Though it is not as popular today as in other eras, Southern rock blends elements of folk, Americana, and rock music to create something unique to the American South. Join us as we look at the best Southern rock bands ever.
1. Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of the first bands you may call to mind when you hear the term Southern rock. The band helped bring the genre to a wider audience and remains one of the most famous rock bands of the 1970s. The band broke into the mainstream with its second album Second Helping, and 70s songs like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird” remain staples on classic rock radio.
Apart from the band’s music, they are perhaps most famous for the tragic plane crash that rocked the band. In 1977, the plane carrying Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed, killing several members and putting the band’s future in jeopardy. Ten years later, the band reformed.
2. The Allman Brothers Band
Brothers Duane and Gregg created the Allman Brothers Band in 1969, combining elements of rock and country music to create something unique. Though its first two albums failed to make much impact, the Allman Brothers Band made its breakthrough with a live album, a rarity in music.
The joy of breaking out was short-lived, as Duane Allman died in a vehicle crash shortly after, and the band went through a turbulent period. The group pushed through the difficult times and continued a long and successful career.
3. ZZ Top
Perhaps the most easily recognizable band on this list, ZZ Top remain pop culture icons thanks to Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill wearing sunglasses, hats, and extraordinarily long beards. Of course, behind the look was some of the best music of the Southern rock subgenre, though the band continually innovated and changed its sound. In later years, they experimented with new wave and dance music.
ZZ Top made a name for itself in the early 1970s with albums like Tres Hombres and Fandango. The live tours were where the band shined, captivating audiences and making them one of the most popular live acts in the country during the group’s heyday.
4. 38 Special
38 Special may be more famous for its arena-rock-inspired songs “Caught Up in You” and “Hold On Loosely,” but the band began life as a bona fide Southern rock group. Its founder was Donnie Van Zant, the brother of Robbie of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band was a popular mainstay in Southern rock for much of the 1970s before hitting the mainstream in the 1980s.
Unlike many bands of the decade, 38 Special continued making acclaimed music into the 1990s, including songs like “Rockin’ into the Night” and “Teacher, Teacher.” The band still tours today, though with few of its founding members in tow.
5. The Outlaws
Few bands embodied the spirit of Southern rock quite like the Outlaws. Hailing from Tampa, Florida, the Outlaws became one of the most popular bands of the South during the 1970s, and the band combined elements of rock and roll with outlaw country music. This marriage proved successful, and its debut album in 1975 was a smash hit, putting them on the map.
Fans best remember the Outlaws for its song “Green Grass and High Tides,” an epic with two incredible guitar solos. The band’s cover version of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” also remains a staple of its discography.
6. Molly Hatchet
Molly Hatchet has had a storied career in the over 50 years of its existence, and the band has had too many combinations of members to count. Today, the band still tours with an entirely different lineup from its formation. Though many classic members still play on shows, all original members of the band have passed away.
Sporting a distinctive southern look with cowboy hats and chaps, Molly Hatchet made waves in the late 1970s with its self-titled 1978 album. The band’s second album included Molly Hatchet’s best-known single, “Flirtin’ with Disaster.”
7. The Marshall Tucker Band
The Marshall Tucker Band is one of the pioneers of the Southern rock subgenre and helped spread the sound throughout the country. The band got its start in 1972 and quickly made waves in 1973 with its self-titled debut album. This album and its single “Can’t You See” propelled them to stardom in the South. They became a popular touring band, performing nearly 300 times per year and adding touring members like Charlie Daniels.
The band’s name has long perplexed fans, as no member was called Marshall Tucker. The band revealed the name came from an inscription on a key they used to enter the warehouse they practiced in during the band’s early years. In reality, Marshall Tucker was a piano tuner who rented the warehouse before the band.
Blackfoot was one of the first bands in the Southern rock genre, and though it did not reach the commercial heights of its peers, it remains one of Southern rock's most seminal acts. Aside from running in Southern rock circles, the band was also popular with hard rock fans. The band began life in 1969, though it did not reach many mainstream ears until the end of the 1970s.
Many of the group’s members had American Indian heritage, which is why the members decided on the name Blackfoot.
9. Wet Willie
While the name Wet Willie may not be the most mature or evocative title in the world, the band remains a favorite among fans for its inclusion of soulful sounds in traditional Southern rock. The band was not incredibly famous during its career, but the single “Keep on Smilin’” charted and brought new ears to the band early in its career.
Wet Willie got its start in Macon, Georgia, mostly thanks to the efforts of lead vocalist and frontman Jimmy Hall.
In 1971, the band got a chance to showcase its talents as the opening act to the Allman Brothers Band. The group is still touring today, though many of its original members outside of Jimmy Hall have left to pursue other projects.
10. Black Oak Arkansas
Named after the band’s hometown, Black Oak Arkansas is one of Southern rock’s most infamous live acts. Fans have long enjoyed the performance of the group’s lead singer Jim “Dandy” Mangrum and the accompanying guitars and sound. Legend says the band stole its first speakers from a local high school and had to hide out in the woods to avoid the long arm of the law.
The band was notoriously raunchy for its time, something not often found in this genre of music.
11. Dixie Dregs
One of the artsiest of the bands on this list, the Dixie Dregs took Southern rock in new directions. The band had no vocals on nearly every album they released, and the group merged southern rock, progressive rock, jazz fusion, bluegrass, and country music into a homogeneous style that sounds like nothing else. Despite the eclectic nature of the music, the band is most often categorized by fans as Southern rock.
Following the release of the band’s self-published demo album, the squad signed with Capricorn Records and released several critically acclaimed records. Night of the Living Dregs in 1979 was particularly noteworthy for receiving a Grammy nomination, a rare occurrence for practitioners of Southern rock. The Dixie Dregs still tour to this day.
12. Blackberry Smoke
Though Southern rock is associated with the 1970s, when most of its most acclaimed acts broke into the mainstream, modern bands continue to bring the style of the genre to the stage. Blackberry Smoke is one such band, and it has been producing music since 2000. The band continues touring to this day and has released seven studio albums in its career.
Though the first few albums from Blackberry Smoke failed to garner much mainstream attention, the band’s fourth album, Holding All the Roses, peaked at number one on the US Country charts. The title track was used in the game Madden NFL 16.
13. Kings of Leon
Kings of Leon is another modern take on the Southern rock formula, though the band is more famous for breaking away from the sound and experimenting with a more straightforward alternative rock sound. Regardless, its early albums blended garage and Southern rock to create something nostalgic and modern.
Kings of Leon first made a mainstream breakthrough in England with its debut album Youth and Young Manhood. Critics said it reminded them of a mix of The Strokes and the Allman Brothers Band.
Grinderswitch was there in the early days of Southern rock but never got much mainstream recognition in the 1970s or beyond. It remained an underground band, with most fans hearing about the group through word of mouth. Grinderswitch also enjoyed praise from other bands who did their best to promote the fledgling band.
Joe Dan Petty formed the band while working as a roadie for the Allman Brothers Band. It went through several lineup changes over the years, with members coming and going due to other commitments. While active, Grinderswitch toured with several big-name bands of the genre.
15. Brother Clyde
Brother Clyde was a short-lived band fronted by Billy Ray Cyrus in 2009 that sought to harken back to the glory days of Southern rock. Cyrus was already a made man in the music industry thanks to his hit song “Achy Breaky Heart” and his daughter Miley Cyrus. Brother Clyde existed for just two years, producing one self-titled album during its existence.
Cyrus found himself embroiled in controversy early in the group’s existence, as he changed the band’s lineup before the debut album’s release.
16. Point Blank
Point Blank was another case of a band that never achieved the mainstream success it dreamed of, despite rubbing elbows with titans of the genre. Regardless of mainstream success, fans of the genre still regularly enjoy the music of Point Blank. The band had a somewhat short initial career of just 10 years from 1974 to 1984.
Point Blank achieved most of its fame as a live act that opened for many famous bands of the era.
17. Bruce Hornsby and The Range
Bruce Hornsby has played in many different styles throughout his illustrious career, but he has pulled inspiration from Southern rock. He is an accomplished musician, having won three Grammy Awards and released 23 albums.
Hornsby worked as a session musician before founding The Range. The band had a unique sound, using synths and piano to set itself apart from other Southern rock bands of the 80s.
18. Atlanta Rhythm Section
Atlanta Rhythm Section made a name for itself with its 1976 album A Rock and Roll Alternative featuring its biggest hit, “So in to You.” The band remained a key player in Southern rock for years and still plays to this day.
Atlanta Rhythm Section gained exposure early in its career by opening for The Who and The Rolling Stones.
19. Charlie Daniels Band
Charlie Daniels had one of the most epic careers in music, working in several genres for over half a century. While he may be most associated with country music, he put out a few Southern rock songs, including “Uneasy Rider,” intended to be a look into the mindset of the subgenre’s practitioners.
Daniels worked as a session musician in Nashville and even had parts playing guitar on Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan recordings. “Uneasy Rider” was his first hit, but most critics associate him with his most famous song, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
20. Black Stone Cherry
Black Stone Cherry is a tribute to classic Southern rock and hard rock bands of the 1970s and has been making music inspired by the past since its formation in 2001. The members have even had chances to open for the very bands that inspired them.
Black Stone Cherry has brought new Southern rock mainstream, having charted nearly 20 singles, making them one of the best Southern rock bands.
21. The Kentucky Headhunters
The Kentucky Headhunters began life as Itchy Brother in the 1970s before becoming a Southern rock band under a new name in 1966. The band never reached the highs of others in the genre. But they carved out a successful career nonetheless.
The band mashed heavy metal, country, Southern, and blues sounds to create unique songs. Former members of the Kentucky Headhunters went on to form Brother Phelps.
Top Southern Rock Bands Of All Time, Final Thoughts
Southern rock is a diverse and exciting genre. Though the genre had its heyday in the 1970s, many of the most famous Southern rock bands continue to tour to this day, and new bands carrying on the tradition spring up every year.