Oct 052009

I don’t know that we’ve ever put a name to the “big-boned” offspring of classic boogie and arena rock until now: Burly Rock. Did any band display the strengths and weaknesses of this genre better than Bachman-Turner Overdrive?

Of course the genre dates back to an early band featuring Randy Bachman, The Guess Who.

With their brawny Canadian approach to power chording, The Guess Who, along with Steppenwolf, probably set the foundation upon which countless “big men,” “mountain men,” and outright loads could take the main stage and rock out with the best of rock’s pretty boys. Rob Tyner of MC5 also did his part for adding some meat to the rock ‘n roll stew, but this is not to say that any band featuring burly guys is a practitioner of this form of rock. The Atlanta Rhythm Section, for instance, featured its share of brawny, burly, and “big-boned” dudes, but they played a decidedly slight form of rock ‘n roll, if you can even call it that.

Along with BTO, I’d cite the early Doobie Brothers as pioneers in this form. Listen to the way they lay into their Barre chords!

Beside the drummer, no one in the band threatens to tip the scales, but you can feel the thick, hairy forearms behind each musician’s rhythms. If you need a tree chopped down, the fact that Paul Weller is a woodcutter’s son means little when you’ve got the likes of BTO and the Doobie Brothers hoisting their axes.

What I have not yet investigated – and what I ask you to help see through to completion – is what became of Burly Rock. Did it make it through the arena rock era? Did the likes of Michael McDonald send underground during the late-70s and early ’80s, only to resurface, slowly, through the American underground movement of the mid-80s? Was Burly Rock the driving force behind grunge? Physical characteristics aside, is anyone working within this genre today?

I look forward to your insights.


  48 Responses to “Burly Rock”

  1. Of course, I know we had the “rockin’ fat dudes” discussion, but Mountain certainly comes to the fore of my mind when I hear the description “Burly Rock.” I like this genre.


  2. Mr. Moderator

    How could I have forgotten Mountain?!?! Thanks, TB.

  3. BigSteve

    Tenacious D

  4. the Black Keys?
    That shit’s pretty BURLY!

  5. general slocum

    Has anyone ever belied burliness like Aaron Neville? He has been displaying his billboard biceps for decades, paired so oddly with that wispy little falsetto. I always feel shortchanged.

    Not for the overall sound, but certainly burliness of sound and vision would be the late Jack Gorry of Scab Cadillac fame.

  6. gosh ya blew my mind with that Jack Gorry mention. I couldn’t agree more General!

  7. Mr. Moderator

    Jack from Scab Cadillac: great call, General. Sorry, those of you outside Philly and younger than a certain age. (kilroy, with your baby face I’m amazed you knew who the General was talking about!)

  8. Screaming Trees surely qualifies as grunge-era burly rock, primarily on their Sweet Oblivion record.

  9. Yeah Jack and I hung out quite a bit during the last year or 2 of his life. I thought he was terrific! Scab Cadillac was long gone by then, but I knew about them too! I’ve been playing clubs in Philly since 1989 when I was 16.

  10. BigSteve

    I saw Aaron Neville in the grocery store once, and he was *much* shorter than I would have guessed. I wonder what’s the connection between having a high voice and being height challenged.

  11. BigSteve

    The unapologetic masculinity implied by the term ‘burly rock’ requires cultural context that I think is going to be hard to find in today’s indie rock. I would point you towards Hank Williams Jr. and Toby Keith for better examples of testosterone poisoning in music.

  12. “Are you ready for some footbaaaaalll?” is pretty burly, BigSteve. Hank Jr. is a GREAT choice.


  13. hrrundivbakshi

    Let’s not confuse “Burly Rock” with “Mandom.” Simple masculinity isn’t what Mod is after here… I assume. Name-checking fat guys is also *not* what Mod’s looking for.

  14. 2000 Man

    I know it’s totally uncool, but I really like BTO. I always have. But I’ve never liked The Doobie Brothers, even a little bit. I think it’s a fine line, but it’s one my guys can’t cross. I think the most popular band of this style would be AC/DC, and I think a lot of that is thanks to Bon Scott.

    To see the line clearly, I think you can just look at ZZ Top. They were kind of a mid tier blues rock band through Fandango, and then they got the sound muscled up a bit (probably because Fandango cost twelve bucks to make and made five million dollars), but the next couple of albums fit the mold really well. Tejas, Deguello and El Loco were big, crunchy affairs that worked really well in 80,000 seat stadiums. Then came Eliminator and whatever it is about that album is the step over the line, and I don’t think you’re allowed back after that.

    Grand Funk eventually crossed that line, too. They were great Burly rockers, even if they were really just skinny guys. I’d agree with anyone that said Leslie West was the Patron Saint of Burly Rock.

    Ever hear Five Horse Johnson? They’re perfect for this. I think they’re on Small Stone, so the kids today call it Stoner Rock, which will probably sell more than Burly Rock. I think Fu Manchu would fit the bill nicely, too.

  15. Mr. Moderator

    First of all, BigSteve, I don’t care how much iron Aaron Neville can pump. That guy’s as far away from Burly Rock as is Kate Bush.

    As for “cultural context” and “testosterone poisoning” I fear you paint with too broad a brush. Certainly an abundance of “unapologetic masculinity” can take rock down a poisoned path, but it does not necessarily need to lead toward the doorsteps of Toby Keith and Lil’ Bocephus. At least I hope not!

    Hrrundi, thanks for clarifying what I’m NOT looking for. With examples like Screaming Trees, we’ve successfully traced the development of Burly Rock into the late-80s. shawnkilroy suggested Black Keys for the present day. Do they cut it as “burly” for you? I see how they have some woodcutting potential, but without a bass guitar pumping along with the rhythms, I’m not feeling that “Let It Ride” burliness. I’m happy to be wrong about this, though, because I think it’s important that Burly Rock holds its small place in modern music.

  16. Mr. Moderator

    You’ve got it, 2K! I agree that the Doobie Brothers, even at their burliest, put too much of a sheen on things, like their mufflers were polished brass rather than chrome.

    I’ll have to check out Five Horse Johnson. Great name.

  17. I think ZZ Top really deserves a closer look here. A scruffy look and brawny sound are crucial elements for sure, but ZZ Top also has a great chest-beating point of view in some of their lyrics which help elevate their Burly Profile. (see I’m Bad I’m Nationwide, or Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers).

    Danzig would probably own this category were it not for that video of him getting knocked out with one punch.

  18. Mr. Moderator

    I can’t stand ZZ Top, but they have some Burly cred. Where they fall short, in my opinion, is in their usual contentment with shuffling beats and “tasty” chops. For a band with so much Burly promise, they spent too much time saddle-soaping their tack just so and not enough time breaking in colts and roping steer.

  19. hrrundivbakshi

    “Born In the USA” Springsteen is pretty much the best example of Burly Rock — or maybe pretend/showbiz Burly Rock — I can think of. That Boss Persona is to Burly Rock like Camden Yards is to the old Memorial Stadium.

  20. hrrundivbakshi

    Oh, and Mod: you’re WAY off-base as far as the Zeez are concerned. Their rock was *incredibly* burly back in the day.

  21. 2000 Man

    I don’t think the chest thumping “Go America!” from Toby Keith and Hank’s kid are burly (Mr. Mod, I kind of liked your “dudely boogie” term from the past better). Their testosterone comes in a can from a corporate sponsor. One day, we’ll hear that too much testosterone makes you fat, and Toby Keith will sell us Testosterone Ultra Light.

    I think cdm has a good point with those ZZ Top songs. I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide really goes right up to the line, like BTO did for awhile, but never crosses it, thus becoming even more burly and mighty for coming so close and making it back alive. I think Grand Funk’s Walk Like a Man is perfect, too.

  22. Mr. Moderator

    Next time we’re together, HVB, can you please supply me with the appropriate drugs for appreciating that ZZ Top album with the green cover? I play it once a year and find it to give off a mostly smug sense of TASTE. They should have been a jazz fusion band with their attitude.

  23. 2000 Man

    Springsteen can’t be burly, no matter how Conan’s drummer is miked. Bruce uses too many words.

  24. hrrundivbakshi

    Mod: it ain’t about taking drugs.

    I’m afraid you need to be eased into the Top; there’s just something about your tight-assed Philadelphia quaker school upbringing that’s probably getting in the way. You might try hanging out with a different class of people to help get you going. I suggest you watch this for starters:


    Make sure you stick around for the snorts, grunts and hat-grabbing around the 2:00 mark.

  25. I had the sound was off, yet after watching just the first two seconds of HVB’s video, I can’t stop laughing?

  26. Mod, I’m decidedly on Team Top, but I’m trying to understand how come you are writing them off as Burly Rockers. And if I understand you correctly, you might have a valid point.

    So, are you saying that the Top is too smart and emotionally detached from their songs to be genuine burly rockers?

    I can agree with that. However, what you have against Tres Hombres, I’ll never understand. Smug sense of taste? How may XTC albums do you have again?

  27. Mr. Moderator

    Yes, cdm, to just about all your questions. I’m saying that any time I start to get on board with Team Top for their ability to deliver Burly Rock, they play some tasteful blues shuffle that gets Hrrundi’s pipe tapping. I can justify pipe tapping for XTC and other Prock artists – that’s part of the music’s appeal – but don’t serve me a heaping plate of huevos rancheros and then try to sell me on the free range eggs that went into making it. THAT’S what ultimately bugs me about ZZ Top. They want to sell me on their notion of free range chicken and eggs. They want me to ask the main guy why he wears multiple African skull caps…

  28. Mr. Moderator

    What do you think about this Southern Rock analysis?

    Lynyrd Skynyrd (sp?): Burly Rock
    Allman Brothers: merely Brawny Rock

    To me, a key characteristic of Burly Rock is the ability to keep all riffage concise, compact, and committed. This gets back to why BTO was so accomplished in this area and why the genre so closely toes the line that 2000 Man spoke about regarding Grand Funk Railroad and early Doobie Brothers.

  29. “don’t serve me a heaping plate of huevos rancheros and then try to sell me on the free range eggs that went into making it.”

    Okay, that one made me laugh out loud. Point well taken, at least as far as justifying their exclusion from the Burly Rock showdown.

    Two observations while poking around the internet for ZZ Top related stuff:

    1. There’s a video of Van Halen covering Beer Drinkers and I’ve come to the conclusion that Michael Anthony is the only guy in that band that I can put up with (provided he’s not wearing Buttafuco pants and playing that stupid-ass Jack Daniels bass).

    2. The Top are working on an album with Rick Rubin. This seems like it was inevitable. If you lined up all the beards in that session end to end, it would stretch from Amarillo to Abilene.

  30. Mr. Moderator

    Now you funny too, cdm!

    I’ll have to say, ZZ Top is one of those bands that, any time they come into play in the Halls of Rock we open the doors broader character assessments of some of us, in this case, specifically Hrrundivbakshi and yours truly. I’m sure Hrrundi would agree that we’re better men for the process.

  31. alexmagic

    I’m not sure if I have it fully grasped or completely agree with the Skynyrd/Allmans comparison yet, but I’m developing a bit of a mental picture. Are you saying that the Allmans were, musically-speaking, more wirey, like the kind of shirtless guy who might get pulled out a trailer on Cops? While Skynyrd’s burliness is that you’d be more likely to hear them on the jukebox that a burly, bearded dude might smash your head into if you said the wrong thing at a Southern bar?

    I’m on the fence about the Doobies as Burly Rock, since so much doesn’t seem to fit into it. “China Grove” is Burly Rock, I’d say. And “Music Is The Doctor” sounds probably a calculated attempt to re-acquire burliness in the post-McDonald era.

  32. Mr. Moderator

    You understand the Allmans-Skynyrd thing perfectly, from what I can gather, alexmagic.

  33. Springsteen’s not burly also because of the two keyboardists.

    Like the Allmans (but for different reasons, musically) AC/DC seem more wirey than burly. Also, no facial hair.

    I’m not convinced on the Top yet. They look kinda diminutive underneath those beards. To be truly burly, you need at least one band member who is an out-and-out bruiser, preferably the lead singer: Randy Bachman, Ronnie Van Zant, etc.

    For modern bands, The Constantines sound burly, without being particularly burly looking.

    Mostly I think burly is a ’70s thing. Punk kinda wiped it out.

  34. Slight adjustment, based on calling up “Shoot to Thrill” on my iPod. AC/DC are burly with Brian in the band. But not with Bon. Thoughts?

  35. BigSteve

    I’m thinking the Minutemen might qualify as burly post-punkers. The waxed mustache on the bassist probably disqualifies Husker Du, but Bob Mould’s current band is pretty burly.

  36. CCR are burly, right? Doug Clifford (of Doug Clifford Mysteries) is probably the burliest. Does this mean Credence Clearwater Revisited is burlier?

  37. Oats, you might be onto something with Brian era ACDC.

    I can’t stand that guy but his “singing” and lyrics are chock full of lunk-headed swagger, the absence of which kept them from qualifying as burly during the Bon era.

  38. Mr. Moderator

    CCR is proto-Burly, more Brawny; they swing a lot more than a Burly Rock band likes to be caught swinging.

    I’m interested in this AC/DC consideration. Are they the first band outside North America to be considered for Burly Rock? I was wondering if any British band would qualify, but I hadn’t considered Australia. You’d think the land of Oz could produce some Burly bands.

  39. alexmagic

    Are Pearl Jam a Post-Burly band? They have that forthright commitment to rock that that the already identified Southern and Canadian bands shared, and their look seems to have elements of the ’70s Titans of Burly. Unkempt in the same way that is different from the way punk was unkempt.

    Moreover, I think Vedder’s vocal style, the yarl, has something in common with that deep, jaw-clenched mode of delivery that seems to be running through the bands cited above.

  40. Mr. Moderator

    Love ’em, hate ’em, or feel indifferent about ’em, Pearl Jam shows a definite commitment to the Burly. Again, here’s a band that came out of grunge. I know andyr has always appreciated Pearl Jam’s Burly dual-guitar approach if little else.

  41. This may not be burly, but it’s something:


    That thing makes me feel really bad.


  42. A propensity for swinging doesn’t necessarily preclude a band from being burly. With BTO, there was always a jazz-rock band percolating just beneath the surface…



  43. I’m sorry, but I think the schoolboy costume thang disqualifies AC/DC. They’re going for boyish swagger and teen sneering single entendres. Nothing about them suggests that they ever went into music because the logging business was dying out. “Shoulda been a logger” is I think a key phrase here.

    Skynyrd–now there’s a bunch of guys who shoulda been loggers.

  44. hrrundivbakshi

    Mwall, that’s the second time you’ve decloaked to fire a 500-megaton H-bomb of TRUTH into this forum. Bravo, logger-style!

  45. 2000 Man

    I dunno about AC/DC. Bon made them cool, and without Bon, I think they knew they were extremely uncool guys, so they got the equivalent of a logger in Australia, and grabbed a loudmouthed brute with a thug hat. That’s a burly thing to do if you’re not from North America.

    I’m wondering about the loggers, though. Aren’t they Brawny, not Burly? That’s what my TV tells me, anyway.

  46. Mr. Moderator

    Nice try by AC/DC, but the shorts and goofy teenage boy humor put a dent in their Burly cred.

  47. mockcarr

    Bob Seger seems kinda burly

  48. Mr. Moderator

    Is Seger our first burly solo artist? He’s definitely brawny.

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