The Drive-By Truckers’ Family Part I – Wes Freed
BR: Oh, man – that’s so much more work than the average generic band poster you see with a big white space at the bottom to drop in the date, place, and time.
WF: Yeah, well, I’ve done some of those for them, too. But these are more like collector’s items – we do them on really high-quality paper. It’s not something you slap up on a telephone pole.
BR: What would an average run of posters be?
WF: Generally, like, 75 – if we’re doing them for a town where the band’s doing a few nights’ stand it’ll be 150. They usually sell most of them right at the shows.
BR: What happens when the date comes up on the fly while they’re already out on tour? When you get the call and it’s like, “Can you …”
WF: That happens sometimes … like recently when they added on the Brooklyn Bowl show, they were here the week before and asked me, “Can you do a poster for that?” And I said, “Sure – what the hell?” So I did.
So sometimes it’s short notice, but they usually give me a week or two. Even when they give me a few months, I usually put it off until I have to send them directly to the club where they’re going to be playing (laughs). If I don’t get them done before they leave town, then I can’t just send a bunch to Athens – I need to send one to Chicago, one to Toronto, or whatever.
BR: Have you ever butted heads with the Truckers over a feeling or vision that you got from one of the songs that wasn’t what they wanted?
WF: The only thing that even came close to that was one drawing that I did as an idea for Go-Go Boots that had a clown in it. Patterson said, “I don’t want any clowns.” And I said, “Whatever – that’s fine.”
I thought it was kind of strange, but I figured he was scared of clowns – a lot of people are. I think I wrote him: “Sounds like somebody might be scared of clowns.” He never wrote back, so I assume that was the case. (laughs)
BR: Yeah, well … I get kind of weirded out by them, myself.
WF: I don’t like being around them, personally … although we do have a John Wayne Gacy clown face clock that my friend Angry Johnny made, though.
BR: (laughs) That’s not right, man.
WF: Angry Johnny was one of the Barn Dance regulars – he’s from Massachusetts. He used to play down this way quite a lot. Angry’s brilliant; he did this painting on a piece of plywood of John Wayne Gacy in his clown outfit that he made into a clock for us.
A friend of ours from Georgia was staying with us and when he got up in the morning, he sat down with his breakfast bowl and was like, “Hey – is that a John Wayne Gacy clock? I love that!” (laughter)
BR: I would’ve kept my eye on him. (laughter) This is probably a lame-ass question to ask you, but is there any one single project you’ve done for the Truckers that you really like?
WF: I’m really proud of the way the posters have been coming out lately. But there’s one in particular from a while ago that I like.
I have a template that I use now – a piece of cardboard that’s a certain size, like 6-1/2” x 9-1/2” – but this was back before I was making a lot of posters and I made one that was a lot bigger: 2-1/2’ x 3-1/2’, or something like that. It was acrylic on wood, with a girl wearing a Confederate-style hat and a Cooley bird with its wings draped around her – you can see it on the website.
I guess that’s one of my favorite Truckers pieces.
BR: Cool! (laughs) And how about their stuff – any songs in particular that you really like?
WF: I was listening to “The Living Bubba” today and thinking I was glad that it’s coming out on the new greatest hits package so it gets some airplay. That song’s always choked me up. I really wished I’d gotten to meet Gregory Dean Smalley before he died. I did meet his Mom at the Bubbapalooza.
[Some background on “The Living Bubba” from a recent Jambands.com review of the Truckers’ new Ugly Buildings, Whores & Politicians : “The album kicks off with ‘The Living Bubba’ from the band’s 1998 debut, Gangstabilly. With the yin/yang of John Neff’s lovely pedal steel against the slow thrash of over-driven 6-strings in the background, Patterson Hood belts out his tribute to Gregory Dean Smalley, a hero of Athens, GA’s ‘Redneck Underground’ scene back in the ‘90s. Smalley was one of those who lived to play, for whom a gig was a gig, whether it was for a fully-packed house or a dozen drunks. There’s not a lot of recorded evidence of the man’s existence, but those who witnessed Smalley on stage speak of him in head-shaking reverence. Patterson Hood was one of them; unfortunately, by the time Hood crossed paths with Smalley in 1995, the local legend was dying of AIDS. ‘The Living Bubba’ poignantly captures Smalley’s homestretch attitude (in the final year before his death, he pounded out over 100 gigs): ‘I can’t die now ‘cause I got another show to do.’”]
BR: It’s a great song on its own, but to know the whole story about Gregory Dean … Patterson nailed it.
WF: Yeah, he did. Another one is “Space City”. When I got the rough mix of that, I listened to it once and then I couldn’t listen to it again for a while. After four or five times of listening to it and trying to keep from crying, I finally said, “Okay – I got the lyrics … I don’t have to do that anymore.” I mean, I loved the song but it just … it’s just so sad.
BR: Oh, Wes – the first time I listened to it by myself, I called my wife and told her, “We need to listen to this together tonight.” Which we did – and we couldn’t have held each other any tighter. Christ … (sniffs; laughs) It’s hard to even talk about it now without half-bawling.
WF: That’s the key, man. I don’t know how Cooley gets through the song when he sings it. In the movie [the Truckers documentary The Secret To A Happy Ending, released earlier this year] when he gets to the end of it …
BR: Yeah, that’s a powerful moment. That last chord fades and he’s just a million miles away and holding on for Chrissakes. I guess sometimes you get inside the song and sometimes it gets inside of you. And that was his grandparents Cooley was writing about – his grandfather dealing with the death of his grandmother.
WF: I guess for him there’s got to be a certain amount of detachment. But when I was listening to it for the first time – trying to sponge and suck in the images – that one just hit me and “Holy shit …”
BR: Anything in particular you want to say about the band’s “family”?
WF: Well, it’s kind of weird – almost like going back to the hippie community thing or something: like-minded people getting together and doing what they do best for the family, you know?
Sometimes it almost feels like organized crime without the crime.
BR: As hard as the band has worked – and as hard as all of you have worked to make it be what it is – where do you see it all going?
WF: It’s hard to say. You look at the 60s and 70s – you don’t really see rock ‘n’ roll bands getting to places like the Stones or The Beatles or Zeppelin. The world’s changed- the industry’s changed.
I can see the Truckers slowing down, but I can also see them getting bigger and, you know, keeping on. Obviously, you’re always going to have more Patterson Hood solo stuff than Cooley, because Cooley’s like an old oyster: he’s got to chew on a piece of sand for a few years before he can crank out a pearl … but when he does, they’re all pearls.
I’ve said it before: Cooley and Hood deserve to be another Jagger and Richards … but when it comes right down to it, they’re just genuinely nice people who’ll go out of their way to accommodate anybody.