Black Oak Arkansas – High on the Hog (1973)

BlackOakArkansas_HighHog3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Formed in 1969, Black Oak Arkansas was a down ‘n’ dirty Southern Rock group from (yes, you guessed it) Black Oak, Arkansas, that enjoyed some marginal success in the first half of the ’70s, due in large part to the wild stage presence of the group’s wacky-sounding lead singer Jim Dandy Mangrum wielding his equally wacky washboard. Indeed, Mangrum was the “David Lee Roth” of rock ‘n’ roll before the actual David Lee Roth showed up years later to mimic him, and in those early days of the band’s career, Black Oak Arkansas quickly gained a reputation for putting on one hell of a live show. The band’s triple-six-string assault, along with its countrified Blues Rock repertoire, seemed almost a precursor to the future appearance of Southern stalwarts Lynyrd Skynyrd, only with a crazy form of gusto, thanks to Mangrum’s odd twang-riddled crooning and rollicking stage antics.

Although I find many of the band’s albums occasionally spotty regarding songwriting and overall production quality, High on the Hog, the group’s fourth studio release, seems to me one of its most successful efforts. Best known for the rousing single “Jim Dandy,” a boogie-rock ditty that garnered major radio airplay across America, High on the Hog also included fun tracks such as “Movin’,” “Why Shouldn’t I Smile,” “Red Hot Lovin’,” “Swimmin’ in Quicksand,” and “Mad Man,” which offered raw and rampaging frolic flavored with either back-country slide and steel guitars or hillbilly banjos. The album also included a spirited triple-guitar-featured instrumental named “Moonshine Sonata,” acoustic swampland singalongs in the form of “Back to the Land” and “High ‘n’ Dry,” along with some good, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll sleeze courtesy of “Happy Hooker.” Overall, I felt this a fairly consistent and catchy collection of tunes, which favorably mirrored the band’s stage shows when it came to offering diverse and energetic material.

Granted, I was never a die-hard fan of the group due to Mangrum’s vocal quirks, which I could tolerate in only marginal doses—depending, of course, on the amount of hooch I’d consumed. Nevertheless, I still periodically revisit some of Black Oak Arkansas’s early albums, including High on the Hog, and typically enjoy the spirited guitar interplay and especially loving the presence of future “superstar” drummer Tommy Aldridge, who’s solidly thumping away on just about every track.

Go, Jim Dandy, go…

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38 Special – Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (1981)

38Special_WildEyed3.5 out of 5 Stars!

I could never deny that, though it wasn’t one of my “regularly played” bands, 38 Special did indeed have something “special” when it came to its overall approach.

Not quite Southern Rock, not quite Hard Rock, not quite AOR, this band from Jacksonville, Florida somehow managed to successfully merge these genres into its music with fairly equal doses, generally making for some catchy material.

And with the legendary Jim Peterick (Survivor/Ides of March/Pride of Lions) co-writing some of the band’s biggest hits and most memorable tracks, 38 Special usually came off to me as a “southernized” version of Survivor.

Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, the band’s fourth release, is a perfect example of this “genre-merging.” With the classic hit singles “Hold On Loosely” and “Fantasy Girl” included, as well as other radio-friendly and occasionally countrified Hard Rock ditties such as “Back Alley Sally,” “Throw Out the Line,” “First Time Around,” “Hittin’ and Runnin’,” and the Sweet-Home-Alabama-like “Honky Tonk Dancer” occupying space within the platter’s grooves, this is the album I usually found the most enjoyable from the early days of the group’s existence.

As mentioned previously, 38 Special wasn’t a band I listened to on a consistent basis through the years, but when I’m in the mood for some catchy and lighter material of an upbeat nature, Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (as well as several other platters from the band’s catalogue) will occasionally suffice.

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The Allman Brothers Band – The Allman Brothers Band (1969)

Allman_Allman5 out of 5 Stars!

It’s rare when a band barrels out of the gate with a debut album that not only includes a wealth of stunning material, but also has such a unique sound/style as to create its very own musical genre, but that is exactly what The Allman Brothers Band did back in 1969. This collection of tunes, this magnum opus of Southern Rock, created a standard/mainstream musical genre for decades to come and put this band on the road to deserving stardom. It certainly remains one of my all-time favorites in the genre, and the performances by all involved are nothing short of brilliant and breathtaking.

Side A, from start to finish, is sheer and utter perfection. The upbeat guitar-driven instrumental “Don’t Want You No More” showcased the dual-guitar action of Duane Allman and Richard “Dickey” Betts, then ushered in “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” a slow bluesy track that introduced to an unsuspecting public the gruff and gritty power of Gregg Allman’s voice atop a Hammond organ backdrop. “Black Hearted Woman” and “Trouble No More” offered more engaging Southern-tinged Hard Rock, and with the formidable rhythm section of bassist Berry Oakley and twin-percussionists Jai Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks never letting up for a moment, helped to make these two foot-tappin’ tracks instant epitomes of the genre.

Side B is just as stunning, from the riff-laden opener “Every Hungry Woman,” through to Gregg Allman’s signature Hammond-lush semi-ballad “Dreams” with its mesmerizing guitar solo, and finally to the album’s explosive climax, “Whipping Post,” where each band member gives the performance of his life to make this tune (and the aforementioned “Dreams”) one of the band’s concert staples for its entire existence. Talk about a classic track!

As I said earlier, the album is nothing short of a masterpiece. Yet, despite this lofty designation on my part, I do grudgingly admit, I find one minor flaw—the album contains only seven songs, where I would have wished for many more. But I suppose any additional tunes might have screwed up the flawless sequencing of the tracks and destroyed this ne plus ultra in Southern Rock, so I have never grumbled too much about not getting my wish. And thankfully, Idlewild South, the band’s impressive follow-up, arrived about ten months later and came damned close in matching the debut’s unquestionable vigor and long-lasting influence on the music industry and in the minds of the fans, including myself.

Although many of the skillful artists performing on this album are no longer with us, leaving the world way too young, they gifted us with a treasure trove of musical riches by which to remember them for generation after generation. May Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, and most recently Gregory LeNoir Allman rest in peace…and thank you, guys, for leaving behind such a timeless musical legacy.

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Hydra – Hydra (1974)

Hydra_14 out of 5 Stars!

I love this sinfully obscure and melodic Hard Rock band from Atlanta, Georgia, which added strong Southern Rock influences and also a touch of Funk/Soul to its overall sound on each of its three studio albums.

Regarding the band’s style, Hydra often seemed to me like an Americanized version of Trapeze, even going so far as to feature a vocalist named Wayne Bruce, who possessed a similar tone, vibrato, and manner of delivery as the mighty Glenn Hughes, although without the ultra-high vocal range.

Also, on this debut album as well as the follow-up release Land of Money, the band included Orville Davis on bass guitar, who would eventually go on to join Starz, another one of my favorite—and underappreciated—Hard Rock bands from the ’70s.

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Ram Jam – Ram Jam (1977)

RamJam_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

Ram Jam is a generally forgotten band with a strong underlying Southern Rock influence…odd, especially since the band originated in New York City, about as far away from Dixieland in sight and sound and style as one can get.

Regardless, I had purchased the band’s debut album when it originally came out in ’77, thanks to the fun hit single “Black Betty,” but throughout the past decades had forgotten much of the album’s remaining content. After listening to the album recently, however, I realized just how underrated the album (and band) truly was, with both Southern Rock and Blues Rock (Boogie Rock) influences shining through.

Now, in retrospect, this album seems almost a merging of groups such as heavier versions of Rolling Stones with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Foghat, along with the style of more modern acts such as The Black Crowes and The Quireboys rounding out the overall sound.

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The Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1992)

BlackCrowes_SouthernHarmony4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in the early ’90s, several bands with a classic “retro sound” started popping up on the scene—The Quireboys sounded like Faces, The Front brought to mind The Doors, whereas The Black Crowes seemed to mimic The Rolling Stones most often, delivering straightforward Blues Rock with more than a hint of Southern Rock influences and even Gospel.

The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, the band’s sophomore release, remains one of my favorites, especially with catchy and spirited tracks such as “Sting Me,” “Hotel Illness,” “My Morning Song,” “Black Moon Creeping,” and “Remedy” creating foot-stomping madness among a handful of down-tempo, bad-ass tunes, including “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye,” “Sometimes Salvation,” and the wonderful “Thorn in my Pride” (a song that left a lasting impression on me and rates fairly high on my list of The Black Crowes best all-time tracks).

Retro Rock Lives!

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Rossington Collins Band – Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere (1980)

RossingtonCollins_Anytime4 out of 5 Stars!

After the horrible tragedy in 1977 that tore the band apart, Lynyrd Skynyrd not only returned to the music scene several years later, but did so (and shocked more than a few fans in the process) with a revamped band led by a female singer. I read interviews with Skynyrd’s surviving band members at the time saying that, in respect to Ronnie Van Zant (Skynyrd’s deceased former frontman), Rossington Collins Band didn’t want to step on the exact same musical territory as covered by Skynyrd, wanting to avoid direct comparisons, and selecting a female to front the group helped to achieve that goal.

Of course, the new outfit played a style similar to Skynyrd’s in many ways, but with Dale Krantz (later Dale Krantz Rossington) fronting the band, the group opened itself to a potentially updated fan base as well (and sadly, perhaps a bit of scorn from old Skynyrd fans, too).

Regardless, RCB proved to be a decent group on its debut album Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere (displaying an appropriate “phoenix rising from the ashes” cover), gained some radio play with the catchy single “Don’t Misunderstand Me,” and Dale proved herself an enjoyable and highly capable vocalist. With a deep, sometimes-gruff voice, more than a tad masculine sounding, she was often compared to Janis Joplin, especially on tracks such as “Three Times as Bad,” “One Good Man,” “Prime Time,” “Sometimes You Can Put It Out,” and “Getaway.”

Now, whether it’s a fair comparison or not is up to the listener, but I loved her voice and manner of delivery quite a bit, and because of her, I even followed the later band Rossington, which was more AOR oriented than the Southern Rock leanings of Rossington Collins Band.

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Stillwater – Stillwater (1977)

Stillwater_14 out of 5 Stars!

From Georgia, Stillwater released its debut album back in 1977 and instantly showed great promise, especially due to the catchiness of the hard-rockin’ material and the excellent fretwork on tracks such as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Loser,” “Out on a Limb,” “Fantasy Park,” “Universal Fool,” and the excellent “Mindbender,” with its “talk box” chorus, that actually made a minor dent in the single’s charts.

On the majority of these songs, with Stillwater’s triple guitar team front and center over some light electric piano, organ, or synth accompaniment, the group sounded similar in many respects to James Gang (Tommy Bolin-era), REO Speedwagon, or Peter Frampton’s solo material with more than a touch of Southern Rock added to the overall style, but a commercialized, sparser version of the latter, similar to groups such as 38 Special or Hydra. But when it came to songs “fully drenched in Southern charm” in the tradition of The Allman Brothers Band or Lynryd Skynyrd, look no further than “Sunshine Blues” and the blazing slide guitar extravaganza “Sam’s Jam,” where the lengthy end section seems almost a tribute to “Free Bird.”

After only two albums, however, Stillwater disappeared, only to pop up again several decades later with a slightly revised lineup to release an additional album (less “Southern” overall) to little fanfare. Sadly, the band remains horribly obscure.

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Blackfoot – Siogo (1983)

Blackfoot_Siogo3.5 out of 5 Stars!

With this album, Florida’s Blackfoot basically abandoned much of its previous head-bangin’ Southern Rock tendencies as displayed so expertly on the previous year’s Highway Song Live, and concentrated instead on a more commercial-friendly Hard Rock sound, going so far as to recruit the fantastic keyboardist Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep) as its fifth member.

Now, despite the slight change in direction, Siogo ended up being my favorite Blackfoot album, mainly due to Hensley’s presence, although I still contend that his talent was generally wasted in this band. Apart from several song introductions, such as the album opener “Send Me an Angel,” much of his keyboard contributions are unfortunately relegated to the background, barely audible. I mean, why recruit a keyboardist with Hensley’s enormous expertise and signature Hammond B-3 sound and not actually give him more of a spotlight? It’s a question that has always bugged the heck out of me.

Nevertheless, with spirited and catchy tracks on offer such as the aforementioned “Send Me an Angel,” as well as “We’re Goin’ Down,” “Drivin’ Fool,” “Teenage Idol,” “White Man’s Land,” “Goin’ in Circles,” a cover of Nazareth’s “Heart’s Grown Cold,” and the excellent “Crossfire,” Siogo is still an enjoyable album overall. And I have to add, whether this comparison is fair or not, that with the band’s new keyboard-enhanced, more-commercialized style, coupled with powerhouse singer Ricky Medlocke sounding like a slightly less gruff version of Graham Bonnet, I felt the music on Siogo (especially on tracks like “Goin’ in Circles”) wasn’t too far afield from Rainbow’s cover of “Since You’ve Been Gone” or several other tunes on the latter’s Down to Earth album. As I said, it may not be a fair juxtaposition, but from the moment I first heard Siogo back in 1983, that musical parallel immediately sprang to mind and I have been unable to dismiss it.

Regardless, Siogo held the promise for better things to come for the band, but unfortunately, the even more commercialized subsequent album, Vertical Smiles, proved a major disappointment for many fans like myself. Therefore, it came as no surprise to learn that Hensley left the group shortly afterward. And the album’s misstep also sadly ended Blackfoot’s momentum, with the group never fully recovering, releasing only sporadic recordings from that point onward, and nothing that would equal past glories. A shame.

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Sass Jordan – Racine (1992)

SassJordan_Racine4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Sass Jordan…who, you might ask?

Plainly and simply, Sass is a female version of Rod Stewart, especially on this particular album, a down-and-dirty collection of Blues Rock tracks in the same realm as Faces. Indeed, on the final track “Time Flies,” Sass even sardonically utters the ad-libbed lyrics “Miss Judy…you’re so rude,” thus giving a firm nod to the track “Miss Judy’s Farm” from Faces’s classic A Nod Is as Good as a Wink album.

Regardless, the tracks “You Don’t Have to Remind Me,” the aforementioned “Time Flies,” “Make You a Believer,” “If You’re Gonna Love Me,” and “Cry Baby” are only a handful of the highlights…indeed, each of the eleven tracks is a gem in its own right.

Therefore, for fans of Faces-style rock with some Rod Stewart/Janis Joplin-inspired vocals along with a healthy dose of Kim Carnes, Joanna Dean, and Alannah Myles, grab a copy of this now! This Canadian singer is an undiscovered gem of a vocalist.

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