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  • Rebel RockLynyrd Skynyrd, Normaal, and Regional Identity
  • Maarten Zwiers (bio)

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Normaal adapted Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” to reflect their life in the Achterhoek: I am proud to be a farmer in the lowlands / A place where even squares can have a ball / De Graafschap is our favourite in football / and Grolsch is still the biggest thrill of all.” Members of Normaal (L to R): Jan Manschot, Ben Jolink, Paul Kemper, and Willem Terhorst, 1983, by Hugo Jaartsveld, Erfgoedcentrum Achterhoek Liemers.

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In the spring of 1975, as in previous years, Lochem organized its annual music festival. Lochem is a Dutch village in the rural eastern Achterhoek region (literally, “the back corner”), nestled near the German border. From the vantage point of Amsterdam, this part of the country is indeed the back corner—dense with wild forests and even wilder peasants. Achterhoekers not only seem untroubled about the way they are stereotyped by people in the country’s urban west, they take a certain pride in it. The town of Doetinchem boasts a football club, De Graafschap, whose supporters call themselves Superboeren (“Super Farmers”). Grolsch, first brewed in 1615 in Groenlo, another Achterhoek city, remains the beer of rural people across the Netherlands to this day. And members of the Dutch rock band Normaal all hail from this region.

Before their first big show at Lochem’s festival, Normaal practiced songs by Chuck Berry, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. They also included Merle Haggard in their repertoire, which was unusual for a band whose front man used to be a hippie. “I loved Merle, even back then,” lead singer Bennie Jolink said. “He was a straightforward country and western artist who sang songs that were unpolished and sounded real.” Normaal adapted Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” to reflect their life in the Achterhoek. They did not sing about burning draft cards, long hair, and flying Old Glory in front of the courthouse, but about beer and the local football club: “I am proud to be a farmer in the lowlands / A place where even squares can have a ball / De Graafschap is our favourite in football / and Grolsch is still the biggest thrill of all.” Haggard’s transformed song was one of the first numbers in which Normaal aligned itself with Dutch farmers.1

Normaal opened the concert in Lochem at nine o’clock in the morning, by which time most of the band members were already drunk. But their performance of rock ’n’ roll songs like “Godveredomme, waor doe ik ’t veur” and “De Drieterije Blues” struck a responsive chord with audience members and critics alike. Performed in both Dutch and regional dialect, the lyrics had a raw and vulgar edge. As Oor music magazine reported, “The fact that singer Boozin’ Bennie expresses his joys and sorrows in an undiluted Gelders dialect was the most peculiar part of the Normaal concert. It is amazing how truthful the lyrics sound. If he sang them in standard Dutch, these songs would not make sense at all.” That morning in Lochem, at the Dutch countryside’s equivalent of Woodstock, Normaal began its quest to redeem the farmer and the rural Netherlands.2

Across the Atlantic Ocean that same year, southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd released their third album Nuthin’ Fancy, featuring “Saturday Night Special,” “I’m a Country Boy,” “Whiskey Rock-a-Roller,” and “On the Hunt.” Most of the numbers dealt with the white, male, working-class South’s rowdy side of life: violence, hard liquor, chasing women, picking cotton, and rambling. Like Normaal, Skynyrd [End Page 86] proudly sang about their rural upbringing and the differences between town and country. As Ronnie Van Zant declared on Nuthin’ Fancy, “But one smell from the city / And this country boy is gone / Big city, hard times never bother me / I’m a country boy, I’m as happy as I can be.” Skynyrd had already voiced a similar message in previous songs, including most notably in their ultimate hit, “Sweet Home Alabama.” Lynyrd Skynyrd was not very well known in the Netherlands during the height of its popularity...


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