The Drive-By Truckers’ "Country Soul": A Conversation with Patterson Hood
2011 finds the Drive-By Truckers banging on all cylinders and unleashing with two new projects on the world. The Secret To A Happy Ending, a documentary by filmmaker Barr Weissman, captures the band during the high point of the period when guitarist/vocalist Jason Isbell was a Trucker – while managing to deal with the hard times of Isbell’s divorce from bassist Shonna Tucker and his eventual departure from the band in a manner that’s open and honest while respectful at the same time.
And then there’s Go-Go Boots, the Truckers’ latest studio album, which has everything you love about the band (yes, boys and girls, don’t worry: there are two songs on this one about men of the cloth turned bad) plus a whole lotta soul that fits them perfectly.
In amongst all the smoke and swagger, the raunch and the rock and the roll, there is an element of grace and strength to what the Drive-By Truckers are doing these days – simply by still being together and creating music. They are survivors.
Truckers Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood were kind enough to share some of their precious time at home with us recently, talking about “country soul,” songwriting, getting older, dead heroes, and guitars. Our conversation with Cooley can be found here. Part II continues with vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Hood.
Part II – Patterson Hood
One rainy day Drive-by Trucker fan discussion is to compare members of the band to their counterparts in another great rock ‘n’ roll band, the Rolling Stones. There are some obvious parallels: Brad Morgan’s dedication to the groove, the whole groove, and nothing but the groove definitely makes him a candidate for this generation’s Charlie Watts, while John Neff’s six-string virtuosity make it easy to compare him to Mick Taylor. (And, with apologies to Ronnie Wood, the Stones have never had a full-time pedal steel player of Neff’s caliber.)
But let’s look at the band’s founders, Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood. For sure, Cooley might be the closer to Keith Richards’ cool demeanor … but does that mean Patterson Hood is Mick Jagger?
Hood is a combination of the fuzzy-headed big brother that’s sorta badass, damn smart, and totally lovable. He could tell someone to go fry their ass and they’d shake his hand in appreciation; and he can write a lyric that makes you grin and puts tears in your eyes at the same time – or make the hair stand up on your arms in the middle of the night.
So, getting back to the original question: which Stone would Patterson Hood be?
Answer: How about a little bit of all of them.
The fact is, Hood is the embodiment of what made the Stones as a whole a great band over the years: this man has a true rock ‘n’ roll soul.
BR: Right off the bat, I want to run something by you that Cooley and I were talking about earlier.
PH: Sure – go for it.
BR: Well, I mentioned Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen from Hot Tuna and how those two have been playing together for over 50 frigging years so far, right? And you guys are halfway there …
PH: (laughs) That’s right; this is our 26th year playing together and it’s hard to believe, man. If we both stay healthy and live long enough, we might make 50 years – it could happen, you know? (laughter) It really could.
That would put us in our early 70s … some of the Stones are right around 70, right?
BR: Sure. In fact, Jorma just turned 70. I’ve heard some tracks off the new Hot Tuna album that’s coming out soon and they’re playing their asses off.
PH: (laughs) That’s cool – that’s really cool. I love hearing that.
BR: So I’ve got a wicked idea for you – and this goes hand-in-hand with the getting older thing and pacing yourself…Cooley and I were talking about Johnny Cash, okay? And it struck me that it would be cool if he went in the studio and did an album of acoustic Johnny’s tunes – and you could play mando …
PH: (laughing) I’m not that good a mando player, though! I’ve played it on a couple of songs, but I don’t think I’m good enough to do it justice in a setting like that. I might play some acoustic guitar or something, though.
BR: Well, it’s a thought.
PH: Cooley does have the voice for it, though. He’s going to age like Johnny Cash if he plays his cards right. That’s what I’m counting on. (laughter)
BR: I didn’t realize until recently that you tuned your guitar down a step. It wasn’t until I saw the video for “Pollyanna,” which I knew was in C. I saw you were fingering a D chord and doing those neat suspensions and stuff.
PH: Yeah – it makes a lot more sense once you know that. If you don’t, you’re thinking, “He sure is working hard to get those crazy chords he plays – plus everything’s in F!” (laughter)
BR: And you’ve been doing it for a while, right?
PH: Yeah, Cooley and I were tuning down back in the 80s. At that time, there weren’t that many people doing it. Back in the 70s, you had bands like Black Sabbath who did, but there weren’t many in the 80s that were. We just kind of stumbled on it as a way for me to deal with the limited range I had as a singer. I was really just trying to find a place where my primitive guitar playing worked with my primitive singing. (laughter) That seemed to be the way to do it.
Things have improved since then, I hope. (laughs) I can actually sing in standard tuning now if I need to, but I kind of like that sludgy sound you get with the dropped tuning. With the three guitars and all – I like the sludge.