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A Story of Music, Race, and New Beginnings in a New South

by Mark Kemp

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 2004
ISBN: 0-7432-3794-3
Publisher: Free Press

When cultural suppression transforms into cultural embrace, with music the vehicle, it’s a beautiful thing, and music critic Kemp drives home the impact on Southern music in turning an entire nation's head.

This is the story of (mostly) white Southern music from 1968 and thereafter, how its commingling of races and musical heritage brought not only a degree of racial tolerance but a healing of long-suffering shame and guilt, unworthiness and inferiority, sadness and pride, for still many white Southerners loved the land that surrounded them but hated the history of that haunted place. In this memoir of that transition, in a voice that is warm and well-versed, Kemp recounts his bafflement with racism, the chaos that attended racial integration in his North Carolina hometown. He found his guiding star in the Allman Brothers Band, a mixed-race, blues-based group that seamlessly displayed a nod to integration and a love of the Southern homeplace (not despite its warts, but beyond them). He looks back to the delirious fusion of Southern black and hillbilly music—its roots with black blues guitarist Arnold Schultz and Bill Monroe and the shaping of bluegrass, a lovely synergy. It was through music, thought Kemp, that the South could somehow move beyond its legacy of intolerance. As much as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton helped bridge racial gaps, so too did Dr. John, ZZ Top, and Lynyrd Skynyrd (though Kemp is less sanguine about the latter’s progressivism), which leads him into an intelligent rumination on the redneck-as-a-class issue. Kemp situates himself within the evolution of Southern rock and delivers a first-person account of his relations with the musicians—from the Night Tripper to Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies—as a music writer, gaining their impressions of what was happening back then.

Kemp's grace and insight into a complex cultural scenario forms a combination that’s hard to beat.