Drive-By Truckers - Biography
Celebrating the Southern Gothic world of hard-luck characters has been the swampy territory of Drive-By Truckers since their creation in 1996. Over the years, critics have attempted to classify this genre-defying rock band under every banner from alt-country to hard rock. The seemingly disparate mixture of sorrowful, yet ironic, tales of the Deep South and their heavy “three axe attack” sound may confuse critics and music store clerks, but the Drive-By Truckers’ unique take on country rock continues to collect fans as it evolves, expands, and erupts (not unlike marsh gas) with every album.
College buddies, fellow guitarists, and expats from The Shoals region of northern Alabama, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley formed Drive-By Truckers in Athens, Georgia after a stint as a punk band called Adam’s House Cat. Shifting gears to their shared country roots, Hood and Cooley recorded DBT’s debut album Gangstabilly (1998 Soul Dump Records, re-released 2005 New West Records), with a third guitarist named Rob Malone, and Matt Lane on drums. Boasting songs like "Panties in Your Purse,” "Wifebeater," and “18 Wheels of Love,” Gangstabilly may seem like a pastiche of country low-life clichés, but the subject matter is treated with a socially conscious pathos.
The following year, DBT released their second album Pizza Deliverance (1999 Soul Dump Records, 2005 re-released New West Records), featuring a guest appearance by mandolin player Barry Sell. The sound and lyrical tone of Pizza Deliverance follows suit with the ironic-yet-heartfelt content of their debut album, branching out to include the phenomenon of anti-depressants (“Zoloft”) and a near-love song about gross-out punk rocker G.G. Allen ("The Night G.G. Allin Came to Town").
DBT embarked on a six-month tour in support of their sophomore release. During the tour, drummer Lane was replaced with Brad Morgan. A live album, Alabama Ass Whuppin' (2000 Second Heaven Records, 2002 re-released Terminus Records) followed the tour. Always ones to surprise, the band’s live collection includes a very fast and furious cover of Jim Carroll’s "People Who Died.”
Southern Rock Opera (2001 Soul Dump Records, 2002 re-released Lost Highway), an ambitious two-disc concept album, was the next move for DBT. Originally conceived as a semi-autobiographical screenplay by Hood and producer/bassist Earl Hicks, Southern Rock Opera follows the story of a Southern boy struggling with his country roots. The boy moves north and dabbles in punk rock but is reunited with his past through Southern rock and roll. The song cycle also pulls inspiration from the travails of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the atmosphere of the South in the 1970’s. Hicks became the official DBT bassist during the recording of Southern Rock Opera, staying long enough to play on the group’s next album, Decoration Day (2003 New West).
Southern Rock Opera garnered much critical acclaim (including a Rolling Stone four-star review) and, after replacing Malone with guitarist/songwriter Jason Isbell, DBT signed on with the Austin-based label New West. Decoration Day, the first of many New West/DBT ventures to come, is a slightly darker, more elemental journey into the Deep South with discomforting portraits of incest, murder, and suicide. Nonetheless, Decoration Day charted on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers and Top Independent Albums.
Hicks left the band in 2003 and was quickly replaced with studio bassist Shonna Tucker, who also happened to be the wife of Jason Isbell. In 2004, The Dirty South (2004 New West Records), a continuation of the band’s spelunking into the more somber side of southern faults and foibles, was released to even greater critical acclaim. The Dirty South charted on Billboard’s 200, Top Heatseekers, and Top Independent Albums, and became DBT’s best-selling album to date.
Three years later, the band once again expanded their sound with the release of A Blessing and a Curse (2006 New West Records). Their seventh album reflects a drift away from country and into straight-up classic rock.
In the wake of his divorce from Tucker, Isbell left the band in 2007 to pursue his solo career and was replaced by guitarist John Neff. That same year, DBT played back-up for legendary soul singer Bettye LaVette on her album The Scene of the Crime (2007 Anti-), which hit #1 on Billboard's Blues Chart and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Critics and fans alike were primed and ready for DBT’s next release, Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2008 New West), which did not disappoint. Keeping the classic rock sensibilities displayed on A Blessing and a Curse, the band brings back some of their country ballads and even introduces a newer element to the swamp stew: Stax-inspired soul and R&B.