Forget Freebird – there’s way more to Southern Rock than Lynyrd Skynyrd’s triple-guitar masterpiece. Which is why we’ve asked Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Johnny Van Zant – a man who gets to holler out that song onstage every night – to pick the best Southern Rock songs you don’t hear on the radio.
So heeeeere’s Johnny…
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1. Black Oak Arkansas – Jim Dandy (1973)
This was an old rhythm and blues number about a hero who saves women – “Jim Dandy to the rescue!” – but Black Oak Arkansas made it into a Southern rock song. These guys played heavy, yet they still had that roosty, bluesy thing too. And of course their singer was also named Jim Dandy. He was a real character and I betcha David Lee Roth was a fan.
2. Wet Willie – Keep On Smilin’ (1973)
Wet Willie had a sound that’s kind of hard to describe. It had a Southern rock feel to it, but there was also a lot of jazz and blues in there, and Jimmy Hall was a really underrated singer. Keep On Smilin’ was one of their big hits, although these days, not a whole lot of people even remember it. I’d recommend the live version – it’s got a little more soul to it.
3. Marshall Tucker Band – Fire On The Mountain (1975)
The first time I saw these guys play live, I thought, ‘Wow, this is really unique.’ They were like a freakin’ jazz blues country thing. There was even some flute playing going on. Fire On The Mountain is an awesome song and Doug Gray just sings the crap out of it. Marshall Tucker Band were always very cool – and they still are.
4. The Amazing Rhythm Aces – Third Rate Romance (1975)
I don’t know a whole lot about the band, but I always loved the chorus in this song: ‘Third rate romance/Low rent rendezvous.’ It had a really cool kind of country feel. A lot of the old Southern rock bands, if they came out today, would be considered country. Likewise, you’ve got country stars now like Jason Aldean, who’s basically just a Southern rock guy.
5. Ram Jam – Black Betty (1977)
Black Betty was based on an old American folk song. The band wasn’t from the South, but to me they sounded Southern, and I just dug everything about this song – the riff and the beat and the whole vibe of it. I had this on a seven-inch single back in the day and I played the shit out of it.
6. Atlanta Rhythm Section – Champagne Jam (1978)
They were from Doraville, Georgia, a real happening place, and back in the 70s, they really had it going on. Champagne Jam is one of the coolest songs from that era. Their singer, Ronnie Hammond, was a good Southern man and had such a unique voice. It’s such a shame he’s gone now.
7. Henry Paul Band – Grey Ghost (1979)
Henry Paul is a truly unique singer. Grey Ghost is a beautiful song and was dedicated to my brother Ronnie. Everybody always looked to Ronnie as being like a Confederate general – the Grey Ghost. I thought it was a great tribute, and when my band toured with Henry’s, hearing this song always brought back some good memories.
8. Gregg Allman – I’m No Angel (1986)
Gregg Allman also put out some awesome solo albums in his career. I’m No Angel was a great record and the title track is the best song on it. I remember as a young guy going to this place in Jacksonville, a bring-your-own-bottle club. And the Allman band would play there. Gregg Allman just thrilled me with that voice. And he still does to this day – he’s one of a kind.
9. Georgia Satellites – Keep Your Hands To Yourself (1986)
When I saw the video for this song on MTV, I said, ‘Wow, that’s cool – they’re playing a Southern band.’ The Georgia Satellites just had this attitude. The singer, Dan Baird, and the guitar player, Rick Richards, were so cool. And when I listen to this song, it kind of reminds me of Down South Jukin’ by Skynyrd.
10. Gov’t Mule – Bad Little Doggie (2000)
Gov’t Mule is like the Allman Brothers meets… God, I don’t know what! But their song Bad Little Doggie has a really cool Southern rock feel. Warren Haynes is a great guitar player. He can play anything. Skynyrd did some shows with the Allmans in 2012, and watching Warren play every night was such a pleasure. I just love what he does.
This article originally appeared in Classic Rock #181