Why Southern Rock Is Exploding Worldwide
Black Stone Cherry's John Fred Young salutes Southern Rock and chooses his ultimate Southern Rock playlist
Black Stone Cherry aren’t your average rock ‘n’ roll band. We’ve had trouble getting on the radio in America because the US is dominated by rock radio and you have to have a certain formula and sound to get played. We’ve never had that. But I think people enjoy coming to see us play live because it’s in their soul to hear roots music.
We obviously grew up in Kentucky around country, blues and blue grass music, and that stuff resonates and creates Southern rock. I don’t think you necessarily have to be from the South to play Southern rock though; Creedence Clearwater Revival were from California and Mountain were from New York, and I’d absolutely classify them as two great American Southern rock bands.
I think what Southern rock music does all over the world is it resonates a genuine cult lifestyle of happiness and freedom, and there’s such a huge biker culture within Southern rock. We used to play these Easy Rider bike rodeos when we were about 18 years old and we’d open for my dad’s band The Kentucky Headhunters, where we’d play like four hour sets of covers and originals. No matter what State we were in I found that biker culture was all about freedom, and it didn’t matter where you came from, what your ethnic background was, or how much money you had.
It’s funny because when we started out we didn’t want to be considered a Southern rock band. We thought we’d never make it if we labelled ourselves Southern rock, but often the thing you try hardest not to be is just something that you can’t escape. And thank god we didn’t, because that’s who we are and I’m proud of it. I think we all go through that, but then we come around later in life and we realise that it’s in our blood and it’s what’s taken care of us all along.
If I had to sum up what Southern rock means, I’d say it’s a spiritual way of living life through music. It’s kind of a slower way of living. All those musicians who got together in the late sixties and early seventies weren’t trying to be cool. They weren’t trying to impress anybody on Instagram. They were growing their hair out long and everybody was trying to beat them up, and it was just this hippie movement of cats that wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll. I remember my dad telling me that if you had long hair in the South during the sixties then people wanted to kill you, man. He’d be playing in some of the roughest bars in the world, but once the band started up people would go, “Shit, they’re badass.”
You can’t just decide one day, “I’m gonna play Southern rock.” You can decide to be in a punk or a metal band, but with Southern rock you have to really live through that culture. It’s a mindset. It’s so hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, but it’s so much more than people think it is. It’s a hard lifestyle, man. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but in 2006 when we came out we were the only young band playing music that came from the roots of Southern rock. We couldn’t get on the radio anywhere. So we built our career from playing live.
Now we’re starting to see lots of bands that are really pushing the Southern rock movement, alongside blues and outlaw country music, and it’s really great to see. Ten years ago there was nobody in America doing that. It was just total radio rock. Nowadays you’ve got Blackberry Smoke, who are a great band that we go way back with, and The Cadillac Three from Nashville, who are also kicking ass right now too. I’m seeing these bands popping up all over the place, and from different countries too, like Sweden, England and Germany. I feel like Southern rock is coming to the forefront of rock music again, and if we’ve had anything to do with that by maybe kicking the doors open a little bit then I can die a happy man.
Being influenced by our forefathers and knowing that we’ve helped in some way to keep that ember growing for other bands is a huge cause, much more important than winning a Grammy or being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It’s impossible for me to pick my top ten Southern rock songs because there’s just too many to choose from, but here's an essential playlist to get you started...
John Fred Young was talking to Matt Stocks
Black Stone Cherry and the Kentucky Headhunters will both be gracing the Ramblin Man Fair over the weekend of July 23/24. For more info on the festival, go here.