Fri., 4/15 • 7pm • $25
Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre
Drive-By Truckers conjures images of grizzly, run-down, plaid-shirted, baseball-capped, beer-bellied road warriors who live off gas station food and highway hypnosis. For many who tuned into “Conan” last month, the sight of the veteran country rockers may have slightly resembled what their name implies. For the band’s two founding members, the past two decades in the business can be heard in their talent and etched in every one of their 11 albums.
With the recent release of “Go-Go Boots,” DBT are once again taking to the road and performing nationally as well as internationally. They’ve partnered with Dylan LeBlanc to put on a show Friday night at Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre, sponsored by The Penguin.
The materialization of Drive-By Truckers happened in 1996 when longtime friends, former roommates and musical partners Patterson Hood (son of bassist David Hood of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) and Mike Cooley reunited in Athens, Georgia. Both Hood and Cooley were former members of the punk-inspired band Adam’s House Cat, but after its disbandment the two pursued different ventures for several years. DBT released their first two albums consecutively” “Gangstabilly” in 1998 and “Pizza Deliverance” in 1999. A nationwide tour ensued after their second release, followed by a live album called “Alabama Ass Whuppin’,” a concert recording from an Athens show.
“We definitely took the band-paying dues to the extreme, I think,” Hood says. “We spent a lot of years on the road, and for a lot of those earlier years, we were pretty much sleeping on people’s floors.”
DBT found notoriety entering into the millennium with their ear-catching album “Southern Rock Opera” (2001, re-released 2002). It was here when Hood began to concentrate on his Southern roots. The band’s took on a three-guitar attack method reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their sound broke away from level, strong rock to a damaged, uneven tone like that of Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
After several months in record-label limbo and breaking ties with Lost Highway, they were then picked up by New West Records, a Texas-based label. Releasing “Decoration Day” in 2003, the album featured the young, fresh face of singer/guitarist Jason Isbell, who replaced Rob Malone.
Following the album’s release, DBT went through lineup changes with the departure of bassist Earl Hicks. Studio musician Shonna Tucker stepped in to join Hood, Cooley, Isbell and drummer Brad Morgan. After shuffling the band a bit, DBT released “The Dirty South” in 2004. This album was an ode to concepts that evoked Southern tales of small towns, violent sheriffs and legendary record producers.
In 2006, Isbell endured his final album with the band, “A Blessing and a Curse.” It was then that pedal-steel guitarist John Neff moved from contributing artist to official member in 2007, and “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark was released in 2008. Most of 2009 was spent on the road touring, but they still found the time to release their second concert album, “Live From Austin, TX.” Hood found himself releasing his second solo record in 2009, “Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs).” DBT was back together in the studio to record “The Big To-Do” in 2010.
The current album, “Go-Go Boots,” released on February 15th, was recorded with soul legends Bettye LaVette and Booker T. Jones (Stephen Stills, Otis Redding). It encompasses DBT’s unique style of blending history, folklore, politics and character studies throughout their ever-growing repertoire.
“The main themes in most of our songs are pretty universal,” Hood says. “It’s generally somebody attempting to do the right thing for the people he loves, and maybe not doing a very good job at it. Sometimes it’s hard to know what the right thing is until after you’ve done something—in some cases—not too right.”
Hood, at his very root, is a musician and brilliant storyteller. This notion contributes to DBT’s core being embedded in the story of the South. Their execution of gutsy twang, gritty chords and crafty beats authenticates them as one of the best alternative-country bands to date. Hood’s narrative lyrics are often pulled straight from the headlines, making the news even more surreal in song. One of the more interesting headline-to-song pieces is “The Wig He Made Her Wear” from the album “The Big To-Do.” Here, Hood dives into the account of a Tennessee woman who killed her church-minister husband.
“To some extent,” Hood explains, “there has to be something about the story that resonates for me. That story seemed to be following me around. I was in Norway when it broke, and it was news even over there. A year later I was in Mississippi, with the TV on, and they were showing the court proceedings. They pulled out the wig, the go-go boots, and other things [the pastor] would make her wear. You could actually hear the gasp in the room, as if it were an episode of Perry Mason. I knew then that I was going to write a song about it.”
These battered, bruised and driven musicians have been drudging the journey of music for so long that their experience has motivated a documentary called “The Secret to a Happy Ending.” The film archives three years in their lives’ was long and winding path.
“We’re fairly happy,” Hood says. “It’s important to have a sense of humor in this life, you know. The world’s going to throw things at you that aren’t always pleasant or pretty, but that’s part of surviving.”