Drive-By Truckers

Rock Group Hood, Cooley, Malone

Lived in Muscle Shoals, AL

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame


Flaunting a mix of Southern pride, erudite lyrics, and a muscled three-guitar attack, Drive-By Truckers became one of the most well-respected alternative country-rock acts of the 2000s. Led by frontman Patterson Hood and comprising a rotating cast of Georgia and Alabama natives, the band celebrated the South while refusing to paint over its spotty past. History, folklore, politics, and character studies all shared equal space in the Truckers catalog, which offered up its first blast of gutsy, twangy rock with 1998's Gangstabilly. However, it was the band's ambitious double-disc concept album, The Southern Rock Opera, that became their unlikely magnum opus. A two-act affair, the album explored Patterson Hood's fascination with 1970s Southern rock (specifically Lynyrd Skynyrd) while tackling the cultural contradictions of the region, and it helped lay the groundwork for much of the band's subsequent work.


In 1985, college friends Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood (whose father, David Hood, was a Muscle Shoals session player whose bass can be heard on the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There") formed a punk-inspired band named Adam's House Cat. The group disbanded six years later, and Cooley and Hood launched several follow-up projects before moving to different cities. They eventually reconvened in Athens, GA, where the duo formed Drive-By Truckers in 1996. Gangstabilly announced the band's official debut in 1998, while Pizza Deliverance saw Mike Cooley emerging as a competent songwriter. (The sonic contrast between Cooley and Hood's songs, as well as those compositions written by members Rob Malone, Shonna Tucker, and Jason Isbell, would soon prove to be one of the Truckers' strongest assets.) In 2000, the band documented its strength as a live act with Alabama Ass Whuppin', a concert recording taken from a show in Athens.

The vision for Drive-By Truckers' heralded rock opera took shape as Hood began to address his own Southern roots. Recorded during a September heat wave in Birmingham, AL -- and boasting the band's three-guitar attack (à la Skynyrd) -- the album veered from nervy, powerful rock & roll to a bruised, jagged tone that recalled Neil Young & Crazy Horse. It was also an underground success, receiving a four-star rating from Rolling Stone and catching the ear of roots rock label Lost Highway, which reissued the album in 2002. Unfortunately for the label, many people who would have otherwise purchased the album already owned a copy; unfortunately for the Truckers, they were released from their contract just as their first album for Lost Highway was finished. After several months of between-label limbo, the band was picked up by New West Records, a Texas-based label that released Decoration Day in mid-2003. The album featured several songs by newcomer Jason Isbell, a young singer/guitarist who had replaced Rob Malone two years prior.

Touring and further lineup changes followed the album's release, with bassist Earl Hicks departing and studio musician Shonna Tucker (who was also Isbell's wife) climbing aboard to join Hood, Cooley, Isbell, and drummer Brad Morgan. The new lineup made its debut on 2004's The Dirty South, a concept album that spun Southern tales of small towns, violent sheriffs, and legendary record producers. A concert DVD, =Live at the 40 Watt: August 27 & 28, 2004, arrived in 2005, followed one year later by Isbell's final album with the group, A Blessing and a Curse. In light of Isbell's decision to quit the band in favor of a solo career, pedal steel guitarist John Neff officially joined in 2007, having contributed to several Drive-By Truckers albums in the past. Brighter Than Creation's Dark introduced the revised lineup in 2008; additionally, it showcased Shonna Tucker's abilities as a songwriter, marking the first time that any of the bassist's contributions had appeared on record. Drive-By Truckers returned to the road that summer to support the record's release.

Although the band remained on tour well into 2009, the Truckers also found time to release their second concert album, Live from Austin TX, as well as a collection of unreleased material entitled The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities. Patterson Hood rounded out the year by issuing his second solo record, Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs), although 2010 found him returning to the fold for Drive-By Truckers' eighth studio album, The Big To-Do. Andrew Leahey & Erik Hage, Rovi



It seems simplest to understand Patterson Hood as the director and/or producer of low-budget films, which is maybe what he thought he was doing when this all started. Each is released in record album form under the name Drive-By Truckers and features a closely held assortment of friends and combatants.

Ten of those, so far, going back to 1998's Gangstabilly, plus two more under Hood's own name, have delighted the critics and enthralled fans. Each release filled with carefully told, fiercely rendered short subjects. Cinematic songs. Not Ed Wood films, by the way. More…well, did you see John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer? Or, perhaps better, their friend Ray McKinnon's short, The Accountant?

The new one, the one we're meant to enjoy just now, is called The Big To-Do and ushers in a new relationship with ATO. And it offers up the curious, abiding peace which only great rock can still bring.

Which is not to say that Hood and his long-time fellow-travelers — Mike Cooley (vocals and guitars), along with Brad Morgan (drums), Shonna Tucker (vocals and bass), John Neff (extra guitars, as if there could be such a thing), Jay Gonzalez (keyboards) and studio facilitator David Barbe — travel only on the darkest side of the street. But they do know the road tolerably well.

Well-traveled, they have become a family band: Patterson has a new son, and a daughter; Cooley (nobody calls him Mike) has a trio of little ones, both men betraying more optimism than their songs might hint at. They took most of 2009 off from the road, in part because there was a child on the way and in part because Patterson ended up finishing their last tour on the sidelines with pleurisy. Dog sick. Way worse than hungover.

Somewhat to their surprise they've stumbled into a stable ensemble — not that the Truckers have been anything like Savoy Brown — which confuses even Patterson. "I've loved all the different line-ups, at various times," he says with genuine affection. "They've all had their special things they've done. But this time it seems like our possibilities go a lot further, because there's no drama, no bullshit, and everyone seems really glad to be there all the time. Which is a nice thing. And we really just work well together."

Well, it is suggested, it's about time. "Yeah, no kidding. That Alabama thing, man." You have to grow out of doing everything through conflict, right? "Yeah, no kidding. And…I fortunately don't feel like I have to get divorced again to write a decent song. Thank god."

The Big To-Do was recorded in three concentrated sessions during the first part of 2009: ten days in January, five days in March, ten days in May. That added up to 25 songs, a dozen of which sequenced into The Big To-Do. "We had it mixed, mastered, and completely done, and Cooley wrote the best song that just needed to be on it," Patterson says with his raspy chuckle. This happens a lot with the Truckers, and it's always a good sign. "So we went back in and recorded, mixed, and mastered ‘Birthday Boy' pretty much in one fell swoop." Thirteen songs, then.

The balance of the remaining tracks, plus five more they've cut in the interim, will make up the Truckers' next album, which Patterson projects as a quieter affair.

This is, in large part, possible because the Truckers have such a long-standing relationship with David Barbe (ex-Sugar, etc.) and the Athens, GA, studio he calls Chase Park Transduction, which long ago Patterson helped to build so as to earn the right to record there.

"It's gotten to where, that day of set-up time to get sounds and levels and all of that takes us about two hours," Patterson says. "We can pretty much walk in the door, and we know exactly where to put everything to get that sound, so that's just one less thing to have to think about. I wanted to eliminate the distractions."

That clarity of purpose translates into a delicious assortment of Trucker songs themed loosely around crime and (self-) punishment. "The Wig He Made Her Wear," Patterson says, is both a true story (as seen on Court TV) and the closest he's come to making the movie he started out to make a decade or more back. "The Fourth Night of My Drinking" will speak for itself, and "This Fucking Job" (paired thematically with Cooley's wry "Get Downtown") is arguably the most political song the Truckers have made since "Living Bubba." Which leaves the deceptive, airy simplicity of Shonna Tucker's "You Got Another" and "(It's gonna Be) I Told You So" to reckon with.

"We always knew she had that in her," Patterson says, delighted with the emergence of another strong songwriter in the band. "It was never a secret. She was writing songs all along. But watching it come out has been a really amazing thing to behold."

Off the road, incidentally, didn't mean out of work. First off, there was the matter of cutting an instrumental album with the legendary Booker T, having previously served as the backing band to the equally legendary soul singer, Bettye Lavette. Potato Hole turned out all right, got a Grammy nod, and Neil Young added his touches separately even though it's pretty much a Truckers effort. But it's what they learned making Potato Hole that counts most.

"I think doing the Booker album really, really paid off a lot on the musical end of this record, even though stylistically it might not sound anything like that record," says Patterson, and then tells the story.

"We made that record in four days, and that included the first day when it was, ‘Booker, it's wonderful to meet you!' Maybe the third song we tracked just wasn't going the way he wanted it to go. We weren't quite understanding what he wanted. We were playing it right, but it wasn't right. All the sudden he just stopped the session. He gathered us around, and he told us a story about a Thanksgiving dinner, and the way it smelt in the house, he'd been on the road a long time, and they were all in – cousins and aunts he hadn't seen in several years. He said, ‘It's just a day where nothing happens, but it's all really good.'

"And we sat down and we played it, and we nailed it. It was like a revelation. We're a lyric-driven band, and our songs generally paint scenes and tell stories based on scenes. He instinctively knew that was how we operated. And I think it taught us a lot about how we operated. Going in and making this record, I could tell a real difference in the way the songs hold up musically. We put a little more care into that side of it than I think we ever did before because of what we learned from him."

As for the movie Patterson started writing all those years ago, well, he's no closer to being done with it. "That might just be part of the drive to the songs I'm writing," he admits. And brightens. "I placed a couple of songs in a movie that just came out, shot outside of Knoxville, called That Evening Sun. It's Hal Holbrook's new film, produced by Ray McKinnon."

And then he's off again, headed home to see his family and wondering if maybe Tom T. Hall needs a backing band. It's a beautiful thing to behold.

Drive-By Truckers are an alternative country/Southern rock band based in Athens, Georgia, though three out of six members (Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood, and Shonna Tucker) are originally from The Shoals region of Northern Alabama. Their music uses three guitars as well as bass, drums, and now keyboards. Like many alternative country acts, the Drive-By Truckers record in analog (using 2 inch tape).[1] However, unlike the majority of their contemporaries, the Drive-By Truckers have consistently pushed their labels to also release the band's records in a vinyl format.
Drive-By Truckers was co-founded by Patterson Hood (son of bassist David Hood of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) and longtime friend, former room-mate, and musical partner Mike Cooley in Athens, Georgia, in 1996. The two had played in various other bands including Adam's House Cat which was chosen as a top ten Best Unsigned Band by a Musician contest in the late 1980s. After the demise of Adam's House Cat, Cooley and Hood performed as a duo under the name "Virgil Kane." They eventually started a new band, "Horsepussy," before splitting for a few years. It was during this split that Hood moved to Athens, Georgia and began forming what would become Drive-By Truckers "with the intent of luring Cooley back into the fold."[2]
Together with a revolving group of musicians, Drive-By Truckers put out their first two albums, Gangstabilly (1998) and Pizza Deliverance (1999). Following their second release, the band embarked on a nationwide tour, resulting in a live album called Alabama Ass Whuppin' (released in 2000 by Second Heaven Records, re-released in 2002 by Terminus Records). They had an entertaining and informative website long before most bands had begun taking advantage of the internet as a promotional tool. It was the band's constant touring, however, that helped them develop a large and dedicated following both on and off-line.
After three years on the road a tight-knit group of musicians emerged and they began work on 2001's Southern Rock Opera. Southern Rock Opera is a double album executed as a song cycle. The album uses the rise and literal fall of Lynyrd Skynyrd as a means of analysis of the cultural deterioration of the South during the 1970s. Southern Rock Opera was originally released independently on Drive-By Truckers' own Soul Dump Records on September 12, 2001, and garnered praise from fans and critics alike. In order to meet the new demand brought on by, among other things, a four-star review in Rolling Stone, Southern Rock Opera was re-issued by Mercury and Lost Highway Records in July 2002. Soon after, Drive-By Truckers were named Band of the Year by No Depression.
Before Drive-By Truckers went on tour in support of Southern Rock Opera, the band ran into a problem when they were left with only two guitarists (Cooley and Hood) following the departure of Rob Malone in late 2001. The band added fellow Alabamian guitarist and songwriter Jason Isbell (originally from Greenhill, Alabama) to their line-up as the band's third guitarist. During his five years with Drive-By Truckers, Isbell's compositions became as highly praised as those of Cooley and Hood.
After signing a new deal with Austin-based record label New West, Drive-By Truckers set about recording the follow-up to Southern Rock Opera. The result was 2003's Decoration Day, which, like its predecessor, received much critical praise. It was another concept album, containing characters who are faced with hard decisions about marriage, incest, break-ups, revenge, murder, and suicide.
After years of producing and playing with Drive-By Truckers, bassist Earl Hicks left the band on December 22, 2003. Hicks was immediately replaced by studio bassist Shonna Tucker, then wife of guitarist Jason Isbell. Tucker had previously guested on Decoration Day playing upright bass on the Cooley-penned track, "Sounds Better in the Song".
In 2004, Drive-By Truckers released yet another concept album entitled The Dirty South. The Dirty South further explored the mythology of the South, with songs focusing on Sam Phillips and Sun Records, John Henry, and a three-song suite about Sheriff Buford Pusser.
After touring throughout 2004 and 2005, Drive-By Truckers found their way to the Fidelitorium Recording Studio in Forsyth County, North Carolina during late 2005. These recording sessions, once again produced by David Barbe, resulted in the band's seventh LP, A Blessing and a Curse. Released on April 18, 2006, A Blessing and a Curse showcased Drive-By Truckers' ability to branch out into new territory, and can be seen as the band's attempt at shaking labeling by critics, detractors, fans, and followers, particularly the Southern rock label that has haunted the band since Southern Rock Opera. The album sounds less like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and more closely resembles the bare-bones British rock of the early 1970s such as The Rolling Stones and Faces. Tom Petty, Blue Öyster Cult, and Neil Young's influence on the band's sound is more prominent on this album as well.[3]
On September 1, 2009, (after Isbell left the band) Drive-By Truckers released a collection of b-sides and rarities entitled The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities which were recorded during the Decoration Day and Dirty South sessions and includes tracks by the departed Jason Isbell.
In 2006, Drive-By Truckers reunited, both on-stage and on-record, with Athens-based pedal steel guitarist, John Neff. Neff first played with the band on their 1998 debut LP, Gangstabilly, and played pedal steel on three subsequent albums, 1999's Pizza Deliverance, and 2003's Decoration Day. Neff was featured heavily on the 2006 release, A Blessing and a Curse. During the next year, Neff began touring with the band as an unofficial sixth member.
On April 5, 2007 Jason Isbell announced that he was no longer a member of the band. The following day, Patterson Hood confirmed the break on the official site. In his letter to the fans, Hood described the parting of ways as "amicable" and expressed the hope that fans would continue to support Drive-By Truckers as well as Jason's solo efforts. In the same letter, Hood announced that John Neff would become a full-time member playing both guitar and pedal steel.
Shortly after Isbell's departure, on April 20, 2007, Patterson Hood announced via the band's website that a longtime friend of the Hood family, Spooner Oldham, would be joining the band playing keyboard for a string of acoustic performances called The Dirt Underneath Tour. This stripped-down tour would set the writing mood and style for the band's next release, 2008's Brighter Than Creation's Dark, a far more "swampy" and country record than it's predecessor. Brighter Than Creation's Dark went to #37 on the Billboard 200 album chart and was billed as a gothic masterpiece by the band. Spooner Oldham contributed to the recording of the album, and also toured with the band in support of the record. The record boasted nineteen tracks, clocked in at over 75 minutes (for this reason the record's vinyl format was released as a double album), and features the first song contributions from bassist Shonna Tucker. Oldham stopped touring with the band at the end of Brighter Than Creation's Dark's "Home Front Tour." Yet due to his influence on Brighter Than Creation's Dark, much of the band's new material required a keyboard player. This, as well as playing with (and being heavily influenced by) keyboardist Booker T. Jones, led the Drive-By Truckers to enlist Jay Gonzalez as an official 6th bandmember. Gonzalez would go on to tour with the band and play a pivotal role in crafting the atmosphere and sound of 2010's The Big To Do.
On July 7, 2009, New West Records released the band's second official live album and DVD called Live From Austin TX. Material from Brighter Than Creation's Dark made up the majority of the mostly acoustic set-list. This was the first official release featuring Jay Gonzalez as the official 6th bandmember.
In 2007, Drive-By Truckers backed up Bettye LaVette on her comeback album Scene of the Crime, which was released on September 25 on Anti Records. Scene of the Crime was mostly recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. On it, LaVette transforms country and rock songs written by Willie Nelson, Elton John, and Don Henley, among others, into devastating mini-dramas. Scene of the Crime was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Blues Album” and landed on numerous “Best of 2007” lists. Drive-By Truckers frontman, Patterson Hood, produced the album alongside LaVette. The album also features one song co-written by LaVette and Hood.
Drive-By Truckers backed up Booker T. Jones on his instrumental album Potato Hole, which was released on April 21, 2009. Neil Young also contributed over-dubbed guitar work to the album, though he and the Drive-By Truckers never met in studio. Potato Hole features a re-recording of the Cooley penned track "Space City," which originally was released on the album A Blessing And A Curse. The band performed with Jones as "Booker T and the DBTs" at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on June 14, 2009. On January 31, 2010, Potato Hole won the Best Pop Instrumental Album award at the 52nd Grammy Awards.
In late 2009 Barr Weissman released a documentary on the Drive-By Truckers entitled The Secret To A Happy Ending. The film follows the band over three particularly straining years of their career, and captures their near break up as well as the departure of Jason Isbell from the band.
Throughout periods of 2009, the Drive-By Truckers entered the studio and emerged with two albums worth of material. The songs were divided between March 16, 2010's release The Big To Do and the upcoming Drive-By Trucker "R&B Murder Album" Go-Go Boots (which is currently slated to be released February 15, 2011). The Big To-Do further brought media attention to the band, resulting in their highest chart success, appearances on David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon's late night shows, as well as a scheduled tour opening for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.[4] The band's contract with New West Records expired after The Fine Print was released, and the band signed and released The Big To-Do and Go-Go Boots on ATO Records.
On April 17, 2010, the band released a single penned by Mike Cooley to commemorate Record Store Day. "Your Woman is A Living Thing"/"Just Maybe" is the only record the Drive-By Truckers have released solely in a vinyl format. Digital downloads of the single can now be found on the band's website, as well as Facebook. Based on the success of the single, the band decided to release a limited edition (2,500 copies) special 10 inch 45 with two new songs "The Thanksgiving Filter"/"Used To Be A Cop" on Black Friday of 2010. Both of these songs will also appear on the upcoming album Go-Go Boots.
Current members
Mike "The Stroker Ace" Cooley – guitar, vocals, bass (1996 – present)
Patterson Hood – guitar, vocals, bass (1996 – present)
John Neff – guitar, pedal steel guitar, vocals (1998, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2007 – present)
Brad "The EZB" Morgan – drums (1999 – present)
Shonna Tucker – bass, vocals, guitar (2003 – present)
Jay Gonzalez – keyboards, vocals (2008 – present)
David Barbe - producer, engineer and frequent studio collaborator on guitar, bass and keyboards (1998–present)
Former members and collaborators
Spooner Oldham – electric piano, electric organ, vocals (2003, 2007–2008)
Jason Isbell – guitar, vocals (2001–2007)
Scott Danborn – fiddle (2003)
Clay Leverett – harmony (2003)
Earl Hicks – bass, snare drum (1999–2003)
Rob Malone – guitar, vocals, bass (1999–2001)
Jyl Freed – vocals (2000)
Kelly Hogan – vocals (2000)
Amy Pike – vocals (2000)
Anne Richmond Boston – vocals (2000)
Adam Howell – upright bass, vocals (1999)
Matt Lane – drums (1999)
Barry Sell – mandolin (1999)
Studio Albums
Gangstabilly (1998, re-released in 2005)
Pizza Deliverance (1999, re-released in 2005)
Southern Rock Opera (2001, re-released in 2002)
Decoration Day (2003)
The Dirty South (2004) #147 US
A Blessing and a Curse (2006) #50 US
Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2008) #37 US
The Big To-Do (2010) #22 US, #61 UK
Go-Go Boots (2011)
Live Albums
Alabama Ass Whuppin' (2000)
Live From Austin, TX (2009)
The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities (2009)
"Bulldozers and Dirt"/"Nine Bullets" (1996)
"Never Gonna Change" (2004)
"Aftermath USA" (2006)
"A Blessing and a Curse" (2006)
"Self-Destructive Zones" (2008)
"A Ghost to Most" (2008)
"The Righteous Path" (2008)
"This Fucking Job" (2010, retitled "Working This Job" for radio and music video channels)
"Your Woman Is A Livin' Thing"/"Just Maybe" (2010)
"The Thanksgiving Filter"/"Used To Be A Cop" (2010)











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