A brief history of time, Southern-rock style

1955: Sam Phillips introduces the world to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash through his Memphis-based Sun Records, “and the money came in sacks.” (from “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” The Dirty South)

1962: One of “The Three Great Alabama Icons,” George Wallace, wins his first term as governor in a landslide victory. “He’s most famous as the belligerent voice of the segregationist South,” tells Patterson Hood on Southern Rock Opera. “You know racism is a worldwide problem, and it’s been since the beginning of recorded history — and it ain’t just white and black — but thanks to George Wallace, it’s always a little more convenient to play it with a Southern accent.” Early Southern rockers like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd spent their careers trying to “show another side of the South — one that certainly exists — but that few saw beyond the rebel flag [and George Wallace].”

1967: The “Redneck Mafia” ambushes McNairy County, Tenn. Sheriff Buford Pusser, after he breaks up an alleged moonshine and gambling ring with his own brand of deputized vigilante justice. Movies like Walking Tall (recently remade with The Rock in the lead role) have sold Pusser as a hero, but according to the Truckers, “he’s just another crooked lawman up in Tennessee.” (from “The Buford Stick,” The Dirty South)

1974: Lynyrd Skynyrd releases “Sweet Home Alabama,” in response to Neil Young’s starkly negative, racist portrayal of the South in his songs “Alabama” and “Southern Man.” Singer Ronnie Van Zant “felt that the other side of the story should be told.” The Skynyrd song becomes a sprawling hit, while legend has it “Ronnie and Neil became good friends, their feud was just in song.” (from “Ronnie and Neil,” Southern Rock Opera)

1977: “We’ve been this close to death before, we were just too drunk to know it,” writes Mike Cooley in Southern Rock Opera‘s “Shut Up and Get on the Plane,” of the fateful flight that ends with death in a swamp. Skynyrd’s Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines are among those who perish in the crash. “These angels I see in the trees are waiting for me.” (from “Angels and Fuselage,” SRO)

1998: Part 1 — George Wallace dies, goes to hell: “When he met St. Peter at the pearly gates, I’d like to think that a black man stood in his way.” (“Wallace,” from Southern Rock Opera)

Part 2 — Formed at the hands of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley two years before, the Truckers release their debut album, Gangstabilly — and proceed to rewrite Southern-rock history. “Don’t tell them you’re bigger than Jesus/ Don’t give it away.” (from “Outfit,” Decoration Day)

— Stuart Gaines

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