Jacksonville’s Historic Role in the Founding of Southern Rock

JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – Their names are known worldwide: Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, 38 Special, Molly Hatchet.

What’s not as well known, however, is that these bands were among those who together pioneered a new type of music nearly 60 years ago in Jacksonville. As the city celebrates its bicentenary, Southern rock continues and thrives today.

During a recent visit to Friendship Park, Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Rickey Medlocke reminisced with News4JAX presenter and journalist Tom Wills playing drums with the original Lynyrd Skynyrd at free concerts that the group gave at the park on Sunday afternoon.

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Tom Wills and Rickey Medlocke visit Friendship Park. (Special for WJXT)

The band’s frontman, Ronnie Van Zant, sang with the old Gulf Life building in the background.

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You can see Ronnie Van Zant signing with the old Gulf Life building in the background. (Special for WJXT)

Pat Armstrong, who became Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first manager, first heard the band at a free outdoor concert.

“What I saw was one group that had 2,000 people coming to see them and the previous group had 200 and when they all of a sudden left they were down to 200,” Armstrong said. “They, Lynyrd Skynyrd, had a name and a reputation in Jax that needed to be shared with the rest of the world.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd concert (Special for WJXT)

The band rose to worldwide fame, both before and after the tragic Mississippi plane crash in 1977, reforming in 1987 with Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny as the new lead singer and currently playing gigs. Across the country.

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The 1977 Mississippi plane crash scene (Special for WJXT)
Johnny Van Zant (Special for WJXT)
Donnie Van Zant (Special for WJXT)

Van Zant’s middle brother, Donnie, also became a rock star with his Southern rock band, 38 Special.

The Westside house where all three grew up is now preserved. It’s an Airbnb with a historical marker along Woodcrest Road.

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The Westside house where Ronnie, Johnny and Donnie Van Zant grew up is preserved today. It’s an Air B&B with a historical marker along Woodcrest Road. (Special for WJXT)

Another band with Jacksonville roots, the Allman Brothers Band also has a roadside historical marker. It’s on Riverside Avenue across from a house called the Gray House.

Another band with Jacksonville roots, the Allman Brothers Band also has a roadside historical marker. It’s on Riverside Avenue across from a house called the Gray House. (Special for WJXT)

Duane Allman is said to have founded the band after a jam session in the living room.

Duane Allman (Special for WJXT)

According to Mildred Price, the current owner of the house, Allman’s brother Greg wrote one of the band’s most famous songs in the house.

Greg Allman (Special for WJXT)

“‘Whipping Post,’ he had nothing to write on, so he lit some matches and used the charcoal on an ironing board to write ‘Whipping Post,'” Price said.

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Mildred Price is the current owner of the house called the Gray House. (Special for WJXT)

The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd are just two of the most famous pioneers for a host of bands listed in a book by local author and historian, Michael FitzGerald, “Jacksonville and the Roots of Southern Rock.”

Michael FitzGerald’s book titled “Jacksonville and the Roots of Southern Rock” (Special for WJXT)

They also include Cowboy, Blackfoot, 38 Special, Molly Hatchet, Alias, Johnny Van Zant Band, The Rossington Collins Band, The Allen Collins Band, Derek Trucks and Mofro.

Why Jacksonville?

Tom Wills speaks with Michael FitzGerald. (Special for WJXT)

“I think one of the big reasons was that it was a blue-collar town and these young people didn’t want dirty day jobs and they were determined to get out of that and do something more fun and challenging with their lives,” FitzGerald mentioned.

“There’s something in the water here,” Medlocke jokes when asked, “Why Jacksonville?”

However, he also points to the city’s remarkably rich heritage of African-American blues music, which he and other Southern rock stars listened to growing up.

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The photos show Mississippi John Hurt and Huddie William Ledbetter, known by the stage name Lead Belly. (Special for WJXT) (Special for WJXT)

Artists such as Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and Lead Belly performed at the Ritz Theater which opened in LaVilla, an area of ​​Jacksonville known as Harlem of the South. Some claim that Harlem was the LaVilla of the North.

According to author and historian Ennis Davis, the city’s blues history goes back even further

Tom Wills interviews author and historian Ennis Davis. (Special for WJXT)

“In 1910, Jacksonville actually became known as the first documented place where the blues was performed live on a public stage,” Davis said. “If we go back to the 1900s, we had African American artists performing for white people in town as well.”

“Music,” Davis added, “has no color.”

Medlocke would agree. Music has been his life since he was a child.

He appeared with his grandfather, Bluegrass star Shortly Medlocke, in Toby Dowdy’s ‘Country Frolics’ when Channel 4 was WMBR-TV in the early 1950s.

Rickey Medlocke appeared with his grandfather, Bluegrass star Shortly Medlocke, in Toby Dowdy’s ‘Country Frolics’ when Channel 4 was WMBR-TV in the early 1950s. (Special for WJXT)

His grandfather taught him to play the miniature banjo.

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Rickey Medlocke plays the banjo. (Special for WJXT)

Decades later, he’s still playing.

Rickey Medlocke plays guitar. (Special for WJXT)

As a Southern rock pioneer with Blackfoot and Lynyrd Skynyrd, he was asked if he thought of all his fellow pioneers who are now gone.

“Yeah, I miss them,” he said. “Do I think about them every night, every night of my life that I’m on stage and playing guitar? Yes, I think of them.

“And hopefully when I see them again one day when I get there, I hope I don’t get punched in the face because I haven’t done a good job,” he continued. laughing. “I hope I get a handshake and a hug, you know what I mean, but I’ve always been ready to take my licks, I’m fine, I’m from the Westside.”

Rickey Medlocke laughs. (Special for WJXT)

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