Southern Rock’s Family Values

As Hank Williams, Jr. says, “It’s a family tradition.”

The hallowed names of Southern Rock, Allman and Van Zant, didn’t just start bands, they started dynasties. Lacy and Marion Van Zant’s “My Three Sons” were Ronnie, Johnny, and Donnie. Ronnie started Lynyrd Skynyrd, and, as we all know, perished in the 1977 plane crash that took the lives of five others. Johnny fronted his own band before taking Skynyrd back on the road in 1987 and staying through the ongoing farewell tour. And before Donnie had to retire in 2013, he formed and led .38 Special.

Lacy Van Zant was a long-haul trucker and his sons’ bands applied that blue-collar work ethic to rock 'n' roll. Before Donnie was even old enough to drive legally, Lacy had taught him how to back up a trailer. Ronnie made his Skynyrd band mates practice every day in an un-air-conditioned house until they dropped. He was doing the same with Molly Hatchet in preparation for their first album, but died before he could complete the job of producing it. Johnny has busted it on the road for forty years.

Now the Allman and Van Zant kids, grandkids and cousins are getting into
the act.

Check your favorite streaming service for “Freebird Child,” the song in which Tammy Van Zant addresses the loss of her father, Ronnie. Just ten years old at the time, she was, like Hank, Jr. in “Family Tradition,” trying to address the legacy of a famous father she hardly got a chance to know.

Galadrielle Allman has no memories at all of her father, Duane, who was killed in a motorcycle wreck when she was just two years old. Setting out in search of her father, she chronicled the journey in a book, Please Be with Me. Part biography and part memoir, it was a hard story to write because Duane Allman had evicted Galadrielle’s mother from the band’s communal home to take up with another woman. Check out Galadrielle’s story.

When Dickey Betts did his “comeback” concert in Macon (where else?) earlier this year, it was his first time on stage in four years. The show was opened by the Devon Allman Project, fronted by Gregg’s son, and they were joined by Dickey’s son, Duane. Making a special guest appearance was the truly legendary Bonnie Bramlett of Delaney & Bonnie. Briefly, back in the Seventies, Bonnie had sung with the Allman Brothers Band, and, among her guests on-stage at Dickey’s comeback show, was her daughter, Bekka, formerly with Fleetwood Mac.

Another former member of the Allmans, Derek Trucks, is the nephew of the Allmans’ long-time drummer, Butch Trucks, who died last year. These days, Derek and his wife, Susan Tedeschi, front the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, and we’re trying to secure them for a future Southern Rock Cruise. Butch’s daughter, Melody, also fronts a band, the Melody Trucks Band. Just recently, they’ve been working shows with the Allman-Goldflies Band, featuring an Allman cousin alongside David “Rook” Goldflies, who’d played bass with Dickey Betts’ Great Southern and the Allman Brothers Band.

But dynasties aren’t limited to the Allmans and Van Zants.

John Fred Young of Black Stone Cherry is the son of Richard Young of The Kentucky Headhunters. We spoke to Richard because it’s the Headhunters’ first time on the Southern Rock Cruise, and we saved a little time to talk about the Family Tradition in Southern Rock.

Folks in the South are big on family. That seems to carry over to
Southern Rock.

Man, yeah. There’s a big fellowship between Southern Rock bands, too. We play shows with the Charlie Daniels Band and we love it. It’s a big ol’ family picnic.

Were you around when Black Stone Cherry got together?

Yeah. John Fred and three friends. I coproduced their first album.

So Black Stone Cherry opened for the Headhunters, then the Headhunters later opened for Black Stone Cherry? No problems in the family with that?

Not at all. It’s a great feeling to open for your son. They opened for us a couple of times and the response to them was so great we said, “Well, let’s don’t try that again.” It’s like when we were starting out we did some shows with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Those guys were big at the time, but after the first night they said, “You close.” They were old salty dogs. They’d been around. They knew you can’t follow energy. That’s what we figured when we let Black Stone Cherry close for us.

What was your daddy’s attitude to your success?

We’re all proud when something good happens to someone in the family. Daddy just wanted us to be good at what we did. Teacher, like him? Be good at it. Doctor? Lawyer? Gas station attendant? Whatever it is, be good at it. Work is honorable. It’s great to see your son do something and do it well. I’m sure daddy was disappointed when me and my brother dropped out of school to go play in the Headhunters, but he never said. When John Fred went into music, he said, “Two generations of young’uns without a degree!” But he was only kidding. Travel is a great education. There’s more than one way to be intelligent and learn something.

John Fred got the Headhunters over to Europe for the first time, correct?

I hadn’t flown for thirty-four years. John Fred and the guys in Black Stone were fed up with me being chicken about it. I’d never been overseas. So I said “Yes” when I really meant “No.” I hoped something would come up so we could cancel, but they’d got us and them on a big festival, Sweden Rock. So after we’d agreed to that, they said, “Well, why don’t we do a British festival, too?” That was the Ramblin’ Man festival. And then it was, “Why don’t we add a few U.K. shows.” We played the festivals to thirty thousand people, and they seemed to know every word to every song. Man, I’m so glad I went. It was so much fun. We even went back ourselves later.

So you follow Black Stone Cherry every step of the way?

I’m real proud of them. Over here, folks are just now catching onto them. In Europe, they’re playing big venues. Then they come back here and they might play to just seven hundred people someplace, but they’re cool with it. I try to instill in them the same feeling we had. Meet everyone. Talk to ‘em. They’re taking Southern Rock and they’re gonna roll on with it after we’ve hung it up. That’s a real good feelin’.

There’s been much fretting in the concert business for some time about the Twilight of the Gods – that is, classic rock bands retiring. In Southern Rock, the Allman Brothers Band is no more and Skynyrd is on its farewell tour, but there’s a new generation, some of them related to the music’s foundational acts, who will keep Southern Rock vibrant for years to come. It’s going nowhere.