Someone had said that they enjoyed all things “Southern” but found it weird that they didn't listen to country music. To me it makes perfect sense, because there's little “country” about the South. Country music is a product of Nashville and Texas, and to a larger extent the Midwest (Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, etc., or certainly this is where most of the listeners are from).
The United States is a vast place, and differs greatly from one location to another. To me the “South” is Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, maybe South Carolina and Northern Florida (for Southern Florida, especially Miami, is in its own universe). Texas is more Western than any other state, and is distinctly not Southern. Tennessee and other middle states are quite the same, something a little different.
What is the music of the South? Southern rock, of course! As well as rap, jazz, and the blues. The African American influence on the world is incredible. The South, whether it be New Orleans or Atlanta, has had a huge impact on several prominent forms of music. There would be no Led Zeppelin without the 1940s and 50s blues musicians—there would be no rock n roll!
There are some places which supersede their surroundings. New York City is far different from New England or the Northeast. Los Angeles and Hollywood seem alien settings adrift in California's beautiful mountainous regions, forests, and deserts. Nashville is nothing like anywhere else. New Orleans and Miami are no more Southern than Fargo or Chicago are. Speaking of Chicago, it dwarfs the rest of the Midwest, a strange artifact, an international conglomerate in the middle of farmland for as far as one can drive in a day. And yet not all great American cities can claim the same grandness. Boston seems to be quintessential New England and Atlanta is the South. Seattle is to the Northeast as apples are to pie.
And yet these cities are at least unique compared to one another, and it is in these “unique” cities where many of the groundbreaking musical evolutions have come from, and these revolutions are both a product of their city's uniqueness and also mother to that uniqueness. Rock stars in L. A., country music superstars in Nashville, the blues and jazz in New Orleans.
So I do not see the South as a place of country music. When I think of the South I think of black men playing horns and pressing their strong fingers against some of the first electric guitar strings. When I think of the South I think of the precursor to “rock,” both in England and in the South itself (whether it's The Rolling Stones or Lynyrd Skynyrd), not to mention the West coast. The South has a sound, and that sound has a lot to do with the hardships of tilling the land, not on green tractors, but with the hands that later free men would put to use on instruments quite different from plows.
The South is all about music. Or, rather, music is everything to the South. But what kind of music is it?
It's the music of pain, of being put down and kept down. It's no coincidence that the downtrodden youth of the 1960s, be it in America or England, related to the blues masters of the 1950s. There is a distinct trend of oppression from society throughout both musical genres.
When I speak of oppression I am not talking of slavery, but of being singled out for the way you look, act, and feel. There are few people today who can relate or truly understand what it was like to be a slave, but there are millions who know what it's like to be oppressed. Oppression is as general a human emotion as fear or joy. Kurt Cobain understood oppression, as did Keith Moon.
This oppression, as far as I can tell, has not existed in country music for decades—not since, perhaps, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn. Otherwise country music is about more wholesome topics. Losing or winning the girl, riding the ranges, painting a sound to go with the picturesque ideals of Midwestern America.
In African American culture there is still a heavy, lingering memory of oppression. It is visible in rap and hip hop.
Counterculture in the 1960s ran headlong into oppression. The blues artists of the previous decade were born from it. It is no more unique to the South than rocks are unique to mountains. Yet the South harbored it, erupted it, and from there its music spread across land and sea.