Rock music's origins lie mostly in the music of southerners, and many stars from the first wave of rock and roll such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis hailed from the Deep South. But the British Invasion, and the rise of folk rock and psychedelic rock in the middle 1960's shifted the focus of new rock music away from the rural south and to London, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
In the late 1960s, traditionalists such as Creedence Clearwater Revival (from Northern California), and The Band (Canadian, though drummer Levon Helm is a native Arkansan) revived interest in the roots of rock music. Eventually the spotlight once again turned to bands from the American South. The Georgiann Allman Brothers Band made their national debut in 1969 and soon gained a loyal following with their blues rock sound. The death of guitarist Duane Allman in 1971 cemented their legendary status.
While the Allman Brothers explored the jazzier components of southern music in long blues jams, by the early 1970s a new wave of hard rock southern groups emerged that emphasized stripped down boogie rhythms, fast guitar leads derived from heavy metal and lyrical themes borrowed from the concurrent outlaw country movement. Lynyrd Skynyrd dominated this genre until the deaths of lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt and other members of the group in a 1977 airplane crash. Groups such as 38 Special, Molly Hatchet, and Black Oak Arkansas also thrived in this genre for a time.
Southern rock's use of Southern imagery, in particular the Confederate Rebel Flag, and lyrics seemingly extolling redneck values drew considerable criticism and derision. Some groups such as Black Oak Arkansas played up these images to the point of obvious parody, and it should be noted that the Allman Brothers had an African American member (percussionist Jai Johanson) at a time when mainstream rock was actively resegregating.
Also Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" (1973), why widely perceived as a 'redneck anthem', not only contains lines pointed at Neil Young's song "Alabama" (indicting Alabama as a state full of George Wallace style segregationists), but also makes it clear that not all white southerners approved of George Wallace's views.
Southern rock gained popularity far beyond the American south, and influenced groups as far flung as Britain's Def Leppard and Australia's AC/DC. Hard rock fans appreciated the blazing guitar solos, and working class listeners responded to the lack of glamour and rock star pretentension in this music.
However, by the end of the 1970s, much southern rock had become thoroughly enmeshed into corporate arena rock. With the rise of MTV, New Wave, and hair metal, most surviving southern rock groups were relegated to secondary or regional venues. One notable exception was Texas' ZZ Top, which added slick synthesizer production to their boogie blues sound, and skillfully used music videos. There were occasional hits by groups as the Georgia Satellites as well. During the 1990s 'reunion' albums of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers, and hard rock groups with southern rock touches such as Jackyl renewed some interest in southern rock. But most rock groups from the south, such as Georgia's R.E.M and Black Crowes, and Mississippi's Blind Melon incorporated southern musical and lyrical themes without explicitly allying with any 'southern rock' movement.