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Drive-By Truckers: Southern (Dis)Comfort

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS Southern (Dis)Comfort: It’s Only Rock and Roll

by James Calemine

 

I

“People need trouble——a little frustration to sharpen the spirit on,
toughen it. Artists do; I don’t mean you need to live in a rat hole
or gutter, but you have to learn fortitude, endurance. Only
vegetables are happy.”

William Faulkner

 

“…stories of corruption, crime, and killing yes it’s true,
greed, fixed elections, guns, drugs, whores and booze…”

Mike Cooley

 

On a warm May evening, The Drive-By Truckers stormed the stage at the Atlanta Music Midtown Festival. Some of the largest acts in the business perform at this annual music gathering. The Truckers’ main man, Patterson Hood, grins at the festive crowd wearing mirrored sunglasses, a grizzled beard, a light short-sleeve shirt, blue jeans, smoking a cigarette, and glances over at his longtime musical sidekick, Mike Cooley, who prepares to sing the opening song, called “Where the Devil Don’t Stay”, from the Truckers new CD, The Dirty South.

In the past several years, The Drive-By Truckers managed to carve a niche in the industry by presenting unrepentant southern-style music to a cold and schizophrenic music business. The Dirty South propels the Truckers closer into the company of classic southern groups and songwriters like Eddie Hinton, Otis Redding, Steve Cropper, the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tony Joe White, Spooner Oldham, Donnie Fritts, and Dan Penn.

Buy the Drive-By Truckers' The Dirty South at AMAZON.COM

Onstage, the triple threat of the Truckers appears evident with three talented songwriters and guitarists in Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and Jason Isbell sharing duties which never allows a dull musical moment. It’s been many years since anyone has seen a band like the Truckers. The grim narrative on the Trucker’s new venomous CD, The Dirty South, told in a merciless and unforgiving tone, reveals tales of natural disasters, cancer, unemployment, corruption, war, and weak economy with a brutal truth that leaves no room for softhearted nonsense. Rock and roll with a vengeance…

Recently, The Truckers musicianship carried them to television——in mid-May, they covered Tom Petty’s “Rebels” which appeared on Fox’s show “King of the Hill.” These same songwriters once wrote, “to the fucking rich man all poor people look the same”)…

The Truckers performed a great set at the Music Midtown for an enthusiastic Atlanta crowd. The band appeared relaxed. They played with a trademark jackhammer intensity including new songs in the setlist such as “Where the Devil Don’t Stay”, “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac”, and “Daddy’s Cup”.

As Cooley sang the lowdown lyrics(“deal from the bottom/one ace in the hole/one hand on the jug/but you never do know”) from a new tune about bootleggers and poison whiskey, the jubilant Atlanta crowd seemed to celebrate a homecoming with open arms for the next great southern band.

 

II
 

 

 

“The artist penetrates the concrete world in
order to find at its depths the image of its source,
the image of ultimate reality.”

Flannery O’Connor

 

“George A. was at the movies in December 41
They announced it in the lobby what had just gone on
He drove up from Birmingham back to the family’s farm
Thought he’d get him a deferment there was much work to be done
He was a family man, even in those days
But Uncle Sam decided he was needed anyway
In the South Pacific over a half a world away
He believed in God and Country, things was just that way.”

Patterson Hood

Patterson Hood grew up in Florence, Alabama, near the Tennessee River. Patterson’s father, David Hood, played bass in the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm section called the Swampers (recently inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame). This talented group played on recordings made by the Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Cliff, Traffic, Solomon Burke, Clarence Carter, Arthur Conley, Etta James, Percy Sledge, James Carr, The Rolling Stones, Duane Allman, Bob Segar, Bobby Womack, Paul Simon, and many more.

Muscle Shoals is one of the (Quad) four small towns including, Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia. Twenty-two miles from Mississippi, and eleven miles from Tennessee, Muscle Shoals is known as the hit recording capitol of the world, an unlikely place for a hotbed of popular music. A place where white and black musicians ignored the racism and prejudice from locals in the 60’s and 70’s to produce more than a few hits that helped change the sound of modern music. The beautiful area also remains the site of the Wilson Dam. Browns Ferry, a local Nuclear Power Plant, holds the distinction of the world’s third worst nuclear power plant accident, which caused grave pollution to the people and waterways of the area.

Since his father owned a great collection, Patterson Hood was exposed to a wide variety of timeless music. He recently told me, “Soon as I was old enough to sneak those records back underneath the covers I did because he was very picky about his records just like I am. So I started raiding his collection pretty regularly around eight years old. Any allowance I could get, I’d buy records. My first job when I was 16 was at a record store. I worked there five years so I blew pretty much every penny I could come up with on records and keeping my old car running.”

Hood began writing songs in the third grade and picked up a guitar when he was 14. He graduated from high school in 1982. In 1985, he began playing in a band with Mike Cooley. Cooley “The Stroker Ace” grew up in Tuscumbia, Alabama, the same town as Helen Keller. As a boy he took guitar lessons from bluegrass legend Al Lester and watched saw Carl Perkins play at the Hayloft Opry. Cooley told me of his early exposures to music: “I took lessons from Al Lester for a couple of years. I can’t remember exactly. I was around 8 or 9 years old. I kinda picked guitar up on my own. My parents are somewhat musical; neither one of them learned to play any instruments, but they could both sing, they had really good feel for pitch, rhythm, melody, and those kinds of things.

“My Dad always loved music. He would have probably played something if he could’ve started playing when he was young. There was an old movie theater in downtown Tuscumbia——they stopped showing movies there long, long ago, but for a short time a group of people went in together and bought the place. They were all local musicians that had this country band. Every Saturday night they did this Hayloft Opry thing. They’d have some of the same people rotating every week, they did it very much like a Grand Old Opry performance, but that’s where I saw Carl Perkins and Red Sovine…”

Hood and Cooley played in a band called Adam’s House Cat for six years. Cooley revealed the provenance of his musical relationship with Hood: “I was 19. We didn’t know each other, but we ended up being roommates. I was rooming with a guy that Patterson knew, and we had an extra room, and he was looking for a place to live and he moved in. He saw I had a couple of guitars laying around, and we got to talking and the next thing you know we were dropping out of college.” Adam’s House Cat eventually broke up. Then Cooley and Hood moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Later, they moved to Auburn, Alabama, where they played shows as an acoustic duo (Virgil Kane) and another band (Horse Pussy) before going separate ways.

In 1994, Hood moved to Athens, Georgia where he started playing solo shows anywhere he could book a gig. In 1996, Cooley and Hood reunited to start the Drive-By Truckers. Cooley explained their regrouping. “We started getting back together some and just fooling around with four track demos. After Patterson lived in Athens long enough to get to know quite a few people, he just kind of assembled a group and got some studio time to go in and cut some songs. So he gave me a call and asked me to come over and play on it. He didn’t know these guys that well. I’d never met them before in my life.

“We got together the night before, and kinda rehearsed for a little while and went in the next day and cut five songs. Two of em’ ended up on our first release. We called the band the Drive-By Truckers to give the release a name. Patterson just started booking gigs as the Drive-By Truckers. Everybody in the band had other commitments——there was six of us, and it was like whoever showed up, that was the band. It was the drummer from the Possibilities, Matt Lange, a guy named Adam Howell who we knew from Auburn——the Horse Pussy bassist, Barry Sell, and John Neff.”

Buy the Drive-By Truckers Gangstabilly at AMAZON.COM

In 1998 the Truckers released their full-length debut album, Gangstabilly, a punk, country, and rockabilly collection. Cooley explained the line-up changes the band began experiencing, “Shortly after we released Gangstabilly we started hitting on the road. Barry Sell left the band right after we cut the album——actually he’d already left the band but he went on and played on Gangstabilly. We started getting on the road and then Rob (Malone) came in just before we started to cut Pizza Deliverance.”

The band released Pizza Deliverance, a humorous title that shed light on the band’s philosophy and mode of operandi. Hood explained to me the dichotomy between the Truckers humorous and dark songwriting. “I’ve always been drawn to dark subject matter— dark stories. I started writing young and I wrote for years and years and everyone always said, ‘you’re songs are so goddamned dark.’ I’ve been doing this shit for years, so out of frustration, I started letting humor ease into the songs. If I could tell this story in a way that made it more entertaining then I would. Then I’d hear, ‘all your songs are joke songs.’ You can’t win.
“I like the ones that insert a little humor cause I don’t really think of it as being a bad thing. Our later records don’t have as much humor as some of the earlier ones when we were playing small clubs, competing with loud crowds and kinda had it a little more tuned up, in your face, just to get some attention.”

Alabama Ass Whoopin’ was recorded live in Athens, Georgia during the fall and summer of 1999 at various clubs. This record, released in 2000, displays the band’s feverish live dynamic. During this time the band already seemed to capture it’s own style. However, they found difficulty in cementing a lineup. Cooley explained the band’s intention, “We got together and started looking for a bass player cause the plan was to move Rob to guitar and have three guitar players to bring in a full time bass player, and we went through a few different people and Earl “Bird Dog” Hicks was working with the band and played some bass before and finally he just got disgusted watching us try and try and try to keep cutting and re-cutting the album and not being able to get anyone to commit to the bass. So Earl decided, ‘screw it, I’ll do it myself.’ He became the full-time bass player for a long time.”

The band went through an arduous process in 2000 of recording Southern Rock Opera, a release that captured the “rock critics” interest. A concept album released by the band, Southern Rock Opera, tells the story of a fictional band, Betamax Guillotine, based roughly on growing up in Alabama and the tragic fate of the great southern band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Songs like “Ronnie and Neil”, “72 (this highways mean)”, “The Southern Thing”, “Road Cases”, “Shut Up and Get On the Plane”, “Greenville to Baton Rouge”, and “Angels and Fuselage” mark the Southern Rock Opera a formidable release.

Buy the Drive-By Truckers' Southern Rock Opera at AMAZON.COM

In the liner notes, Hood explains the album’s intention: “In the six years that we’ve been brainstorming, writing, learning, playing, and recording this album, we have given a lot of thought to how this record would be received by the fans, friends, families, and surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd. This work is delivered with the utmost respect for them and the legacy that they left behind. Even the seemingly irreverent title is in keeping with the spirit of the band that performed “That Smell” and the man who wrote the line “oak tree you’re in my way” to tell of his band mate’s near-fatal collision. We hope that it is taken as the absolute highest possible form of flattery and honor.”

This double CD collection solidified the Trucker’s authenticity while furthering the southern music movement in a modern day tradition. Around this time, Patterson Hood recorded a solo album he never intended for release, later titled killers and stars. Hood explained the current psychic weather of the time in the liner notes of his solo debut: “I recorded killers and stars, by myself in the dining room of the house where I was living, in early March 2001. I had just gotten divorced, was fighting with the band (DBT) and a good number of my friends. I recorded the album in two consecutive nights, then ran down some rough mixes about a week later. The band (DBT) was taking some time off the road to finish mixing our new album (Southern Rock Opera) and generally cool off from a really intense time of touring and recording. It was also a time to deal with some personal demons that were ravaging our personal lives and were beginning to spill over into our relationships with one another.” killers and stars would not be released for another three years.

In 2001 when the Truckers released the Southern Rock Opera, they hit the road hard, and in the fall of 2001 Lost Highway picked up the album and re-released it the next summer. Jason Isbell joined the band midway through the SRO tour. On a half-day’s notice, Isbell learned the songs onstage in Norman, Oklahoma. Two days later, he wrote the title track for the upcoming record, Decoration Day.

Most of the songs written during this period surfaced on a record The Truckers recorded at David Barbe’s studio in Athens, Georgia. Isbell earned a publishing deal with FAME before he joined the band while working as a session guitarist at the Muscle Shoals studio. He told me during a phone conversation while driving with his wife Shonna (Trucker’s new bassist) from Nashville to Columbia, South Carolina for a solo gig, of his musical origins: “Well, with me it was a family thing. My parents don’t play, but they were about the only two people from either family that didn’t play anything. Everybody else around me when I was a kid played…my Granddad played, my uncles played, my cousins played, so it started out as a family thing since everybody would get together as early as I can remember. I pretty much picked it up from there. My Dad’s brother gave me a guitar when I was 7 or 8 years old and I was playing mandolin before that because my hands weren’t big enough to play guitar. My family was my first big influence. My Dad was real big into the rock and roll records of the 70s like Queen, Free, Skynyrd of course, and the Allman Brothers records. Dad listened to that stuff all the time——so I inherited his record collection.”

Once Lynyrd Skynyrd heard Southern Rock Opera they offered the Truckers the opening slot on their tour. The Truckers were also selected by Farm Aid in 2002 to perform alongside legendary acts such as Neil Young and Willie Nelson.
Isbell augmented the threat of two guitar playing songwriters in the band. Cooley and Hood finally found what they’d been looking for in a third guitar player (much like Skynyrd discovering Stevie Gaines).

Buy Drive-By Truckers' Decoration Day at AMAZON.COM

Decoration Day, recorded at David Barbe’s Chase Park Transduction Studio in Athens, Georgia, was released on New West Records in June of 2003. This collection of 15 songs emerged as the group’s greatest accomplishment to date. It’s more mature, personal, and controlled than any of the previous recordings. With three songwriters-guitarists, the group transformed into a leaner, even meaner rock and roll locomotive. David Barbe played guitar, keyboard, and wurlitzer piano as well as produced the record. However, the unsung hero on the Decoration Day remains the killer pedal steel guitar player John Neff. Neff, an original Trucker, has played with other Athens bands like the Star Room Boys, Japancakes, Bloodkin, Barbara Cue, as well as composing movie soundtracks with David Lynch such as Blue Bob, and Mulholland Drive.

The short film, The Accountant, by Ray McKinnon won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2001, inspired Hood to write “Sink Hole” a memorable song that tells the story of a family losing their farm in a sad plight of the American farmer.

Other Decoration Day gems stand as “Marry Me”, “Heathens”, “When the Pin Hits the Shell”, “Loaded Gun In the Closet” (special appearance on Wurlitzer from legendary Spooner Oldham), and the title track proving the Truckers were a fierce musical force. The importance of family remains a theme in many of these songs dealing with death, incest, poverty, suicide, love sickness, and addiction with sad twangs of country music. Decoration Day achieved #27 on the Top Independent chart as well as wide critical acclaim.

Once again, the band endured changes with the departure of longtime bassist Earl (“Bird Dog”)Hicks. Hicks’ replacement, another Muscle Shoals player, Shonna Tucker, who later married Isbell (on Hood’s birthday) made her first appearance playing stand up bass on the Decoration Day tune, “Sounds Better In the Song.” Isbell explained the new dynamic of having his spouse in the band: “On a professional level we all communicate with each other real well so it’s pretty easy to keep everything going like it’s going right now. With Shonna and me it makes it a whole lot better——we get to spend more time together and for travel arrangements and stuff like that it works real well. I don’t have to share a hotel room with a bunch of smelly bastards (laughs). We can go over stuff with each other, and she’s a great player, which is the bottom line.

“That really makes more difference than anything else especially when you’re considering hiring someone to play. She fits in really well with the band and we all have a good time I think. She was also a Muscle Shoals studio musician back home. Before I was in the band we used to do some local and regional touring——like we’re doing now (Isbell solo gigs) as a two-piece while the bands off the road for a few days. We used to do that a lot. We met that way——she was a musician before I knew her. We met at a songwriter’s night when we were both teenagers. It’s something she’s been doing long as the rest of us. It changes the atmosphere a little bit, but I think in the right way. Plus, you don’t really want to fuck up onstage with a pretty girl watching you. She keeps us on our toes with her playing.”

The Truckers solidified their song craft while touring across the States, and Europe, behind Decoration Day. After running the industry gauntlet, the band decided on returning to sweet home Alabama and record their meanest record yet.

 

III
 



“The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever
hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down.
The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man
who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from
the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the
world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect
a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.”

Cormac McCarthy

 

“You can throw me in the Colbert County jailhouse,
You can throw me off the Wilson Dam
But there ain’t much difference in the man I wanna be
And the man I really am”

Jason Isbell

 


On August 24, 2004, New West Records released the Trucker’s sixth record, The Dirty South. Once again, Athens musical sorcerer, David Barbe produced the album. This time, the band returned home to Muscle Shoals and recorded at the famous FAME studios.
A few days after the Music Midtown Festival, New West Records released Patterson Hood’s new solo record killers and stars. Hood played various solo gigs in June and July, fresh from a honeymoon trip to Amsterdam and Paris.

Hood and I sat backstage at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, Georgia, over tall cans of PBR, before his solo show with his band, the Necessary Evils. A southern gentleman, Hood talked about growing up in rural Alabama, “There’s really nothing there——it’s beautiful because of the rivers and the Dams, but all the buildings are ugly. We were a dry county so you have to drive to the Tennessee State line to get any beer——it’s not dry anymore, but it was until I was an adult. Which was good as a teenager because it was a lot easier to buy beer illegally when it’s illegal anyway. When I was sixteen I knew everybody on the state line on a first name basis.”

When asked about returning to his hometown to record, Isbell remarked, “It’s great, I love it down there. Not to mention the history of the place which is obviously overwhelming. It’s a really good room, and it’s easy to get a good sound down there. A lot of people don’t realize that studio is still up and running still making really, really good records on a regular basis. The room still sounds like a million bucks and they still got all the old instruments——organs, pianos, and stuff they recorded all those hits back in the 70’s with. It’s a great place to make a record, and it’s real close to the house.”

Hood agreed that recording The Dirty South in Muscle Shoals ranked as inspirational. “It was incredible. It was a thrill for me because I’d never really been there until the year before. We did Jason’s solo record there. We finished his solo stuff right around the time we started making this new one. We cut nine songs in four days. We mixed it in Athens, but that’s all. Then there was a half an album of songs that didn’t make the cut because we had all the new songs and we wanted to put the newest songs out. I don’t second-guess any of the songs that made it on to the record. They were the 14 songs that needed to be together, but I really like the songs we left off.

“There was a song we left off called “Good Field’s Road” that was still in the running until the last minute——it was a tough decision because that was probably my favorite piece of writing. I always liked that song, but I don’t think we had the quintessential take. “Lookout Mountain” was one take. “Where the Devil Don’t Stay” was the first take, so was “Tornadoes”. “Buford Stick” was maybe a second take. There was at least a couple more first takes. Then several first takes we left off.”
Cooley commented on recording in Muscle Shoals where the ‘Swampers’ thrived, “Well, we’d talked about it for awhile. We just thought it would be cool to go and record there. David (Barbe) was excited about producing and engineering in such a legendary place. It was like, why not? Those songs took shape in that studio.”

The Dirty South sounds much darker and grittier than any of the group’s previous work, containing even sharper, more concise songwriting. Williams Burroughs once wrote that a writer can only write about what’s in front of him, and this 70-minute CD revolves mostly around the band’s home state of Alabama. Unlike Decoration Day, a collection of songs about relationships, The Dirty South reveals desperate people with no choice sometimes but to turn to a life of crime. Once again the “duality of the southern thing” manifests itself through pride and regret. “Lyrically, it’s darker than Decoration Day, but I think it might rock harder which might save it from being too awfully depressing, but it deals with some very serious situations,” Isbell told me.

In the liner notes, Hood explains the album’s mission: “Welcome to the Dirty South. It’s a tough place to make a living, but we ain’t complainin’. Just doing what we got to do. Trying to raise our kids and love our women. Do right by the one’s we love. But don’t fuck with us or we’ll cut off your head and throw your body over a spillway at the Wilson Dam. We’ll burn your house down. We mean business and it ain’t personal. Hell, I always liked ya. I might not want to get my hands dirty, but I got this buddy…In the end, I’ll continue loving my family. I’ll try not to fuck up too bad. Maybe I’ll live to tell the tale.”

When this writer asked Hood the meaning of the title of the new CD, he explained: “One of the only things we all agree on music wise to listen to in the van is Hip-Hop. We all love Hip-Hop. So it was kinda a nod to Atlanta’s hip hop scene and it fit. It was a nod, a tribute, a salute, but it was also tongue and cheek because what we do is the dirty south too——in a lot of ways our subject matter is not real different. Like on the new record, a lot of the songs are about people who, out of desperation, turn to a life of crime. They end up doing things they never thought they would do, but they were forced to, and all that somehow tied in. I think it’s a perfect name for the record. It was the working title for a long time. We kept thinking another title would come along that would be the real title, but in the end that was the only thing to call it.”

From the opening song, “Where the Devil Don’t Stay” to the fading notes on “Goddamned Lonely Love”, The Dirty South stands as a classic rock and roll record. Of course there are always critics who’ll claim the record is not up to par. This happened to the Rolling Stones (who recorded three songs in Muscle Shoals for their Sticky Fingers album) with records such as Exile On Main Street that received lukewarm reviews when released, but years later emerged as a classic. It may take folks a few years to catch up, but The Dirty South stands as timeless electric countrified-blues.

Each indelible member of the songwriting team contributes strong compositions to this disturbing collection. Mike Cooley’s tunes, “Where the Devil Don’t Stay”, “Carl Perkins Cadillac”, “Cottonseed”, and “Daddy’s Cup” vie as the album’s strongest compositions. The glorious opening tune, “Where The Devil Don’t Stay” tells the tale of bootleggers and prohibition behind one of the finest triple guitar attacks ever. “Carl Perkins Cadillac” contends as a hit single (“I tend to have the five-minute plus curse that keeps me off the radio” said Cooley) which brings back great memories of Sam Phillips, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash.

“Cottonseed” stands as one of the album’s darkest tales, and the only song that contains one man playing an instrument by himself in lone troubadour fashion. Cooley told me about the tune, “Yeah, it’s based on a real person. I tried to make sure I didn’t connect anything to him because he might kill me. He was a bad, bad boy. Definitely a southern Tony Soprano.” “Daddy’s Cup”, one of the positive songs, tells a fine tale of a father passing on his knowledge to his son that most racing fans will love. This song would make for a great NASCAR theme song.

Isbell’s songs “The Day John Henry Died”, “Danko/Manuel”, “Never Gonna Change”, and Goddamned Lonely Love” indicate why he was asked to join this band, and scored a publishing deal with FAME studios. “The Day John Henry Died” reveals a tale of industrialization coming of age in a time where machines began replacing flesh and blood at the work place. “Danko/Manuel” is based on the story of the Band. Isbell revealed, “I know a lot of people who learned how to sing by listening to them. They wrote great songs. I love the Band——it just turned out to be kind of a sad story about being on the road for too long, and not getting out of it what you deserve.”

“Never Gonna Change” stands out as the most polished song on the album. “A tale of a North Alabama man who refuses to live in fear,” explained Isbell. The final song on the album, his “Goddamned Lonely Love” a sad ballad (“I ain’t falling asleep/I’m fading to black”) serves as the slowest, and prettiest tune on the collection. Isbell, only 24 years old, shows all the signs of being as a technical songwriting master.

The Trucker’s fearless leader, Patterson Hood’s songs cast the most ruthless tone and messages. “Tornadoes” was written in 1988 after a tornado ripped through Hood’s hometown during a local performance, as he explained “the day God decided she didn’t want me to be a rock star.” This serves as a fine song dealing with the savage facts of life——natural catastrophes, and how people’s lives are wrecked by something which they have no control. Anyone who’s experienced trouble can relate to this album, or this band. “The world is like that and at the same time I hope it’s fun and at times maybe a little beautiful——the world is like that too. The older I get, and the more different places we go the more the reality is to me is that duality of the world…life sucks, but I want to keep living it,” said Hood.

“Puttin’ People On the Moon” conveys a sharp political insight. Yankee musicians will step aside, scratching their heads in wonder at these mean ass country boys revealing such cutthroat political insight. Hood wrote in album notes about this song: “I wrote this one in the van, shortly before we completed the album. Sort of my latest and best attempt at a song that I’ve written and re-written at least a dozen times since the mid-80’s. This song deals with ‘rocket-envy’, a non-diagnosable psychosis affecting people in an economically depressed community, located just 60 or so miles from the NASA Space and Rocket Center. To make matters worse, our community is downstream from industry, contributing (surely) to our massive cancer rate.” A sample verse:

Mary Alice got cancer just like everybody here
Seems everyone I know is getting cancer every year
And we can’t afford no insurance, I been ten years unemployed
So she didn’t get no chemo so our lives it was destroyed
And nothin’ ever changes, the cemetery gets more full
And over there in Huntsville, even NASA’s shut down too.

Like Skynyrd, or Hank Williams Sr. this ain’t no act. They’re not pretending to be country boys with no other choice in their lives but to play music. The next Hood song, “The Sands of Iwo Jima”, constructed with subtle banjos, harmonica, Rhodes organ, and guitar parts, he revealed to me as probably his favorite: “I feel pretty strongly about this bunch of songs. “Sands of Iwo Jima” is a real personal thing for me cause it’s about a good guy that doesn’t do anything bad or wrong. That made it a harder song to write as opposed writing a song about a guy who killed someone. It’s easier to write about the darker characters. The song’s about my great Uncle, George A, and capturing that in a song and do it justice that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a writer. I feel real happy about that song. It’s probably the best piece of writing I’ve ever done. I guess that’s my favorite, but at the same time, I don’t play it live very much because it’s so hard. It’s not a song that lends itself to a really loud rock show. I’m really proud it made the record. In some ways it doesn’t fit the record, but to me it kinda did because the re-occurring theme on this record is people not having as choice. In most cases, people not having a choice meant them doing very bad things——really terrible things in a sense of desperation. In the case of my great uncle, it made for a counterpart to that because he was forced to go and be part of this horrible day in history, and by surviving it, he came home a greater man. He truly did. It was something that shaped a big part of his personality. The more I’ve traveled the more I realize what a unique man he was. One night while watching the old John Wayne movie (The Sands of Iwo Jima) on TV, he simply said that `he never saw John Wayne over there’.” Great songwriters immortalize the common man…

“The Boys From Alabama” tells the story of Buford T. Pusser (remember the original movie Walking Tall?). During the beginning of the song, Hood’s monologue explains “this is the other side of that story…”

Buy Walking Tall at AMAZON.COM

The song is based loosely on folklore surrounding the “redneck mafia” which inspired countless books and movies through the years. Although three guitars propel the bands dynamic, there are no indulgent solos on The Dirty South. Lyrics reveal the Truckers hardboiled tendency to lean towards dark truths:

“Friends on the inside
Friends on the outside
Sneak up beside you
So keep on the good side
Don’t piss off the boys from Alabama
Better take it like a man
Ain’t nobody gonna stick anything up your ass
If you remember who your friends are”

Dark stuff.

“The Buford Stick” is another tune based on the Pusser tale from his enemy’s point of view. A faint musical reminder of Crazy Horse comes to mind on this one. Hood noted, “I wrote this one night in the studio at FAME right before we wrapped the album. It was originally set to be a country type song, but (producer) David Barbe suggested we put the pedal to the floor on it. We love David Barbe.”

The old Cooley/Hood song “Lookout Mountain” was written years earlier, and first appeared on Alabama Ass Whoopin’. Hood claimed, “Cooley and I have been playing various versions of this song since about 1990 (Adam’s House Cat). It has always been one of our favorites to play, but was a last minute addition to this album. In the mixing stage, we swapped a song called “Goode’s Field Road” for it because we wanted a harder rocker for this spot on the album. “GFR” was one of my favorites on the album but I stand by this as the better call.”

The Dirty South tells a ruthless tale with vengeful moxie serving as a paragon for any underdog, drug store truck driving man, sickhearted soul, hardworking folk, or good ol’ boy or gal down in the world with hard luck. This is why The Dirty South will transcend the last two decades of music, and rank as an all-time great record——above or below the Mason-Dixon Line. For those who seek music to rise above depression, loss of loved ones, and savage fate, then this album will serve as a great musical companion. In fact, it will give you faith, but if your life is easy and painless, you might be scared away. If you’re not into the Truckers, as Bob Dylan once wrote, “next time you see me comin’, you better run…”

Hood looks down at his beer, minutes before stepping onstage with all sorts of distractions surrounding him, as if he knows the hellhounds sniffing on his trail never lurk far behind says, “Most of the people I meet are pretty nice across the world. There’s no shortage of things to really get mad about, upset about, cry about, but in the end you do what you can to fix what you can and find a way to do whatever you can to make a little piece of it better, and you revel in that. To me that’s kinda what it’s all about. That’s definitely where our heads are at with this new record without sounding lofty about it. At the same time, it’s a fucking rock record——I don’t want to get too cerebral about it. That’s why I love having three guitars to go along with all those dark messages…”

related tags

Mystery and Manners,
Muscle Shoals,
Athens,
Georgia,
Alabama,
Discourse,
Lore,
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