Every form of original American music in the 20th century began in the South: bluegrass, country, western, jazz, blues, rockabilly, and rock ’n’ roll. Even rap, pop, and heavy metal have been successful because they, in some way, use or imitate a Southern musical element. These styles, if they can be called that, started out as small clusters of unknown musicians who managed to create their own subcultures in which they could market their talents.
Most alternative musicians never see success. One style, however, that has risen in popularity over the last 15 years is “neo-Confederate” music. Hundreds of musicians tour the South playing nothing but Confederate War songs—in music shops, country stores, pickin’ parlors, barns (for dances), recital halls, civic centers, schools, historical and political ceremonies, living-history events, and war reenactments. Some of them even find themselves on NPR, C-SPAN, or in documentaries.
Some of this success can be credited to the boom of popular history; strictly historical music, however, cannot go on forever. At some point, something new must emerge—something that tells a story that people recognize as reflecting their own experience in their own time—which, nonetheless includes a response to the popular outcry for a knowledge of our history and its virtues. A few performers, such as the Rebelaires and Stan Clardy, have been writing their own songs about the modern-day experience of Southern patriots. Unabashedly pro-Confederate, they still never move beyond grieving over what Southerners have come to know as “heritage violations”—blatant attacks of the p.c. police on anything with a Southern symbol.
A new genre of Southern music has surfaced that can only be described as music for Southern independence. Not focusing solely on Southern symbols, this genre portrays every aspect of Southern life as positive and stresses the need for letting go of the rest of America—culturally, economically and politically. These are serious themes, but there are few better guides than experience. And music is one of the purest ways to share an experience.
When I was little, my family had regular get-togethers in Greenville, North Carolina. My granddad and his five brothers would bring their guitars, mandolins, harmonicas, Jew’s harps, autoharps, fiddles, and banjos (or “banjers” as they called them). One of them would say, “Hey Joe, what key are we playin’ in?” The reply: “whis-key.” And without looking up or speaking a word, they would play into the early morning. Well into her 90’s, my great-grandmother would hold up her dress and dance a jig that had likely not changed since it came over from the British Isles centuries before.
Such is the world that Larry Smith and Nat Rudulph’s music will remind you of—the world of the English ballad. Those familiar with Old Time music know that a good Old Time song is not sung: It is spoken. Pre-bluegrass Southern vocals are nearly monotone. It wasn’t until Bill Monroe that Southerners started thinking of singing as being a performance. Singing was simply a way of remembering a good story and enjoying its memory to the lively sound of good picking. Understanding the helpful effect that this has on listeners trying to grasp a complex story, Smith and Rudulph choose their stories wisely.
The opening track on their album, titled “Something That Lasts,” is a Southern musical adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s permanent things. Another track is simply called “Permanent Things.” “Our Fathers’ Fields” is an anthem for kith and kin, honor and land, based on the book of the same title by Chronicles contributor James Kibler.
I’ve sung “Cracker’s Last Stand” for two different parts of my family; they all immediately wanted to know how they could get the CD. Larry Smith will be the first to tell you that he’s a cracker, of the pure, original central Florida variety. He intones: “Then Mickey and the Yankees came, / and that place will never be the same.” In the chorus: “We salute Jeff Davis every July 4th, / we don’t give a damn how they do it up north.” The final verse:
Yes I’m unreconstructed and I ain’t never gonna forget
And if the Yankees don’t like it, well they ain’t seen nothin’ yet
’Cause Johnny Rebel’s gonna rise again, and this time he’s gonna win
So don’t mess with a Southern Man at Cracker’s Last Stand
Nat Rudulph’s track “Southern Man” is unadulterated Southern nationalism. Not far behind that is “When the South Has Risen Again,” which Larry Smith says was inspired by a speech Chronicles contributing editor Clyde Wilson gave entitled “After Independence.” Every song focuses on a particular experience or thought that you would expect to hear only from the most ardent of today’s Southern conservatives.
The themes covered are impressive: political corruption, September 11, globalism and U.S. foreign policy, institutional failure, moral degeneracy, the sinful nature of man, and the meaning of the Confederate flag. While some have labeled Basic Gray’s music as “alternative folk,” it hardly embodies the typical whining that dominates the American folk music world. Their only other album, after all, was Larry Smith’s Politically Incorrect.
Pat Baughman’s and Pat Patrick’s album breaks new ground as well. The first half consists of the best Confederate war songs: “Dixie,” “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” “The Dissolution Wagon.” Between Ten-nessee Ernie Ford and, more recently, the success of Bobby Horton, many Southerners recognize these songs immediately. What is new, however, is the gusto with which Baughman’s and Patrick’s crew performs them. These vocals are exactly what you would expect to hear from the most warlike and virile group of Southernized Scots. (The album ends, by the way, with a “Confederate Piper Medley,” by the New York Southern patriot George Forsythe.)
Then comes the original material. The professional Nashville production and Patrick’s experience working with Disney unfold into the most stirring musical appeal ever made by Southern nationalists to their millions of fellow Southerners who sit idly by watching Faith Hill on Country Music Television.
“Mama’s Tears” is a perfect example of a great, modern country-music song that will never be seen on CMT because of its politically incorrect content. It’s sung by a very attractive young Southern girl who has true vocal talent, but its main message is that “The North will never know the pain their soldiers caused.”
Continuing on that theme, another song states:
Reconstruction is a Yankee word for war on families.
With sword in hand I’d rather die if my children could be free.
Scalawags and carpetbaggers are takin’ land that’s ours,
But they won’t keep it long before we skin those worthless cowards.
To me, the most memorable verse on the album is from “Southern Anthem”:
We are a nation by God’s own hand.
We are the people of the Southland.
Freedom forever! A new South will rise.
We’ll live together under free Southern skies!
Though shut out of the mainstream media, the “Anthem” has quickly become a popular rallying song at meetings of many Southern heritage organizations.
Robert Lloyd’s album is another well-made record that has been ignored officially because it portrays the South as a positive and separate alternative to the hegemonic United States. Performed in a popular country-pop style (Lloyd’s voice slightly resembles Elvis Presley’s) his album contains all original songs that mostly tell the Southern side of Confederate was stories.
One of Lloyd’s songs is a startling rap attack on General Sherman. Lloyd prays that God will forgive him for hoping all those pretty blue soldiers will die. He tells schoolchildren to “spit ’em the eye” and to tell them to “go back to Mr. Lincoln” and “back up North . . . where they all oughtta stay.”
Five of Lloyd’s songs are set in contemporary America. The most controversial is written by Jim Kibler:
With hands, minds and spirits we’ve banded in time,
With talent and treasure our fortunes entwined.
We honor our friendships, our word is our bond,
The cause is our future, a nation, a land.
Another song, written by Jack Kershaw of Tennessee, is about the spirit of Bedford Forrest returning to win the ultimate Southern victory.
Last April, I went to the Newberry Opera House, an upscale facility in South Carolina, to see Battlefield Band, perhaps the most significant band in the Scottish independence movement. I mentioned to Alan Reid, its lead member, that there were many in the South who hoped for their states’ independence. (Newspapers tell us that 17 percent of South Carolinians and 18 percent of Georgians answer “yes” in polls on secession.) Reid’s response was, “Sounds contentious.” I noted that, not long ago, the same was said of the Scottish independence movement, and he immediately saw the Southern connection.
No independence movement can be successful unless it has a strong cultural base. Architecture, language, food, dress, and dance are all part of this. The South has all of these, especially music. These CDs will not enjoy distribution by major record labels and will not receive Grammy nominations or accolades from the Academy of Country Music; they are, however, a critical benchmark in the rise of a movement larger than just a few marginalized organizations. Dozens of rural Southern radio stations play these songs, and anyone in the world can now listen to them via the new internet radio station WDXB (www.DixieBroadcasting.com).
As Ward Allen notes, the Greeks, when referring to place, used an adverb that means “backward.” When referring to time, the same word designates “hereafter, since the future is unseen or behind us, whereas the past is known and before our eyes.” We Southerners, more than any other Americans, know our past. Perhaps, then, our future may be the most unpredictable of all.
[For the Past, the Future, the Truth, by Basic Gray (Panama City, Florida: Larry Smith and Nat Rudulph) 47 min., $15.00]
[Confederate Spirit: The Great Songs of a Proud South, Produced by Pat Baughman and Pat Patrick (Nashville, Tennessee: Pearl Trax Studios) 56 min., $15.00]
[The Gray Ghosts of Heaven: A Musical Tribute to the War for Southern Independence (Past-Present-Future), by Robert Lloyd (Fort Myers, Florida: New World Enterprises) 48 min., $15.00]