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Southern rock lives at Grammy Museum...

Southern rock lives at Grammy Museum Mississippi exhibit

By: Jim Beaugez - June 12, 2024

  • ‘The Sounds of Southern Rock,’ an exhibit celebrating the genre’s influence and longevity, runs through August 5.

Let’s get one thing out of the way — all rock and roll is technically “Southern rock.”

Despite the popularity of the British Invasion and the legions of artists swept into the rock and roll movement by the Los Angeles-based music industry, the genre actually evolved in juke joints across the Southern United States, and especially in Mississippi.

But leaving academics to academia, Southern rock as the musical genre we know today started when the Allman Brothers Band began blending blues standards with elements of jazz and country music in a house located in the Riverside neighborhood of Jacksonville, Fla., in 1969.

And that’s exactly where “The Sounds of Southern Rock,” a current exhibition at the Grammy Museum Mississippi in Cleveland, Miss. begins its narrative. To date, more than 40,000 visitors have perused the collection of memorabilia and artifacts that tell the story of the genre’s evolution over the past five decades.

Bob Santelli, the founding director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, curated the artifacts for the exhibit, which will remain open through August 5, from personal collections, artist estates and collections like Hard Rock International and The Big House, a museum based on the Allman Brothers Band located in the Macon home that served as the band’s home base during the early 1970s.

“From talking to visitors and getting their feedback, we learned that so many people who visit the museum love Southern rock,” says Emily Havens, executive director of the Grammy Museum Mississippi. “A lot of our visitors were fans at the time the genre evolved.”

Legendary members of the Allman Brothers Band like guitarist Duane Allman loom large in the exhibit. Visitors can see the Gibson Les Paul guitar he played and a leather jacket he wore during the band’s rise to fame. Tragically, Duane died in a motorcycle crash not far from the Big House just three months after their classic statement, the live double album At Fillmore East, made them stars. 

In the year prior to his death, Duane played on the Allmans’ Idlewild South and also collaborated with Eric Claption on his Derek and the Dominoes project, playing the siren-esque slide-guitar hook in “Layla” and lending his talents throughout that group’s sole album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Other pieces related to the band included road cases for drummer Jaimoe, a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as pictured on the cover art for At Fillmore East.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, the other major pillar of Southern rock, coincidentally also formed in Jacksonville, gets plenty of time in the spotlight, as well. The collection features guitars, a cowboy hat and boots owned by Ed King — the main architect of classic songs “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Saturday Night Special” and “Swamp Music” — as well as artwork created by drummer Artimus Pyle and stage clothes worn by bassist Leon Wilkeson and guitarist Gary Rossington. Rickey Medlocke of Blackfoot and Hughie Thomasson of The Outlaws, both of whom played with Lynyrd Skynyrd at various points, also have memorabilia on display.

“There are some incredible pieces,” Havens says. “Duane [Allman]’s guitar that his daughter loaned us is probably one of my favorites. And then I love the contemporary bands in the exhibit like Widespread Panic and Drive-By Truckers. I think there’s something for anyone who loves rock in the exhibit.” 

Drive-By Truckers have had a long association with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s original 1970s run, specifically from their 2001 double-album Southern Rock Opera, which loosely follows the saga of the band up to the plane crash near Gillsburg, Miss., in 1977 that killed members Ronnie Van Zandt and Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines, road manager Dean Kilpatrick, and the pilot and co-pilot.

The exhibit includes a 1994 Seagull acoustic guitar DBT co-frontman Patterson Hood used in that era during which the band was writing and recording SRO. The band is currently celebrating the album on a belated 20th anniversary tour running through November 2024.

Other popular pieces include guitars played Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Steve Morse of the Dixie Dregs, instruments played Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, stage outfits worn by the Charlie Daniels Band, and additional memorabilia from Little Feat, Molly Hatchet, and 38 Special.

“The first generation of Southern rock bands influenced today’s jam bands, and it’s just continued to grow,” Havens says. “The genre has evolved into what it is today, and people still love it and appreciate it. And I think there’s even a younger following, maybe from their parents or grandparents even, that enjoy Southern rock, too.”

About the Author(s)
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Jim Beaugez

Jim Beaugez has written about traditional and contemporary American music and culture for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Oxford American, Garden & Gun and other media outlets. He has also contributed to the Grammy Awards and created and produced “My Life in Five Riffs,” a documentary series for Guitar Player that traces musicians back to their sources of inspiration.