7” version, faster and (hard to believe) more hyperkinetic.

Bangkok         Alex Chilton   single

Rarely is the sound of losing one’s mind so jubilant. Who isn’t happy for this guy?

Big Black Truck          Peter Holsapple Of The H-Bombs   single

Johnny Cash drove Elvis Presley around in this big black truck.

Broken Whiskey Glass          Jason & The Scorchers          Reckless Country Soul EP

According to Mark Kemp, Jason Ringenberg arrived in Nashville the same month I did in 1981. His band was opening for REM four months later. I’d never seen anyone be so creative and so abandoned at the same time. Some folks thought that country-punk was a joke. Wrong.

She Say Yea   The Scruffs    Wanna Meet The Scruffs?     

The first of a long line of “sons of Big Star”, slightly wobbly but still on its feet .

Black And White        The dB’s         Stands For Decibels   

Lyrically and musically, the dB’s were always dueling with themselves on a precipice, risking an off-key harmony or a stale lyric that would have meant instantaneous death. And never so much as here, where they are totally alive.

Money Changes Everything Brains The Brains

Well, here’s a song that never stops making sense.

Feeling Gravity’s Pull            R.E.M.  Fables Of The Reconstruction

It feels like gravity is pulling the band deep into the peat swamp.

Brother           Oh-Ok Wow Mini-Album

Putting a poem by a dead friend to haiku music = the Southern version of Arto Lindsay’s DNA.

My Downfall  Lava Love       Aphrodisia     

If every band has one great song in them, they why don’t more bands have songs like this one?

South Carolina    Archers Of Loaf    single 

“Crawl off the faces/with my nonsense”, this song is a cloud puzzle about struggling to live in South Carolina, which I can understand.

Slack Motherfucker   Superchunk   Superchunk    

Occupy Chapel Hill.

Slowly, Slowly            Magnapop      Hot Boxing     

Bob Mould’s production on this album is like a branding iron. I like that a band can sound like this but not look like they want to beat you up.

Remedy          The Black Crowes      Greatest Hits 1990-1999 - A Tribute to a Work In Progress      

I remember them when they were called Mr. Crow’s Garden and sounded all alterna-jangle. This looks backward even further, not to Skynyrd but to Ooh La La.

Uncle Frank   Drive-By Truckers     Pizza Deliverance 

The TVA. Now there’s a topic you won’t hear about on a Craig Finn record.

Dress Blues    Jason Isbell               

Everything that I think about the Iraq War gets distilled down into this forlorn tune, which could only have been written by someone who knew the family.

Hold On          Alabama Shakes        Alabama Shakes EP  

A juke-joint X-Ray Spex. The real art of Otis-style tension and release.

Whipping Post           The Allman Brothers Band  Live At The Atlanta International Pop Festival July  5 1970

This is it, a black mass of Southern mayhem, a hillbilly apocalypse. Six men who came from mobile homes in the country part of Florida only to bounce all over the U.S. of A on the back of this abstract blues. The most formidable song in the history of rock and roll.