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Published: 2011/08/31
by Brian Robbins

The Drive-By Truckers’ Family Part I – Wes Freed


The word “family” is applied to many bands but oftentimes isn’t much deeper than lot swag or a drunk fratboy’s “I love you, man” hug.

But in the case of the Drive-By Truckers, the family is real. The Truckers themselves will tell you: beyond the core band (guitarists Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and John Neff; drummer Brad Morgan; bassist Shonna Tucker; and keyboardist Jay Gonzalez), it’s a family effort that keeps things rolling. Some are family by blood or marriage; others crossed paths with the Truckers and their music at some point and couldn’t turn away. In the end, it’s the efforts of all that define the band’s sound, vibe, and soul. We’ve chosen three key DBT family members and over the course of the next few weeks will be sharing our conversations with them.

As Paul Languedoc is to Phish and Doug Irwin was to the Grateful Dead, the Truckers have guitar builder Scott Baxendale.

Eddie Kramer was the man who knew how to capture Jimi Hendrix’ sound in the studio without taming it. Tom Dowd was key to the classic Allman Brothers’ recorded history. The Truckers have David Barbe.

And as distinctive and easily-recognizable as Stanley Mouse’s artwork for the Dead was – and in the same way that a Phish show is not a Phish show unless it has a Jim Pollock poster touting it – artist Wes Freed’s album covers and posters have become part of who the Truckers are.

Wes Freed

Artist, musician, hell – an actor, even. There’s nothing that Wes Freed has done or created that hasn’t been just exactly true to Wes Freed.

If you want to experience some of the music the Virginia native has made over the years, hunt up albums by Mudd Helmet, Dirt Ball, and The Shiners – or catch a gig by his current gig, the Mad Bats.

That acting thing? Look up The Thrillbillys or Degenerates Ink. The parts weren’t a big stretch for Freed.

And then there’s the art, which now graces everything from breadboxes and wine labels to violins and racing helmets. Freed paints scenes from his world; not your world or my world – his world.

The path to Freed’s world extends waaayyy back to the Shenandoah Valley of his childhood, detours through the halls of Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University, and runs deep into the shadows of Crow Holler, where whiskered, drunken, red-eyed skeletons beat the dog snot out of resonator guitars and buxom white-skinned zombie gals slip you one of those looks. That’s Wes Freed’s world – where the cars that sit alongside Willard’s Garage are old, big, and faster than hell; the music’s loud; and lonely’s even louder.

And that’s where the art that represents the Drive-By Truckers to the outside world comes from.

Freed and his wife Jyl live in Richmond, VA in a house chock full of his art which they share with their dogs, cats, a white squirrel named Skully, the occasional possum or two, and “a constant parade of foster babies” from the local SPCA.

We recently had the pleasure of talking with Wes about his and Jyl’s place at the Truckers’ family table.

BR: First of all, I wanted to mention your wife Jyl. She has quite a part in things, doesn’t she? I remember when I first discovered your art and your website, it was Jyl who answered any questions by e-mail.

WF: Oh, yeah. She’s the one who got us hooked up with the Truckers in the first place. The night we saw them play for the first time at Bubbapalooza in ‘98, Jyl’s the one that went back and talked to them and got the contact information. She got them up here to Richmond to play a Capital City Barn Dance. I was, like, waaaay too hungover to actually speak to anybody at that point. We’d played the night before and that was, uh, a rough day.

BR: And the “we” was your own band Dirtball?

WF: That’s right. We’d gotten hooked up with Bubbapalooza from a friend of ours who was one of the creators of the Barn Dance. He knew a lot of people at the Star Bar in Atlanta, GA where the Bubbapalooza was and got us a chance to play there.

BR: And you hadn’t heard the Truckers’ music before then?

WF: No, they were pretty new at that point. They’d just put out their first cassette.

Hey, excuse me if I’m breathing heavy. I’m outside painting and it’s 100 and … well … actually, it’s only 99 degrees out now. It’s gone down.

BR: Jeez – well, at least I know where you are. If the line goes dead, I know where to tell 911 to send the ambulance.

WF: (laughs) Thanks.

BR; So Jyl goes to talk with the Truckers after their set to see about getting them to come to the Barn Dance …

WF: Yeah, and she was a little bit intimidated. You know how most musicians are: you see them on stage and they all look like a bunch of hardasses. But those guys were as sweet as pie – really humble and nice. It really was love at first sight for all of us.

They ended up coming up and staying at our house – it was a hell of a good time. I wish I could remember more of what went on back in those days, but I guess some of the fun of it is the forgetting … (laughter)

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