By Mark Kemp
The Charlotte Observer, 1 October 2004
Back in the ’70s, you were either an Allmans fan or you were a Skynyrd fan. Those two titans of Southern rock and their fans were big-time rivals, just as the Beatles and Stones had been in the British rock of the ’60s.
Plenty of people liked the music of both the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, but when push came to shove, you had to take a side. Fans of the Allmans tended to be more sophisticated, more tolerant. Fans of Skynyrd were rowdier, scruffier, more likely to say what was on their minds.
The fans reflected the members of the two bands — even the bands’ original managers.
“We were the scourge of the South,” original Skynyrd manager Alan Walden told me for my recent book, “Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race and New Beginnings in a New South” (Free Press). He called Skynyrd “just a bunch of redneck hell-raisers.”
The members of Skynyrd, who tended to get in fights, performed in front of a Confederate flag backdrop and proudly sang of a South that wasn’t exactly friendly to some minority groups. The racially mixed Allmans, on the other hand, performed before a backdrop of swirling colors, much like the hippie bands from San Francisco. They sang lines like, “People can you feel it?/Love is everywhere.”
Although both the Allmans and Skynyrd influenced what became known as Southern rock in the 1970s and played on the same stages at times, they never toured together.
For the first time, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd are on a national tour and will perform at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Charlotte on Saturday. It’s a historic pairing.
Alan Walden, a gregarious character who had helped his brother Phil manage Otis Redding’s career in the earlier ’60s, began managing Lynyrd Skynyrd in the early ’70s after Phil put together the original Allmans lineup. Back in those days, Alan was to his brother Phil what Skynyrd was to the Allmans — the scrappy kid brother; the less-sophisticated black sheep of the Southern rock family. When Alan initially began working with Skynyrd, no one wanted to hear about the rowdy band from Jacksonville, Fla.
“We got turned down by nine different companies, and this was after they heard `Free Bird,’ `Simple Man’ and `Gimme Three Steps’,” Alan Walden told me, reeling off the list — “Atlantic, Warner Bros., A&M, Columbia.”
Then he paused and shook his head.
“Hell, even Capricorn, my own damn brother’s label, turned ’em down.”
The Waldens and their respective bands were in a full-blown sibling rivalry.
“Lemme tell you a story,” said Walden. “We played Grand Slam right here in Macon, Ga., right? Well, the Allman Brothers come out to hear Skynyrd play, and after they listen to the set, I walk up to Phil, start talking to him. Well, he’s arrogant as hell, acting like he’s the s—. He says, `Your lead singer’s too g-d— cocky, he can’t sing, the songs are weak and they sound too much like the Allman Brothers.’ ”
Neither of the Waldens manages the current versions of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. And the old rivalry seems awfully academic today. Skynyrd’s “cocky” singer, Ronnie Van Zant, died in a 1977 airplane crash that silenced the band for a decade. Today, Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny fronts the band.
When Van Zant was offered the job filling his dead brother’s shoes in 1987, he was apprehensive. “It was a good three years before I felt comfortable in the situation, because you know, I just felt like people were dissecting the hell out of me,” Johnny Van Zant told me in 2003. “It’s been 16 years now and yeah, I guess I feel like a real member of the band. If I were to go in the next 30 seconds, I’d know I made the right choice. This was the right thing to do.”
The Allmans reunited in 1988 after several years of bad luck and weak music. North Carolina-born guitarist Warren Haynes filled the shoes of original guitarist Duane Allman, who had died in a motorcycle crash in 1971.
Today, the Waldens, having no part of either act, look back on their bands and feuds philosophically.
“There was a time,” said Alan Walden, “when the whole Southern movement was one big family. We had the Allmans endorsing Skynyrd endorsing Marshall Tucker and Wet Willie and Charlie Daniels.” For his part, Phil said he supports all good music from the South today — the Allmans, Skynyrd, and particularly the new Southern acts, such as Widespread Panic and Haynes’ Gov’t Mule, that were influenced by the Allmans and Skynyrd.
“There is something satisfying about the way this new music from the South connects with the old music from the South,” Phil Walden said. “It’s a very honest, very powerful connection.”
Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd Worlds collide onstage in first national tour of former Southern rock rivals.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday. WHERE: Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, 707 Pavilion Blvd.
DETAILS: (704) 522-6500; www.verizonwireless amphitheater.com.
Lynyrd Skynyrd Skynyrd’s raw brand of rock and Confederate flag trappings appealed to the rowdier element of Southern rock fans.
Copyright 2004 The Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved.