I learned to ride a bike in the suburbs and a tractor on a farm, both at pretty much breakneck speed. As Billy Joe Shaver wrote, “I got all my country learnin’, milkin’ and a-churnin’, pickin’ cotton, raising Hell and balin’ hay.” I never did pick cotton, but earned a 4.0 GPA in the others down on Fanning Field Farm.
Southern life is different, and I recognized it early. In the North’s suburbs, there were plenty of kids around all summer, lots of time to play, and parks and backyards to do it in. Bicycles were a big thing, and swings, and swimming pools. Down in Henderson County, however, there was too much space between kids: you hung out with family on your farm, or a neighbor’s. Country roads were mostly dirt and rock, so bicycles were out. If you were lucky enough to have a horse, you could ride over for special events, sometimes three kids aboard. Swings were a knotted rope. No one had a pool, and we’d occasionally cool off in the muddy French Broad River (fact!) or a swimming hole.
One vast difference was the work. Up North, summer was playtime and maybe a summer reading list. Down South, summer was much, much longer, and mostly work. Cows to be milked twice a day, bred, then calves born, weaned and fed, hogs slopped and slaughtered, corn cut for silage or feed, hay cut, baled and stacked in a loft. Children’s jobs were assigned by size and strength, and everybody got a chore, down to the youngest feeding chickens, picking berries and running messages down to the barn. There was little time for spinning records, but the radio and local characters (think Deliverance) ensured nonstop music.
I fell in love with the Everly Brothers at an impressionable age, and to this day a good harmony will hook me hard. My stiff -lipped grandfather and big-band-loving father called it “hillbilly music,” but, like my dad’s hero Duke Ellington, I just called it “good music.” My subsequent passion for heavier rock was inevitable, and still today, southern accents in rock songs seem most appropriate —Mick Jagger apparently agrees.
Southern rock conveys passion, whether that be for the opposite sex, God, trucks, home, music, joy and hate, or just plain good whiskey. In my heart of hearts, I think that music is all about letting loose after a long hard day spent digging irrigation, inhaling the sweet perfume of magnolias within sight of home. Music springs from the imagination, and in a sense is the soundtrack to freedom.