Not Truckers but Rockers
With its three lead guitars, DBT reminds many fans of Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Patterson Hood, 41, knows he came up with the name Drive-by Truckers for his band. He just isn’t sure how he came up with it.
“I just thought it up,” Hood says, and laughs. His wild eyes flitter back and forth underneath a mop of dark, disheveled hair. While his face hides behind the hair and beard, his voice is strong and confident. He knows what he wants to say and won’t apologize for saying it.
Hood assumes it was alcohol and his uncle’s 30-year career piggybacking International Harvesters to a dealer in Ohio that led him to unconsciously create the name. Like most of the songs he writes, Patterson says the name just popped into his head one day.
“I don’t make a lot of conscious decisions when writing,” Patterson says. “The antennae go up, and I turn what I pick up into something.”
Patterson founded Drive-by Truckers – known as DBT to the band’s many fans – in 1996 and crafted it into a bar-busting rock quintet that tells songs about common men and women in rural, downtrodden North Alabama.
Patterson, who shares the stage with fellow guitarists Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell, bassist Shonna Tucker and drummer Brad Morgan, says his songs have a lot of truth in them. “They’re more composite sketches I created,” Patterson says. “I used to write more about specific people, but it got me into trouble.”
Those composite sketch subjects range from icons like Walking Tall’s Buford Pusser to a pair of soon-to-be high school graduates who run their car off the road and die pinned between a tree and the dashboard while listening to “Freebird.”
Patterson was born in Mussel Shoals, Ala., and raised by his mother, musician father and truck-driving, World War Two-vet uncle. He saw everyone from the Rolling Stones and Boz Scaggs to Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett play with his dad in the 1970s at the FAME recording studios and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Hood learned a little from each of them.
“There are only eight notes in the spectrum,” Hood says. “The more influences you have, the more individual you are. I like it all, Neil Young and Tom Waites. Oukast is my favorite band right now.”
But no matter how many bands Hood claims influenced him, DBT – with its three lead guitars, three songwriters and Southern-tinged rock – can’t escape comparisons with another famous Southern band: Lynyrd Skynyrd. And Hood thinks that’s OK. Southern Rock Opera, released in 2002, is a double album tribute to DBT’s forerunners. Hood says he tries to bring as much energy to DBT’s live shows as the Van Zant boys did to theirs.
Live performances have become DBT’s bread and butter. They normally tour 200 venues a year and put out albums almost annually. “We do have an almost blue-collar work ethic to playing,” Hood says.
As hard as DBT works, it only matches how hard they play, onstage and off. Their hard-driving style is what brings in most of the fans. “Performing is fun,” Hood says. “I like to see people having fun, out there raising hell.”