10 Bands That Owe Lynyrd Skynyrd a Round
Lynyrd Skynyrd famously stuck a musical middle finger in the general direction of Neil Young on ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ proclaiming, "A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow." Well, this list is about all the bands that have needed Skynyrd around. In one way or another, every indie, alt-rock and alt-country act on this inventory has been influenced by the Southern Rock kings. We'd suggest these bands buy Skynyrd a round, but given how many members have died since the '70s, they might be better off buying a bottle of whiskey and emptying its contents on a curb in tribute. Either way, here's to you, Skynyrd.
The '90s were good to Blues Traveler -- things just seemed to fall into place, time and time again. A "proto" jam band, BT scored big with albums like ‘Save His Soul’ and ‘Four,' nabbing a handful of radio hits. Assigning John Popper and co. a single genre tag is difficult, but Southern Rock-tinged songs like ‘The Mountains Win Again’ and ‘Letter From a Friend’ smack of Skynyrd’s lighter FM fare. And just as Skynyrd's pre-crash lineup (which we’re talking about in all of these blurbs, by the way) never quite recovered from that 1977 tragedy, the death of a key member seems to have sent Blues Traveler into a tailspin. Since bassist and songwriter Bobby Sheehan died in 1999, they haven't climbed to the same commercial heights.
Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell is one of those songwriters who has really found his sweet spot by honoring the gods of Southern Rock. Especially on the band's first two albums, ‘Everything All the Time' and 'Cease to Begin,' which we think of collectively, as a double album. On those discs, we hear strains of Skynyrd, CSNY and America (who basically were just Neil Young ripoffs, but we still love ‘em).
If your band comprises the sons of rock legend Jim Dickinson -- who played piano on the Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’ and produced Big Star’s ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ album, among other feats of greatness -- it’s off to a pretty good start. The North Mississippi Allstars, who’ve been releasing albums since the dawn of the millennium, produce tunes that harks back to Skynyrd’s glory days. Although the Allstars have really never found mainstream radio success, their place in the modern Southern Rock canon is undeniable. Skynyrd helped make them possible.
Whenever we get a chance to give ink to crazily underrated Great White Northern rocker Matt Mays, we do. Mays’ musical muse is surprisingly more American than Canadian in origin -- at least to our ears -- with strains of Skynyrd, Tom Petty and the best of the blues. Sure, there’s a bit of countryman Neil Young in there, too, but we hear that Southern vibe the loudest. We’d suggest cracking ‘Matt Mays & El Torpedo’ first; Canada already ate it up -- now it’s your chance.
Lynyrd Skynyrd made it cool to write songs about being a hard-living (yet humbled) Southern man -- and Uncle Tupelo rewired that concept on their first two groundbreaking alt-country records, ‘No Depression’ and ‘Still Feel Gone.' Songs like ‘Whiskey Bottle,’ ‘Black Eye,’ ‘Graveyard Shift,’ ‘Punch Drunk,’ and ‘Looking for a Way Out’ have a direct bloodline to Skynyrd in their stark realism and ragged glory.
A lot of great (outlaw) country-rock story songs have been written over the years. We always thought Skynyrd’s ‘Gimme Three Steps’ was one of the best, telling the tale of a guy who makes the mistake of dancing with another guy’s girl at a ‘Road House’-style bar and ends up with a gun pointed at him. (The "three steps" in the song title are his exit strategy.) This type of multifaceted tune is something Steve Earle -- who drinks at the font of the Skynyrds, Merles, Bosses and Townes of world -- has excelled at over the years. Sound-wise, Earle is very much all over the place, but when he rocks hard (like on ‘Another Town,’ off of ‘Transcendental Blues,’ for example), you can hear strains of Skynyrd. You will not, however, find Earle praying to same god or voting for the same president.
Crank up 2011’s ‘American Goldwing’ and tell us what influences you hear. If Lynyrd Skynyrd isn’t the first or second name you spit out, we’d suggest getting your ears checked. Or going back and getting your GED at Rock 'n' Roll High School. Blitzen Trapper is one of those bands -- like Skynyrd -- best discovered in a car, winding down a mountain road; and there are quite a few BT albums to choose from -- six in all. That’s six reasons to turn on, tune in and drop out.
John McCauley is the golden-toothed madman in front of Deer Tick (who totally rocked Mountain Jam 2013, by the way). A slightly bonkers, hard-living frontman is something every good Southern rock band needs (i.e. its own Ronnie Van Zant). When the Tick rock hard, you can hear that Lynyrd Skynyrd influence, as the liquor-cabinet doors swinging open again and again. See: ‘Let’s All Go to the Bar.’ We’d also suggest taking a gander at McCauley’s side-project, Middle Brother, featuring members of Dawes and Delta Spirit, which took home our "tastiest" indie riff prize.
We were listening to Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’ on our car radio the other day and realized that Jason Isbell’s ‘Outfit’ is basically an amazing reworking of the classic track. Sure, Skynyrd’s version is from the point of view of a Southern momma, while Isbell’s is a poppa -- but it’s one of those "This is what you need to do to be a good Southern boy" road maps that started with LS. It also doesn’t hurt that Isbell was a card-carrying member of list-mates the Drive-By Truckers (see next entry).
Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers may be the best Southern Rock band since Lynyrd Skynyrd. The twin-gun fire from co-songwriters Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood (whose father, David, was a member of the Swampers, mentioned in Skynyrd’s best-known track, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’) is far hotter than that of the average Southern Rock band. And with tour-de-force albums like ‘Decoration Day’ and ‘Southern Rock Opera,’ which is loosely based on Skynyrd lore, it’s hard not to see the influence.