Uncover Rock ’n’ Roll’s Roots on a Deep South Highway Journey

Rock ’n’ roll is arguably America’s most profitable cultural export. From the Sahara to the Steppes, from the suburbs of the Midwest to the slums of Medellín, rock ’n’ roll—the devilishly charming bastard little one of the blues and nation music—crosses each linguistic, cultural, and even non secular barrier. Promiscuous by nature, it blends seamlessly with native rhythms wherever it goes—amalgamating accordion riffs in Argentina, Tuareg melodies in Algeria, or Viking poetry in Iceland. However in all languages and cultures, it evokes that very same candy emotion of freedom, rebelliousness, and the joys of being younger.

Rock ’n’ roll now belongs to the world, however its native nation is the American South, and that particular Southern drawl of its youth won’t ever totally fade.

The open highway, one other quintessential image of America, pairs as deliciously with rock ’n’ roll as infatuated groupies with lead guitarists. The next highway journey, reducing throughout the guts of the South, showcases 5 cities seminal to rock historical past: Jacksonville, Macon, Muscle Shoals, Chattanooga, and Memphis.

From Little Richard and Elvis to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bessie Smith, these cities have produced a Pleiad of virtuosos, trailblazers, and wildly colourful characters. In every metropolis, we’ll discover rock historical past but in addition take heed to latter-day rockers maintaining the style as exhilarating right this moment because it was within the ’70s or ’50s. Our journey covers 4 states—Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee—with topographies as assorted because the Atlantic coast, the Appalachian Mountains, and the muddy shores of the Mississippi River. So, cue up Sticky Fingers or Eat a Peach, drop the highest again, and prepare to rock.


The turquoise waters of north Florida christen our rock ’n’ roll odyssey. Whereas Jacksonville is greatest recognized for idyllic seashores and balmy climate, this busy seaport has produced an outsized variety of world-class performers: Ray Charles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, and ’90s different sensations Limp Bizkit and Shinedown, to call a couple of.

The Grey Home, a suburban residence in JAX, is the location the place, within the late ’60s, a collection of psilocybin-fueled jam periods satisfied two brothers and their buddies to type a band, the Allman Brothers. Whereas the enduring Southern balladeers made their identify in Georgia, they by no means forgot their roots in north Florida.

A mainstay of Jacksonville’s African-American neighborhood for greater than century, the Ritz Theater was a necessary cease on the well-known Chitlin Circuit, a string of venues throughout the South that welcomed Black performers throughout segregation. The Ritz Theater homes a museum devoted to Jacksonville’s music historical past, and usually hosts reside performances within the night. After touring the Ritz, seize a beer within the surrounding neighborhood of LaVilla, as soon as hailed because the “Harlem of the South.”

The St. Augustine Amphitheater, 45 minutes from Jacksonville, is amongst Florida’s most hallowed phases—a venue cherished by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, and the Allman Brothers—and right this moment, you may nonetheless catch big-name acts on the Amphitheater. For extra informal venues, head to Instinct Ale Works or Jack Rabbits Dwell for stiff drinks, reside music, and all-around revelry. Proper by the seaside is Seashore Hut Cafe, a no-frills eatery owned by the mom of Fred Durst, Jacksonville native and Limp Bizkit entrance man.

JAX boasts a number of the prettiest seashores on the East Coast—assume powdery sand and sapphire water—and Neptune Seashore, close to downtown, is an area favourite for enjoyable within the solar.

Macon, Georgia

Drive 3.5 hours north from Jacksonville to Macon, a captivating burg within the Georgia Piedmont. Based as a buying and selling submit between New Orleans and New York, Macon developed right into a thriving railroad junction within the late nineteenth century. Along with producing musical phenoms like Otis Redding, Little Richard, and Jason Aldean, Macon has raised a number of notable professional boxers; an outdated chestnut goes that, again within the day, you needed to sing or swing your approach out of Macon.

Go to the storied Capricorn Studios, the label behind the Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band, and Gov’t Mule. In collaboration with Mercer College, Capricorn homes an exhibit devoted to Macon’s star-studded roster of soul and rock musicians. Inside strolling distance is H&H Restaurant, an establishment for savory grits, fried rooster, and different delicious plates of soul meals. Mama Louise, H&H’s beloved proprietor, fed the Allman Brothers without spending a dime once they had been penniless hippies. Later, when the band struck it large, the rockers appointed the Macon matron as their official chef on tour, and an enormous mural outdoors the restaurant commemorates this friendship. To discover extra of the Allman Brothers’ historical past, go to Massive Home Museum, a shrine to the good Dixie troubadours. Inside a simple drive of the Massive Home, Rose Hill Cemetery is the ultimate resting place of Duane and Greg Allman, in addition to their fellow bandmates Butch Vans and Berry Oakley. Additionally, the inspiration for the Allman’s seven-minute psychedelic jam “In Reminiscence of Elizabeth Reed” got here from a gravestone Dickey Betts, the band’s bassist, noticed in Rose Hill.

You may also pay your respects to the king of crooners, Otis Redding. The Otis Redding Basis, a museum run by his surviving household, homes memorabilia and devices. Macon honors Otis, and different musical luminaries, in a stroll of fame outdoors the Douglass Theater, a venue opened in 1921 by Charles Douglass, one of many nation’s first Black millionaires. You may nonetheless catch improbable exhibits on the Douglass or different time-honored venues like Grant’s Lounge or the Hummingbird. The Woodward Lodge, inside a historic, weathered brick constructing, is a stone’s throw from nearly anyplace in Macon. Behind a metallic service door behind the Woodward is Quill, a beautiful speakeasy slinging Macon’s most interesting cocktails.


Leaving Macon, 3.5 hours on the highway brings us to Chattanooga, a Tennessee metropolis within the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. For many years, Chattanooga’s ninth Avenue, “The Massive 9,” vied with Bourbon Avenue in New Orleans and Beale Avenue in Memphis because the South’s most exuberant Black music hub. A number of of the taverns and theaters on ninth Avenue, not too long ago renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard, had been important stops on the Chitlin Circuit.

Begin on the Bessie Smith Museum on ninth Avenue. The museum not solely pays tribute to the Empress of the Blues and different nice Black Chattanoogan musicians but in addition homes glorious reveals on African-American historical past in Center Tennessee. Uncle Larry’s Restaurant, close to the museum, fries up the tastiest catfish anyplace within the South. Close by Hutton & Smith Brewery pours a few of Chatt City’s most interesting suds.

Beale Avenue, a roaring, neon-drenched avenue slicing by downtown, was a necessary cease on the Chitlin Circuit.

Songbirds Museum is perhaps the nation’s most spectacular rock historical past museum outdoors of the Rock ’n’ Roll Corridor of Fame in Cleveland. Songbirds homes a stunning assortment of uncommon guitars and tells the story of the evolution of the six-stringed axe. After exploring the museum’s reveals, return to Songbirds within the night for improbable reside exhibi
ts. The Tivoli and Walker Theater are historic venues in Chattanooga with common reside music, and the Boneyard, a vigorous public home subsequent to Songbirds, hosts performances most nights, free of canopy expenses. Past music historical past, Chattanooga is a gem for climbing, climbing, and river sports activities. For an exciting solution to discover the mountains, e-book a swincar by Journey Sports activities Innovation. The autos, mountain goat-like contraptions imported from France, are specifically designed for ranging over steep trails.

Muscle Shoals

Crossing the Alabama line, you’ll attain Muscle Shoals in about 3 hours. Music is to Muscle Shoals what soccer is to small cities in West Texas. Locals develop up taking part in in class marching bands, singing in church choirs, and jamming with family and friends on porches. This grassroots ardour for music may clarify why so many legends have recorded right here. A plethora of melodic giants, together with Bob Dylan, Alicia Keys, Bob Seger, and Aretha Franklin, level to recording periods in Muscle Shoals as essentially the most inventive intervals of their careers.

Visiting FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio is a should. Inside these hallowed partitions, the Swampers, native boys from Muscle Shoals, performed their distinctively soulful and funky riffs behind the vocals of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Percy Sledge, and numerous different stars. Hear rigorously to Candy Dwelling Alabama, and also you’ll hear Skynyrd’s homage to the Swampers. For nonpareil Southern hospitality, scrumptious BBQ, and reside rock ’n’ roll, look no additional than Champy’s Restaurant. The Rattlesnake Saloon and Flobama are two extra common venues for absorbing low cost beer and bluesy guitar riffs. Lastly, don’t go away Muscle Shoals and not using a downhome Southern repast at Arnold’s Truck Cease, a hole-in-the-wall eatery beloved by locals and visiting rock stars alike.


A mere 2.5 hours on Freeway 72 takes us again to Tennessee, this time to Memphis. Southern flaneur and author David Cohn as soon as quipped, “The Mississippi Delta begins within the foyer of the Peabody Lodge in Memphis and ends on catfish row in Vicksburg.” Musically talking, Memphis incorporates multitudes: Grind Metropolis has churned out stars in genres as assorted as rock ’n’ roll, the Blues, hip-hop, and nation.

A night on Beale Avenue and a daytrip to Graceland are necessary objects of enterprise. Like Chattanooga’s Massive 9, Beale Avenue, a roaring, neon-drenched avenue slicing by downtown, was a necessary cease on the Chitlin Circuit. Johnny Money, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, and lots of different godfathers and godmothers of rock ’n’ roll minimize their enamel in Memphis theaters and honky-tonks. You may pound outsized beers and take heed to masterful musicians in scores of bars on Beale Avenue, however the New Daisy, initially a movie show from the Thirties, is especially memorable. Overton Sq. is one other hoary Memphis theater the place bands like Kiss, Billy Joel, and the Styx received large breaks early of their careers. Delegate not less than an hour to discover the Stax Museum, devoted to soul-music historical past, and housed inside a legendary former recording studio.

And, after all, Memphis beckons vacationers—usually higher described as pilgrims—from each nook of the world for a selected cause: The King. Elvis Aaron Presley was born in close by Tupelo however grew up in Memphis and bought his musical chops on Beale Avenue. After the White Home, Graceland, Elvis’s mansion, is essentially the most well-known residence within the U.S., receiving over half one million guests annually. An ordinary go to to Graceland takes about two hours and covers Elvis’ mansion and automobile assortment. Be certain to e-book prematurely. Don’t sleep on Memphis BBQ, both. Together with North Carolina, Texas, and Kansas Metropolis, Memphis ranks amongst America’s nice BBQ capitals. For traditional Memphis Q, courageous the strains at Central BBQ, Tops, or The Rendezvous. And when you’re within the temper for comforting, deep-fried deliciousness, The 4 Means is a Memphis basic for soul meals.