Here’s what Neil Young was thinking when he wrote ‘Southern Man’


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Everything you know, and everything you think you know, about the origin of Neil Young’s iconic song ‘Southern Man’ is wrong.

OK, you’re probably right about the meaning, but not about the origin. No way.

You see, the song was quite controversial when it was released. The ill-fated band Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote their hit song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in likely direct response to Young’s songs “Southern Man” and “Alabama.” Skynrd made reference to “Southern Man” in the song when they sang, “A southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” It was a whole deal, or so the story goes. Then, as Young got some space and time between himself and the song, he became embarrassed by the song’s “edge, its condescending and accusatory” tone.

So, Neil Young did not like to talk about it.

And he didn’t talk about it until he sat down for an interview with the ever-curious Dan Rather, who asked him about the song.

It sems that Young was working, or supposed to be working, in the basement of the home he shared with first wife, Susan Acevedo, when inspiration hit. Immediately, he stopped what he was doing to write down the words that were about to boil over in his brain. There he was scribbling away when Susan came in to check his progress on the basement work he was supposed to be doing. When she caught him writing instead of working she got, well….

Let’s just say she was none too pleased.

Loud words were said. Items were thrown, but the typically folksy, calm Young had to get the song written while it was flowing. So all the intense feelings he was feeling just came right out on the page and burned into the song itself.

“Southern Man” does have a very angry sound, too, and that is definitely related to the subject matter, though the fracas with his wife may have had something to do with it, too.

And now you know.

Check out the interview below.

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