Consisting of five members: Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Brad Morgan, Jay Gonzalez and Matt Patton, the Drive-By Truckers are a rock band that was founded in 1996.
Their latest album "American Band" was released September 30, 2016.
By Rick Harmon
Alabama Tourism Department
Patterson Hood is an Alabama maker. He wanted to make a unique sound — one steeped in the rhythms, the storytelling and the history of the South.
And that’s exactly what Hood, the son of bassist David Hood of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, has done for the past two decades with the group he formed with fellow Alabamian Michael Cooley — the Drive-By Truckers.
It wasn’t easy. Initially, both the sound and the success he wanted remained elusive. From the late 80s until they started DBT in 1996, Hood and Cooley tried to find success in other bands and even as a duo, only to have each effort eventually fail until they co-founded DBT.
“This band was received differently from the very start,” said Hood, a guitarist and mandolin player, vocalist, and who with Cooley writes most of the group’s songs.
“Maybe [it was] a combination of timing — the 80s were never a good decade for me or the kinds of things I was into — and perhaps we also had a better vision of what we should be doing.”
Even with DBT’s positive reception, keeping that band going was difficult.
“At times it's been unimaginably hard,” Hood said. “Yet right now it all seems so easy and natural. I think it was a matter of finally finding the perfect set of players to collaborate and play with along with fine-tuning the other aspects.
“I feel like we accomplished most of our initial goals and many that have presented themselves to us along the way too. A lot of it has just been a matter of following the songs and where they have led us. I've always been extremely artistically ambitious but it took me a long time to figure out how to acquire the necessary ingredients to do the sounds in my head.”
As with many makers, the group’s work reflects their traditions and history. In the case of DBT, it reflects Alabama.
“So much of our sound and content is steeped in Cooley and myself growing up in The Shoals area and living for half a century in the South that it’s an unmistakably huge part of our whole entity,” Hood said.
Although he now lives in Oregon, Hood is proud of his roots.
“I’ve watched with a lot of pride how much my hometown has grown in positive ways in the past couple of decades,” he said. “It’s really become a vibrant musical community. There’s long been this rich musical history and heritage there, but it was long lacking in live music options or opportunities.
“I spent much of my youth especially frustrated about that, but The Shoals has really made some positive changes in that direction of late, as well as so many other positive changes. There really seems to be a real excitement there that I had never witnessed before.”
But their pride in Alabama hasn’t caused Hood and Cooley to turn a blind eye to its problems.
Their breakout 2001 album, “Southern Rock Opera,” shows pride in the South and its culture but doesn’t overlook the social injustices carried out in its name.
DBT’s “American Band” album, which was released Sept. 30 to critical raves, and its first single, “What It Means,” are the group’s most direct and outspoken statements on social injustice and racism.
Hood, who wrote a “New York Times” op-ed condemning the way continuing to embrace the Confederate flag has negatively affected Southern culture, believes the band’s civil rights stands may, at least subtly, cause people to re-examine Southern stereotypes.
“The problems that are addressed in that song and on our new album in particular are national in scope, as they’re happening all over the country,” he said. “Our band has always been outspoken politically with a progressive world view. The fact that we have a Southern accent should tell people not to generalize too much. There are plenty of other like-minded people from down here, even if the media tend to point the camera at the ones who adhere to the cliches.
“The old North/South divide is more a thing of mythology than truth at this point in our history. Even the red state/blue state divide is more complex than how it’s portrayed in the media or mass culture. It’s honestly way more of a rural/urban divide. I live in Portland, Oregon, which is easily one of the most liberal cities in the country, maybe even the world, yet you can drive 20 minutes in any direction and see trailer parks and Trump signs just like anywhere back home.”
DBT is more popular than ever before, and Hood loves the group’s new albums, but he also loves the old ones.
“Our band has such a long and varied history,” he said. “We’ve lived through tons of drama and personnel changes through the years and a wander through the catalog shows this. I’ve loved and respected each era of this band. Some more than others for sure, and there have been times when it was almost unbearably hard keeping it all together, but over all I’m proud of each of our many albums.
“Even the times we tried to do things that didn't quite work as planned, we at least were trying to do something good, and our worst albums still have some great moments.”
He said he liked the original four-piece rock band era that hit the road and played 200–250 shows a year in 1999–2000. He said that version of DBT released albums such as “Pizza Deliverance” and “Alabama Ass Whuppin'” and “was an especially nimble and fun band to play in.”
“Of course ‘Southern Rock Opera’ (2001) changed our lives in so many ways,” he said. “The Jason Isbell era (2001–2006) was action packed and provided us with two of our best albums and one of our worst. It was great but wasn't meant to last. The era after that saw a lot of artistic growth and stylistic depth, even if it was sometimes troubled and frayed.”
While he loves their old albums and their new albums, he believes the ones he will love the most are still to come.
This is partially because the band, which also features Brad “The EZB” Morgan on drums; Jay Gonzalez on keyboards, guitar and accordion; and Matt Patton on bass, has finally become a cohesive unit that simply enjoys creating and playing its music.
“This latest incarnation is now in its fifth year and has been by far my favorite on an artistic and personal level,” Hood said. “It has kind of taken the best aspects of all of our incarnations and melded it into a badass unit that is wildly consistent live and agile in the studio. Plus, we all really enjoy playing together and are able to really concentrate on being the best band artistically that we can be.
“The best is definitely still to come.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch
PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch