The Southern rock side of the country music space is blessed with some serious stalwart bands that have been around for years mixing Southern harmonies with country twang, and bringing the best of both the country and rock worlds together. Blackberry Smoke, Whiskey Myers, and so many more are helping to keep Southern rock alive, even though just like country, it never seems to receive the radio or media support it deserves.
At the same time, just like with every genre of music, the flux of bands breaking up and legends passing means there’s always room for fresh faces and new perspectives on the music to help keep it vital and relevant. The recent passing of Greg Allman and Butch Trucks, the continued aliments of Gary Rossington and other members of Lynyrd Skynard, and the announcement a few weeks ago that Uncle Lucius is breaking up has made the need for new blood in Southern Rock a pressing issue, and luckily, 2017 has supplied that with some promising new projects, while others who’ve been around for years are taking a bigger step into the spotlight.
Most notably has been the emergence of The Steel Woods. Based in Nashville, and playing behind their Thirty Tigers debut album Straw in the Wind, the band has forged and infectious sound that dedicated fans can’t get enough of, and isn’t being fulfilled by anything similar out there. Parts country and Southern rock, and parts soul and heavy metal, it is inferred by varied influences that are banded together under the term “Southern,” with a dark hue coating their music from both the use of minor chords, and the sometimes Gothic tone of their lyrics.
Formed around singer/guitar player Wes Bayliss, and guitar player Jason “Rowdy” Cope—most noted for collaborating with Jamey Johnson for nearly a decade during the height of Johnson’s power—they form the nucleus of a band that can do Black Sabbath covers in a Southern drawl and drive crowds crazy. The two met at a one-off gig in Nashville, and after a fishing retreat together, decided to give something new a shot. “We decided we were pretty much on the same page and wanted to do our own thing,” says Wes Bayliss. “We had an idea and a vision.”
Now a four piece, they’ve been receiving massive touring opportunities, have played the Grand Ole Opry stage, and soon will be opening for Miranda Lambert on her upcoming tour. As Straw in the Wind continues to receive positive reception by Southern rock fans, the most interesting thing to ponder is where this band could be headed. Though there is no a shortage of Southern rock bands, few have the edge and darkness The Steel Woods bring to the table, or are receiving such major opportunities so early in their arc.
A band that’s been around for quite a bit longer, but is finally getting their due thanks to some big opportunities is The Scooter Brown Band. Originally formed in 2005 in the Houston area, they didn’t release a proper album until 2009, but have since become part of the Southern rock side of the Texas music scene. Formed behind former United State Marine Scott Brown, the Southern sounds and classic Southern rock modes are thick with this band, including a chorus of backup singers to give that Gospel tinge to their new record American Son. Having Southern rock legend Charlie Daniels sing on their recent single also gives The Scooter Brown Band some additional credence in the Southern Rock sphere.
After meandering along mostly in the Texas music scene and around Houston for years, The Scooter Brown Band was signed to the big Nashville booking agency APA in 2016. American Son was released in collaboration with Red River, BFD, and Sony Orchard, giving the band a much bigger stage and audience than they’ve had before. “This album sets the tone for what fans can expect from us on the road and on their radios. True country and southern rock music, what we were born and raised on,” says Scooter Brown. The band has recently been on tour opening for Charlie Daniels, Travis Tritt, and Southern rock staples The Marshall Tucker Band.
Ashley McBryde is another artist that is emerging with a decidedly Southern rock sound, and causing quite the conversation in the mainstream. Recently signed to Warner Music Nashville, her hard-edged country rock style and sleeves of tattoos is not exactly what you expect for Music Row to bite on. But it’s a couple of slower acoustic songs in “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” and “A Little Dive Bar in Dahonega” that have won her the industry’s attention. Perhaps it’s Ashley McBryde and a grassroots, Southern rock following that will finally put a female over the top in the mainstream. Perhaps McBryde is just enough for an “outside the box” artist to bust through the moratorium on women.
And along with bands and artists that are making big waves on major tours and on the edges of the mainstream, there are also a host of other up-and-coming Southern rock bands with great songs begging to be heard—bands like The Plott Hounds, who released a new album Lost Summer Day earlier this summer. Front man and singer Noah Alexander is originally from Georgia, but the outfit is actually based out of the small blue collar town of Anoka, Minnesota. It speaks to how the music may be called “Southern,” but the appeal and practice of it spans across the United States, including in the Midwest, which has become a touring haven and hotbed of appeal for Southern rock.
Completely independent, The Plott Hounds have played some 400 shows regionally throughout the Midwest, including sharing the stage with bands such as The Band of Heathens, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, and William Michael Morgan. “Some call us Southern Rock, plenty call us country,” says frontman Noah Alexander. “I’m not so sure we fit into some neat box that defines a genre but I think we write and perform music that connects with people.”
Like so many bands such as Lexington, KY’s Nick Dittmeier & The Sawdusters, or songwriters like Knoxville, TN’s Matt Woods, sometimes “Southern rock” is not the perfect describer of the music, but it is better than anything else to explain mixing the influences of country and rock together, and doing so in a way that is not derivative of the two genres, but respectful of them.
There are many more bands that could be characterized as both Southern rock and up-and-coming, and it speaks to how that sector of the greater country music panorama is on sure footing moving forward for keeping the roots of the music alive, and the ears of Southern rock fans happy for years to come.