I grew up in North Alabama back in the 1970s, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. I'm speaking of course of the three great Alabama icons: George Wallace, Bear Bryant and Ronnie Van Zant.
Now Ronnie Van Zant wasn't from Alabama, he was from Florida. He was a huge Neil Young fan, but in the tradition of Merle Haggard writin' "Okie from Muskogee" to tell his dad's point of view about the hippies in Vietnam, Ronnie felt that the other side of the story should be told. Now Neil Young always claimed that "Sweet Home Alabama" was one of his favorite songs. And legend has it that he was an honorary pallbearer at Ronnie's funeral.
Such is the duality of the Southern Thing.
And Bear Bryant wore a cool lookin' red checkered hat and won football games. And there's few things more loved in Alabama than football and the men who know how to win at it. So when the Bear would come to town, there would be a parade. And me, I was one of them pussy boys cause I hated football, so I got a guitar. But a guitar was a poor substitute for a football with the girls in my high school, so my band hit the road and we didn't play no Skynyrd either. I came of age rebelling against the music in my high school parking lot. It wasn't until years later after leavin' the South for a while that I came to appreciate and understand the whole Skynyrd thing and its misunderstood glory. I left the South and learned how different people's perceptions of the Southern Thing was from what I'd seen in my life.
Which leads us to George Wallace:
Now Wallace was for all practical purposes the Governor of Alabama from 1962 until 1986. Once, when a law prevented him from succeeding himself he ran his wife Lerline in his place and she won by a landslide. He's most famous as the belligerent racist voice of the segregationist South. Standing in the doorways of schools and waging a political war against a Federal Government that he decried as hypocritical. Wallace had started out as a lawyer and a judge with a very progressive and humanitarian track record for a man of his time. But he lost his first bid for governor in 1958 by hedging on the race issue, against a man who spoke out against integration. Wallace ran again in '62 as a staunch segregationist and won big, and for the next decade spoke out loudly. He accused Kennedy and King of being communists. He was constantly on national news, representing the "good" people of Alabama.
And you know race was only an issue on TV in the house that I grew up in. Wallace was viewed as a man from another time and place. But when I first ventured out of the South, I was shocked at how strongly Wallace was associated with Alabama and its people. You know racism is a worldwide problem and it's been since the beginning of recorded history and it ain't just white and black. But thanks to George Wallace, it's always a little more convenient to play it with a Southern accent.
And bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd attempted to show another side of the South, one that certainly exists, but few saw beyond the rebel flag. And this applies not only to their critics and detractors, but also from their fans and followers. So for a while, when Neil Young would come to town, he'd get death-threats down in Alabama.
Ironically, in 1971, after a particularly racially charged campaign, Wallace began backpedaling, and he opened up Alabama politics to minorities at a rate faster than most Northern states or the Federal Government. Wallace spent the rest of his life trying to explain away his racist past, and in 1982 he won his last term in office with over 90% of the black vote.
Such is the duality of the Southern Thing.
And George Wallace died back in '98 and he's in Hell now, not because he's a racist. His track record as a judge and his late-life quest for redemption make a good argument for his being, at worst, no worse than most white men of his generation, North or South. But because of his blind ambition and his hunger for votes, he turned a blind eye to the suffering of black America. And he became a pawn in the fight against the Civil Rights cause.
Fortunately for him, the Devil is also a Southerner. So this song's going to take place in Hell, told from the Devil's point of view, as he does what any good Southerner would do when company's coming. He brewed up some good sweet tea and whups up some Southern hosptality for the arrival of the new guest.