In the annals of Southern Rock — that particular genre defined as much by the grit, growl and sheer verbosity of its music as much as by its native origins — the Outlaws were destined to be a minor-league team for the most part, often overshadowed by A-players like The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band, 38 Special and Molly Hatchet. Nevertheless, they did manage to make an imprint on the mainstream market courtesy of a series of album rock standbys, “There Goes Another Love Song,” “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” and “Green Grass and High Tides,” as well as the fact they were the first signing to Clive Davis’ Arista Records label. Given Davis’ reputation as a credible hitmaker during his fabled ’60s tenure as president of Columbia Records, the band should have excelled to a greater degree. (According to legend, Davis first spied them opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd and was subsequently told by the band’s Ronnie Van Zant, “If you don’t sign the Outlaws, you’re the dumbest music person I’ve ever met — and I know you’re not.”)
Indeed, as the band’s recently released Live at Rockpalast, a memento of an exceptional performance in Germany circa 1981, attests, any failing to achieve higher heights couldn’t be attributed to their lack of either energy or enthusiasm. Utilizing the prerequisite elements of their stated style of dual lead guitars and high harmonies, the lineup (vocalist/ guitarist Hughie Thomasson, guitarist/ vocalist Billy Jones, bassist Rick Cua, drummer David Dix, and later recruit, guitarist Freddie Salem) reflects a legacy initially established with the group’s three most essential albums: Outlaws (1975), Lady in Waiting (1976) and Hurry Sundown (1977). Despite a shifting series of players that drifted in and out of their ranks, the band continued to record well into the ’80s — with a belated reunion album It’s About Pride released in 2012 — and, with one configuration or another, still toured incessantly as well. The death of founding member Thomasson in 2007 impacted their progress, but there’s reason to believe that this belated live release might spark renewed interest and allow the Outlaws’ legacy to live on a little longer.
Salem, who continues to work as a session player in Los Angeles, is understandably enthusiastic about the album’s delayed appearance. Following a brief solo career, he met the Outlaws in L.A. following the release of their first three albums. “They called me a year later and asked me if I wanted to fly to Tampa because the guys wanted to jam,” he recalls. “I had no idea what was going on and that they had an outgoing member (founder Henry Paul) or this or that, so I said, yeah, I would love that. So I went down there and had the greatest time. We rehearsed for a week and then played our first gig, which was at Boston Garden. I felt that energy and combustion from day one. Considering all I had done before, that was definitely a high point of my career. We became quite a headlining band after a couple of years, and that was definitely a wonderful time.”
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