Drive-by Truckers: Back on Tour with The New Ok at Pappy & Harriet’s

By Lisa Lynn Morgan

There are many things you can say about Drive-By Truckers, the band fronted in equal parts by Patterson Hood (son of bassist, David Hood, of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) and college roommate, Mike Cooley. If you don’t include the word “fearless” in their description, then you need to open up your head and look a bit deeper.

Hood details intense times of desperation after he and Cooley left home for the sake of their music in Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance:I was 27, my band broke up, I got divorced and left my hometown to live in Memphis. My car got stolen, our band’s truck got stripped, and I fell in love. I fell out with my family (who I was very, very close to) and had my heart broken. I seriously pondered killing myself several times, but instead, wrote literally over 500 songs in a three-year period. I reinvented myself artistically and experienced a sort of rebirth that led to a lot of the things I have done in the last two decades.

It would be over a decade from those desperate times before the band began to reap rewards for their efforts, and it wasn’t because they caved to pop-culture, changed who they were, or conformed in any way. Drive-By Truckers make no excuses for the politics in their music, and they don’t shy away from the truth as they see it – through the eyes of men who have come up from the Deep South. They document it like rock and roll musical historian poets, if you will. After a long swim upstream in rough waters, their album, Southern Rock Opera, earned them a 4-star review from Rolling Stone, and the title, “Band of the Year,” by No Depression. It calls out the blanket of prejudice thrown over the south when horrible events overshadowed the good people of the area who were just as horrified by them. It was also a time Muscle Shoals was making a special kind of noise with artists the likes of Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin.

“Out in California, a rock star from Canada writes a couple of great songs about the bad shit that went down, ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Alabama’ certainly told some truth, but there were a lot of good folks down here and Neil Young wasn’t around.” ~ from the song “Ronnie and Neil”

The album weaves stories (fiction, non-fiction, maybe a little or a lot of both) detailing the “duality of the southern thing,” observed while “growing up in north Alabama, back in the nineteen-seventies, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.” The theme is carried over into the song, “The Three Great Alabama Icons,” (George Wallace, Bear Bryant and Ronnie Van Zant), where Hood gives a spoken commentary on Bryant and Van Zant, then leads into the next song, “Wallace,” wherein he explains that the song takes place in Hell, told from the Devil’s point of view. Fortunately for Wallace, at least in this song, the devil “is also a southerner.” “Zip City,” continues the duality commentary, but from a 17-year-old perspective: “Your Daddy is a deacon down at the Salem Church of Christ, and he makes good money as long as Reynolds Wrap keeps everything wrapped up tight. Your Mama’s as good a wife and Mama as she can be, and your sister’s puttin’ that sweet stuff on everybody in town but me. Your brother was the first born, got ten fingers and ten toes, and it’s a damn good thing ‘cause he needs all twenty to keep the closet door closed.”

Their follow up albums, Decoration Day and The Dirty South, which introduce Jason Isbell to the union, dive deeper into their observations of their culture, at least deeper than what the rest of the country was exposed to in the late 90s and early 2000s. “The Boys from Alabama,” tells another side of the story behind the movie, Walking Tall. “Decoration Day,” paints a story about a generational feud that sounds a lot like inner city gang warfare. Woven in between, are DBT-style love songs like, “Loaded Gun in the Closet,” “Outfit,” and “Marry Me.”

You don’t have to agree with their politics or point of view to find their musical commentary insightful, deeply thought provoking, or relatable. Their music is full of battle scars, cries against generational hate, love for family and community, loss, and grief and anger over human injustice. Like many of us, they have a clear love/hate relationship with their culture that is reflected in their music. Somehow, they manage to pull the weeds without killing the flowers, and in the end, love wins. Hope, on the other hand, is still being written, earned, and fought hard for.

Twenty-five years and 11 studio albums later, Hood and Cooley remain the force of nature behind their latest releases born hard in the turbulence before and during the Covid-19 lock-downs of 2020. Mostly recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording Service, the album The Unraveling, released in January 2020, earned excellent reviews and was named “Album of the Year” by Rolling Stone, France.

“We set out on the road playing shows up the East Coast including NYC, Boston, and D.C.,” shares Hood. “We were two songs into the soundcheck at Vogue in Indianapolis on March 12th, when we were told that the entire tour was to be postponed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We only completed one three-week leg of what was supposed to be a 15-month tour. To be sidelined with a brand new album and have to sit idly while so much that I love and hold dear falls apart before my very eyes has been intense, heartbreaking, anger provoking, and very depressing. It has gone to the very heart of our livelihoods and threatened near everything that we have spent our lives trying build.” Hood admittedly spent much of the months during the lock-down “ricocheting between deep depression and seething anger. I know I’m lucky and should be counting my blessings, for so many have it far worse than me. For that I feel some degree of shame and guilt, which makes me angrier and more depressed.”

In lockdown, the current band line-up did all they could. Cooley, Gonzalez, and Hood played numerous virtual shows. Patton built up his already successful studio, Dial Back Sound, in Water Valley, MS, with album productions including acclaimed records from Bette Smith and Jimbo Mathus. Gonzalez released his third solo album, Back to the Hive.

Hood wrote two new songs inspired by the BLM protests occurring around the country and the federal occupation of his adopted hometown of Portland, OR. “We combined them with some tracks we had already recorded in Memphis and released The New OK,” explains Hood. “Its nine songs picked up where The Unraveling had left off, continuing the themes of an unraveling country, but also breaking away on a more personal front. It includes the title cut single (which has a very moving video centered on the Portland protests) “Tough to Let Go,” which displays a poppier side of the band than usual. It got stellar reviews and ended up in UNCUT Magazine’s Top 5 at the end of the year.”

Now here they are, launching out to tour again, likely crossing fingers during every sound check that they won’t be getting bad news about the tour this time around.

Fans are clearly ready for them. The Drive-By Trucker show booked at Pappy & Harriet’s, February 12, 2022, sold out quickly. For those with tickets, this will be an outdoor show, so wear plenty of layers; desert weather is tricky in February. A Covid-19 vaccination card or a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of the show is currently required to attend. Follow PappyandHarriets.com for updates.

Tickets are still available for their show at the Regent Theater in Los Angeles on February 11th.

A note from Team DBT:

As we prepare to head back out on the road, the health and safety of the DBT band, crew, and our fans is of the utmost importance to us. Our band and crew are all vaccinated and will be adhering to strict protocols to ensure that we are doing our best to keep everyone healthy and safe— including ourselves, the venue staff, our fans and their extended communities.

Fans should be prepared to adhere to policies for the show they plan to attend, which may include providing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, as well as following industry, local or national guidance surrounding the wearing of masks. Please check the venues website for specific guidelines for your upcoming show.

We strongly encourage everyone coming to our shows to be vaccinated and be masked as much as possible.

We are aware that safety precautions and best practices concerning COVID-19 are fluid and as a team we will continue to monitor the situation and it may be necessary for us to adapt our plans and policies along the way. The best way to be prepared for all situations is to get vaccinated.

We are VERY excited to be playing shows again and thank you all in advance for doing your part to make shows safe and sustainable for our industry.

In the familiar words of Patterson Hood, “Turn it up loud, and see you at the rock and roll show!”

Find all things Drive-By Truckers at drivebytruckers.com

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