PineRidge Film and Television is preparing to produce a three-part documentary, “The Soul of Southern Rock,” that would take Jacksonville’s history with the genre onto an international stage.
Jacksonville-based PineRidge Film and Television is led by CEO Jerry Smith and his wife, Cynthia Smith, as president. Suzanne Teate is associate producer with First Coast Films, which is producing the documentaries.
The series will answer why and how Jacksonville came to be considered the birthplace of Southern rock while exploring the widespread roots of the music.
The estimated $2 million production has a target debut date in 2020 on PBS member stations nationwide, Jerry Smith said.
Smith said PBS has committed to airing the program but will not announce a date until the money is raised.
The Southern rock genre was made famous by groups with Jacksonville ties: The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, .38 Special, Blackfoot and numerous other bands of the late 1960s through the early 1980s.
It continues today with versions of those bands still touring because of continued worldwide popularity, especially in Asia, Smith said.
The three hourlong programs will look at the music’s blend of gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and country influences.
That dates to the 1920s and 1930s when LaVilla in Downtown Jacksonville was a national entertainment center for African American jazz and blues players.
“Some have called Jacksonville back in those days ‘The Harlem of the South.’ Others contend that Harlem should be called the ‘Jacksonville of the North,’” Smith said.
Because much of the music is inspired by the region’s swamps and dirt roads, the series will feature historic and beauty shots of Jacksonville and Northeast Florida.
That will underscore the importance that Jacksonville played in the music’s foundation.
Timing is critical, Smith said. With many of the first-generation Southern rock performers now in their 70s and 80s, knowledge is passing away.
Greg Allman died in 2017 and .38 Special bassist Larry Junstrom died Oct. 6.
Today, as Lynyrd Skynyrd is finishing its concert career, guitarist Gary Rossington is the only surviving member of the original band that recorded its first album.
Smith intends to enlist modern practitioners of Southern rock to talk about the history. Members of bands like Larkin Poe, Drive-By Truckers and the Zac Brown Band, among others, are being sought for input.
A part of PBS documentarian Ken Burns’ formula is the authoritative voice of the documentaries, such as Peter Coyote.
PineRidge is looking for its voice. Smith would like a personality with an instantly recognizable voice, such as Billy Bob Thornton.
No commitments or contracts have been signed.
Another aspect of the documentary is that race is rarely a subject in Southern rock.
The Allman Brothers Band included percussionist Jaimoe Johanson. One of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s standards is “The Ballad of Curtis Loew,” a song about an elderly black street blues musician who served as an inspiration to the band when they were kids.
Guitarist Duane Allman introduced The Beatles hit “Hey Jude” to soul singer Wilson Pickett. Together they did a version that became a hit for Pickett.
Southern rock was not confined to Jacksonville’s city limits. Bands formed throughout the South spread the music to national and international audiences.
“Just like Nashville is the home of country music, Jacksonville is the home of Southern rock. It is who we are,” said Cynthia Smith.
In addition to PBS, PineRidge has produced programs on networks that include HGTV, Food Network and The Discovery Travel Channel, among others. PineRidge has won six national daytime Emmy awards.
The group is seeking national and Jacksonville area sponsors for the estimated $2 million Southern rock project.
Smith said his group hopes to raise the money by early in the first quarter of 2020.
PineRidge is in negotiations with the California-based National Sponsorship Group to sign corporate sponsors and is soliciting $500,000 to $700,000 in local funding.
The media kit to be used in the sales pitches are in an album cover. There is a 10-minute trailer narrated by Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist and Blackfoot founder Rickey Medlocke.
Jerry Smith said that by participating, a sponsor will be mentioned at the 30-second opening and closing as well as be included in credits and listed on “The Soul of Southern Rock” website.
Smith said the investment could last for years, given PBS’s practice of airing programs many times throughout its markets.
However, PBS has strict sponsorship standards.
“When working with PBS, you have to be very discreet in choosing sponsors. There can be no ‘pay for play’ arrangements,” Smith said.
For example, if a guitar company were a sponsor, it couldn’t edit out film footage showing a musician playing another brand of guitar. However, if footage shows a musician playing a sponsor’s equipment, that is seen as a plus.
PineRidge will work with Janson Media to distribute the series in Canada, Europe, Australia and other international markets.