Forty years ago today, Lynyrd Skynyrd released their second album titled Second Helping. The effort contained what has become the quintessential Southern rock anthem, Sweet Home Alabama. Skynyrd, along with Georgia’s The Allman Brothers Band, Tennessee’s Charlie Daniels Band, and South Carolina’s Marshall Tucker Band, were part of a Southern music revival in the 1970s. Being Southern was chic. Everyone wanted to say “ya’ll” and cowboy hats, boots, and blue jeans were a fad. Even the Confederate Flag was cool (see the video below shot in Oakland, CA in 1977). The South had risen again, at least for a time, and the region experienced a revival after being beaten down and demonized by the media during the Civil Rights era.
Richard Nixon tapped the South in sweeping to victory in 1972, and Jimmy Carter, a Southern peanut farmer, brought a Southerner to the executive office in 1976 for the first time since Woodrow Wilson in 1919. The South seemed important, both politically and culturally. It wouldn’t last. By the end of the 1970s, half of Skynyrd was dead and there were fractures in the other popular Southern bands. Ronald Reagan capitalized on Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” and Southerners still had hope that the South and the Southern tradition would continue to flourish, as evidenced by the Southern manifesto Why the South Will Survive published in 1983 and edited by Clyde Wilson.
Unfortunately, the cultural zenith that Southern rock represented began to fade quickly with political correctness and the commercialism of the 1980s. By the 1990s, fewer young people of the South were attracted to its beautiful tradition and rich history. Their minds had been warped by the modern educational establishment. Southerners became caricatures of the former giants of their region, reduced to nothing more than stupid, racist hayseeds who married their cousin and sipped moonshine. They were the only approved punchline to every politically correct joke. Yet, hearing Sweet Home Alabama, and for that matter every great Southern rock album of the 1970s, brings the South back to its rightful place in Americana. Here’s to forty years of Southern pride and to the revitalization of the Southern tradition.