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Drive-By Truckers

Drive-By Truckers



Alternative country group



Although the alternative country group Drive-By Truckers have earned much critical acclaim, the band has nonetheless struggled for recognition. In 2001 music critics fell over themselves searching for new superlatives to describe their latest album: "Southern Rock Opera is a brilliantly realized double CD of raw, heartfelt rock that destroys Southern stereotypes while offering an insightful look at coming of age in Alabama in the 1970s," wrote Larry Katz in the Boston Herald. The band's mixture of styles, however, left the Truckers in a nebulous position: "Drive-By Truckers make music that is too rock for country, yet probably a little too country for straight-ahead rock fans," wrote Dan MacIntosh in Country Standard Time. These blurred musical boundaries, combined with the release of Decoration Day in 2003 prompted Michael Long in the National Review Online to comment: "The Drive-By Truckers remain the best unheralded band in popular music today."

Patterson Hood met Mike Cooley in 1985 and they immediately began to play music together. "We were broke," Hood recalled to Grant Alden in No Depression, "sitting around playing [guitar], and it just clicked." They formed a band called Adam's House Cat and recorded an unreleased album called Town Burned Down in 1990. When the group broke up, Cooley returned to painting houses and Hood moved to Athens, Georgia, to form another band. He also started listening to country and western and integrating roots music into his songwriting style. "I met a couple of new friends in Athens who were really hard-core into Loretta Lynn and old country stuff ," Hood told Alden. "It was almost like I had an epiphany from it."


In the mid-1990s Cooley rejoined Hood and they brought together a diverse group of players to record the band's first album, Gangstabilly. "The album," wrote Bill Peters in All Music Guide, "keeps its charm by keeping it simple." Songs like "Why Henry Drinks" and "Demonic Possession" mixed humor with a brash musical exploration of the Southern working class. David Goodman in Modern Twang called it "a record certain to make you squirm and laugh at the same time." The self-reliant Truckers released Gangstabilly on their own label, Soul Dump, and used the controversial illustrations of Wes Freed on this and subsequent covers. Freed's images of Southern people and places mimicked the raw art of underground comics, and struck many as politically incorrect.


The band followed with Pizza Deliverance, a studio album, and Alabama A** Whuppin', a live effort, in 1999. "The Truckers' sophomore Pizza Deliverance extends Hood's sensibilities beyond Southern-fried clichés," noted Peters, "to paint the South in a way that's at once campy and earnest, raunchy and longing and sad." The band also started touring in 1998, playing over 400 shows during the next two and a half years. "We all quit our day jobs around the time Pizza Deliverance came out," Hood told Alden. "It was kind of like, 'if we're going to do this thing, let's do it.'" Alabama A** Whuppin' was recorded in a number of clubs and captured the band's raw energy at an early stage.

By 2001, despite three albums and a string of one-night stands to their credit, the Drive-By Truckers seemed destined to live out their existence as a small-time band on the fringes of the country rock resurgence. This changed abruptly, though, when the band brought one of Hood's long-planned projectsa rock operato fruition.


Hood and bassist/producer Earl Hicks had discussed the venture early in the band's history, and Cooley later added his ideas to their blueprint. The opera would tell the story of Lynyrd Skynyrd, a well known Southern rock band, centering on the mythic personalities of Ronnie Van Zandt, the band's lead singer, and George Wallace, Alabama's controversial governor. The Drive-By Truckers released the double album Southern Rock Opera in 2001 without the backing of a label, distributing the album on their website. Critical response was immediate. "In two discs and twenty songs," wrote David Fricke in Rolling Stone, "Dixie's Drive-By Truckers explode the yahoo baggage of 1970s Southern rock in a roaring memoir of growing up white, loud and desperate in the former Confederacy."


The attention built momentum for the album, but fans quickly discovered that it wasn't easy to find a copy. "It was really frustrating," Hood told Katz. "We had all these nice things said about it and nobody could find it." A year later Lost Highway Records, the label responsible for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, rereleased Southern Rock Opera and sold more than 20,000 copies.


In 2002 the Truckers recorded Decoration Day for Lost Highway, but the label dropped the band before releasing the album. "We found ourselves in different musical directions," Lost Highway Vice President Frank Callari told Alden. The Truckers quickly signed with New West, and Decoration Day was released in June to yet more critical acclaim. "Rarely has a band that rocks this hard possessed such an eye for the sharpest edges of hard living," wrote Long. Mark Deming concurred in All Music Guide : "Decoration Day is every bit as ambitious a work as Southern Rock Opera, broadening the band's sound and style while staying true to their ideals and approach."

For the Record . . .

Members include Mike Cooley , guitar; Earl Hicks , bass; Patterson Hood , guitar, vocals; Jason Isbell , guitar; Brad Morgan , drums.


Group formed in Athens, GA, 1996; released Gangstabilly, 1998; Pizza Deliverance and Alabama A** Whuppin', 1999; recorded Southern Rock Opera, 2001; Southern Rock Opera reissued on Lost Highway, 2002; released Decoration Day, 2003.


Addresses: Record company New West, 608 W. Monroe St., Ste. C, Austin, TX 78704, phone: (512) 472-4200, website: http://www.newwestrecords.com. Web-site Drive-By Truckers Official Website: http://www.drivebytruckers.com.


While fame and fortune may or may not be around the corner, both fans and critics still expect great things from the group. "The Drive-By Truckers are one of the most promising of the second generation Redneck Underground bands," wrote Goodman. Notoriously hard-working; they were already in the studio working on songs for another album by the summer of 2003. "The Drive-By Truckers have laboriously fashioned themselves into a potent and important band," wrote Alden, !even though the whole notion of a rock band itself now seems anachronistic."


Selected discography

Gangstabilly, Soul Dump, 1998.

Pizza Deliverance, Ghostmeat, 1999.

Alabama A** Whuppin', Second Heaven, 1999.

Southern Rock Opera, Soul Dump, 2001; Lost Highway, 2002.

Decoration Day, New West, 2003.



Sources

Books


Goodman, David, Modern Twang: An Alternative Country Music Guide and Directory, Dowling, 1999.

Periodicals


No Depression, July-August 2003, p. 79.

Boston Herald, August 2, 2002, p. 21.

Online


Best of 2003, National Review Online, http://www.nationalreview.com/ (September 10, 2003).

"Drive-By Truckers," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (September 10, 2003).

"Drive-By Truckers Celebrate Independence Day, " Country Standard Time, http://countrystandardtime.com/ (September 10, 2003).

Drive-By Truckers Official Website, http://www.drivebytruckers.com (November 26, 2003).

"Southern Rock Opera, " RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/ (September 10, 2003).

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

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