By Lindsey Lowe Osborne
“Once upon a time my dream was to play in a rock and roll band. It’s the kind of lofty ideal that set the hearts all ablaze in millions of little boys my age back in the era when dinosaurs did indeed roam the Earth,” says Patterson Hood, lead vocalist and guitarist for the twangy rock group the Drive-By Truckers. “Every single day, I think, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’”
Hood formed the band with his friend and former roommate, Mike Cooley, who is also a lead vocalist and guitarist, in 1996. Though they had played together before, the now iconic Truckers is certainly their most well-known and longest-running venture together. “We’ve since played somewhere around 2,000 shows; made 10 studio albums (so far); backed up Bettye Lavette and Booker T. Jones; and have had the adventures of several lifetimes,” Hood says. “As we head into our 20th year this year, I feel that in many ways we are just beginning.”
Though formed in Athens, Georgia, the Drive-By Truckers have Alabama roots and claim the Yellowhammer State, especially the Muscle Shoals area (Hood’s father is bassist David Hood of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.) Hood and Cooley have been joined over the years by a rotating cast of characters, including Jason Isbell; the Drive-By Truckers now includes the two founding members as well as drummer Brad Morgan, keyboardist Jay Gonzalez, and guitarist Matt Patton. Their first album, Gangstability, was released in 1998, followed by 1999’s Pizza Deliverance, 2000’s live Alabama Ass Whuppin’, and a host of others. Their most recent is It’s Great to Be Alive!, released last year.
If the Drive-By Truckers were to be compared to a literary giant—and they are, since I’m an English major and in charge of this—they’d be the rowdier, musical form of Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor’s writing is at once an expose and celebration of the American South; similarly, the Drive-By Truckers’ sound is unapologetically Southern—a gritty kind of country/alt rock—but their lyrics even more so. Every song is a different character study, or folklore, or a story that sounds a lot like “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” (2004’s The Dirty South has tracks called “Tornadoes,” “Cottonseed,” and “The Buford Stick.” I rest my case.) That is to say that the Drive-By Truckers are fun to listen to and even more fun to pay attention to. “As a band, we have always considered ourselves first and foremost a songwriter’s band and always said that ‘song is king’ should be the basis of all artistic decisions. It’s always my hope that [our music] conjures a feeling and leads to a release. A sort of escape, perhaps,” Hood says. “We keep pushing ourselves to be better and grow. We are in a really great place right now as a band. Probably the best of our history. The latest lineup has really gelled into a powerful live act and the show has taken on some new levels musically and personally.”
It’s Great to Be Alive! captures the band’s live chemistry—Hood is proud to say that they have developed a reputation for putting on a good show. The album was recorded over three nights at San Francisco’s Fillmore. “We originally began thinking of ‘The Live Album’ (as we called it for several years) as first and foremost a collection of songs spanning our entire career as DBT,” Hood explains. “Part of the joy of this incarnation of the band has been digging back and seeing what this band can do with songs from various periods of our history. I’m proud of every lineup we’ve had and of the records that we’ve made, but this incarnation has brought a primal energy and personal camaraderie to the process that takes it all to new levels and we’ve been really excited about capturing that.”
As Hood says, no matter when you start counting—some do when he and Cooley first hooked up, others when they started the Drive-By Truckers—they’ve outlasted a lot of other bands, gotten better at what they do, and had a great time doing it. “Every night is important. Every show should be played like it’s the most important show we’ll ever perform. Play it like we might get signed. Play it like we might die before morning. Play it like it’s the last show we’ll ever get to play. It just might be,” he says. “Life can be a fleeting thing, but a life well lived is one where each night is played for keeps.”
Birminghamians, catch the Drive-By Truckers April 9 at the Lyric Theatre.
2/14: MUTEMATH @ Iron City. For fans of Paper Route and Lovedrug.
2/28: Kurt Vile & the Violators @ Saturn. For fans of The War on Drugs and Deerhunter.
3/12: Judah & the Lion @ Workplay. For fans of Josh Garrels and Fiction Family.