When it comes down to really trying to define southern rock, personally, I find it very difficult to try to place it in one box. My definition of southern music is slow and very guitar focused and most of the time talking about a bad situation, a situation where either someone lost a lover, family, or even in most cases everything that s/he owned. When I think of rock music it is loud, rough, and very guitar based but also includes more musical instruments especially the drums. Most rock artists are very flashy with their attire and performance; they tend to be known for breaking the rules of society. Now when you put those two together-southern themes and rock instrumentation- you get southern rock. However, that’s not all that southern rock is about. Southern Rock was also an outlet of political views of the artist, which broadened the scope and allowed for not only rough music but also very relaxed and calmer pieces. However, when I think about southern rock I don’t think of the Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd who were widely known for southern rock in the 70s, but I think about James Brown. Brown was an African American political icon who is widely known for his funk music. Funk music should be considered southern rock because of the theatrical performances, bad situations in the lyrics, political voice and the flashy styles of the artist. Although when many people think about southern rock they think about white American artists. James Brown broke the mold and opened the door for white and black Americans to enjoy southern rock together.


James Brown was born in Barnwell, South Carolina where he showed at an early age that he could rock out with the best of them at defying society when he had to be placed in a reform school. In fact this is where he became a part of the group called the Flames. The Flames were known for being “the toughest, loudest, and most together……. [Brown’s]. Clothes were the flashiest, from the shiny suits of the late Fifties.” Brown once again proved that rock was in his blood not only in his music but through his on stage performance, always trying to be the best and rock the hardest. He not only rocked in his clothes and attitude but it was clearly shown on stage, from jumping around to doing the splits. In his earlier years Brown was very acrobatic and energetic showing his fans that rock was a part of who he was just as much as soul was.


Even though James Brown brought funk to the forefront, in my opinion, funk was still southern rock. Funk in its truest form is just rock with more drums and less guitar and also southern with a more upbeat tempo. So why would you classify this as southern rock if you are changing the instrumentation and the tempo of the music? As everything in life, music changes over time but the genre still remain the same. Even though you’re changing the instrumentation and the tempo of the music slightly it’s still southern rock with a different name. If you were to change your name and clothes to look like somebody else; underneath it all you would still be the same person. James Brown took southern rock and tried to broaden it to reach a larger audience. At the time of the civil rights movement when the world was so divided, every little bit helped to try to bring the world together. Funk was that thing that everyone could share and listen together no matter what race race or sex that the person was.


Most of Brown’s music you can accredit to be southern music. The changes he made to southern music was taking it a step further by using stronger drum beats than most southern songs. For example, when listening to “Bewildered,” it is easier to hear the southern-ness coming through the song behind the drums. The song is slower paced and Brown is singing about a bad situation with a woman he loved that left him. This song by my definition is not completely southern but has a lot of southern identity. By my definition is order for it to be southern music it needs to be more guitar based. Brown was accredited as a southern music artist because at this point in his career he was trying to transform southern music from a slower paced to more upbeat. Even though “Bewildered” was a slower paced song by Brown’s standards it was still lot faster than most southern music.


James Brown was liked among all Americans across the country, giving an opportunity for blacks and whites to have some common ground during the civil rights time period.  He was not only a musician but an African American Political icon during the civil rights movement. He wrote songs like ‘“Say it Loud Im Black and Im Proud’ which Brown says cost him a lot of his crossover audience.” Many white Americans didn’t really appreciate Brown being so direct and straight forward with his political view through his music. He tried to use his music to reach his audience who didn’t view the world the same way that he did every day. However, for those white Americans who still like Brown’s music but didn’t share his same political view didn’t really accept his explicit choice of words. Brown used his music to reassure protestors to keep fighting for equality in the United States and also to let them know that they were not alone in the fight. Being so active in the civil
rights Brown popularity grew among the African Americans. 


James Brown was turned into a political icon for the African Americans during the civil rights movement because he not only used his music to motivate the protestor but also to show his white audience that he was in favor of supporting the civil rights movement. On two of his album covers he chooses a more political picture. In “Get on the Good Foot,” he is pictured wearing an afro which is contrary to the straight hair that he normally wears. Also in “Revolution of the Mind,” he is pictured behind a gate or bars which signify that African Americans can only be caged by the white man if they allow themselves to be. This marketing tool also allowed for Brown to have faithful supporters throughout his career even when he was being criticized about all of his songs sounding the same. No matter what the critics said about his music many African Americans continued to buy his music because they loved James Brown for who he was and what he had done for the civil rights movement. However, his white audience started to lose their faith in James Brown when the critics started making the claim that his music sounded the same. His negative criticism and political album covers cost him many of his white audience but allowed for him to generate faithful and strong black supporters in the south.


James Brown died on December 25, 2006, at the age of 73, which ended the life of a man who has built and opened doors for African Americans in the music industry. Brown was considered a very strong Political Icon for blacks during the civil rights movement, which allowed for him to travel across the world exposing the north and other countries to the style of funk. He was criticized for always producing the same music over and over and was claimed to have caused hip hop. Even though producing the same music and creating hip hop was meant to be negative, you can say that Brown was the cause for the all major African American institutions of today’s music industries. He opened doors for blacks to go from trying to get played on white radio stations to becoming CEOs and owning their own record companies. James Browns legacy will continue well past his days, negative or positive he will be known as the king of funk. I will remember him as the king of funk, better known as southern rock, because in 1986 James Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. They might not have accredited him for his southern rock, but at least back then someone broadened the scope of rock to funk.