Published Mar 24, 2014Drive-By Truckers co-founders Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood have been playing music together in one form or another for the better part of 30 years. A rock'n'roll outfit born of the singing river that sweeps past their hometown of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the Truckers have proven themselves again and again to be one of the most vital American bands in the game. Despite working with a revolving door of band members over the years, the Truckers have developed and perfected a signature sound: a hybrid of the cowpunk of their early days, the Southern rock of their high school parking lots and the swampy R&B that made their hometown famous.
With this month's release of English Oceans, their 10th studio record, they can look back on a career that has seen some pretty heady highs and more than a few crushing lows. Here is a taste of five key moments in their story. For more, read our complete Timeline feature on the band from this month's issue of Exclaim!
Five Noteworthy Facts You May Not Know About Drive-By Truckers:
1. After the breakup of their first three bands together, Hood and Cooley didn't talk for a couple of years. Then, in 1995, a tragic event changed Hood's worldview forever, leading him to reconnect with Cooley.
In 1995, Hood sees a band called the Diggers that features Gregory Dean Smalley. Smalley is a local legend in Athens, GA, involved in several bands simultaneously, founder of the Bubbapalooza festival, and key figure in the Redneck Underground movement (which includes Kelly Hogan and Bill Taft). Smalley is also, tragically, dying of AIDS-related complications.
As Hood recalled in a piece for Paste Magazine: "He responded to his death sentence by joining several more bands and playing constantly, sometimes several nights a week… It made me question and eventually reaffirm my own convictions and beliefs." Hood pens "The Living Bubba" about Smalley, which he still believes to be the best song he has ever written. It features the chorus-cum-mantra "But I can't die now, 'cause I've got another show."
2. Their breakthrough album — about a semi-fictional band who die in a plane crash — was released on September 12, 2001. This was not terrific timing.
The CD release concert for Southern Rock Opera, scheduled for 9/12/2001, is thrown up in the air following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington the previous morning. "We all decided we weren't, figured we weren't, going to play," recalled Hood. "[But] we called the club and they said 'We're going to be open. If y'all want to come play, that's fine. And if you don't, that's fine too. We understand. We don't know if anyone's coming or not. But a lot of people want to get out and drink. Maybe it might do them some good to hear some rock.' So we drove up, and played, and toured for the next two years on that record."
3. Fact: There were some crazy demographics at work in this band for a while.
Youthful singer-songwriter and guitarist Jason Isbell joins the band in 2002, and plays a key role in the next three studio records. "If you wrote down on a piece of paper the idea for this band," Isbell would later declare, "nobody would do it. If you wrote down: 'We're gonna have a band with three different singers, and each singer is gonna write his own songs.' And you said, 'well, it's gonna be a Southern-oriented rock'n'roll band, but it's not gonna be a Southern rock band. And the guitar player and the bass player are gonna get married. And these guys are gonna be in their 40s, and these guys are gonna be in their 20s and these guys are gonna be in their 30s.' If you wrote all that down and tried to audition people for the gig, you wouldn't have a single person show up. There's no way! It's the worst idea in the world. On paper. But, it worked."
4. The Truckers maybe sort of almost broke up around the time of 2006's A Blessing and a Curse.
"There was one point around A Blessing and a Curse where we wondered if we were done or not," Cooley will tell Exclaim! in 2014. "But we got over it. We didn't really come close to breaking up, I wouldn't say." Nevertheless, in April 2007, Jason Isbell leaves Drive-By Truckers. Though at the time this was said to be an amicable departure, Isbell would tell the New York Times in 2013 that this was a charade, and that he had in fact been forced out of DBT. "Jason needed to front his own band," Cooley says. "That's what he needed to do." The band responds by writing and recording what may be their most accomplished record, 2008's Brighter Than Creation's Dark.
5. The "Southern thing" may be present in us all, no matter where we're from.
After a 2010 show in London, ON, Patterson Hood takes to the band's website to complain about a group of unruly fans in the front row. "'Buttholeville' really is a state of mind," he declares, referencing his old song about rednecks, closed-minded fools and small-town ignorance. Here he was in "liberal" Canada seeing the truth that redneck idiots are to be found everywhere you go.
Read more about the Drive-By Truckers' fascinating history in our Timeline feature here.