Pledging Allegiance to "Heritage"

Conversations about rock-and-roll music inevitably come up in my life. If the guitars and amp stored in my office don’t start it, the row of recent CDs on our living room bookshelf does. Those conversations always come around to the same question: "What’s your favorite band?"

Usually the exchanges end there, too, often with a blank stare and a polite, "Oh, I see." I always have a current favorite, but, for the past 12 years (since The Clash fizzled), normally people of any age haven’t heard of it.

I don’t plan it that way. I think of myself as a pretty mainstream, burgers-and-fries sort of guy. The music that really pushes my buttons is a very specific and fragile blend of country, gospel, and rhythm and blues. At various times this mix has been called rockabilly, Southern soul, Southern rock, and country blues, but I always know that sound when I hear it. And it probably lost its last shot at mass appeal in the 1970s when the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd literally crashed and burned.

These days my favorite band is The Bottle Rockets. A few years ago, I bought their first album (called simply Bottle Rockets), sound unheard, because I loved the name, and because a newspaper reviewer said they sounded like The Clash jamming with Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was right, except that The Rockets use more fiddle and steel guitar than Skynyrd ever did. The second album (The Brooklyn Side) has the same rocking, tin-roof sound, but with the pop melodicism of NRBQ.

The Bottle Rockets are Southern Missourians, descended from the late, great Uncle Tupelo, the seminal So-Mo band that launched a wave of 1990s country-rock that has absolutely nothing to do with The Eagles. Brian Henneman, The Bottle Rockets’ principal songwriter and singer, was a roadie for Uncle Tupelo. He tuned their guitars and hauled their amps, waiting his turn.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
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