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Published: 2011/11/20
by Brian Robbins

The Drive-By Truckers’ Family Part II – Scott Baxendale

BR: What’s the backstory on the “Cooley bird” acoustic? Did you know Wes Freed was going to be involved with that right from the beginning?

SB: I had an idea for a music video way back when I was building guitars in Texas – originally, my idea was to build a guitar for Willie Nelson. The artist would call up and say, “I’m coming to get my guitar.” And I’d act like everything was cool – and then slam down the phone and build it really fast while they’re driving to the shop. (laughter)

I was just chatting with Cooley and Patterson on the bus during The Dirt Underneath tour and I mentioned the video idea. And Cooley says, “I got the ideal song for it: it’s called ‘Perfect Timing’” – which I’d never heard before then.

I was with them when they played in Richmond, VA on that tour – that’s when I got to meet Wes and Jyl Freed. We talked about the video and about collaborating on a Wes Freed-inspired guitar – and everybody agreed it would be a cool thing to do.

There was a Wes poster from that tour that had a guitar with a snake on it and a Cooley bird around the soundhole. We were looking at it and Wes said, “Yeah … maybe we could do something like that.” We refined it a few times and then when I got back home, I did a full-size drawing of the guitar I was going to build – just a flat drawing of the top of it. I sent that to Wes; he did the artwork on that same drawing and sent it back to me; and then I just reproduced it as you see in the “Perfect Timing” video. The drawing that you see rolled out at the beginning of the video is that same drawing that Wes sent back. I’m going to frame that up here one of these days. (laughs)

BR: Oh, man – you’ve got to.

SB: So I don’t think the video would’ve been the same if I had built one of my standard guitars. For the video to have the right effect, the guitar had to be something unique and special.

BR: I know this is one of those “who’s your favorite child” questions, but do you have a fave Truckers tune?

SB: Well, the first thing I think of when you ask me that is “Tornadoes” – only because when I first heard The Dirty South, it made me think back to a time when I was in Kansas and I was around tornadoes a lot. I could totally relate to that song in some kind of weird way – it was like the Southern Gothic version of “Into The Mystic”, you know? That song gives me that same kind of feeling.

But having said that, at any one given time, I can start listening to something by them and say, “_That’s_ my favorite song.” When I first heard Cooley do “Checkout Time In Vegas”, it just gave me the chills. It brought me to tears the first six or seven times I heard it.

“Gravity’s Gone” is one of my favorite songs; “Used To Be A Cop” just blows my mind; all the murder stories – I just love all that stuff as a musician. Two of the songs we play in our band are “She’s In The Prison For What She’s Done To A Man” (laughs) and “Sell ‘Em When I’m Dead”, which is a song about Wes and Jyl. (laughter)

BR: You’ve got me pumped up to hear some of the Morgandale stuff now. (laughter)

SB: I’ll send you some stuff – at this point it’s all demos.

BR: Cool – thank you. You know, one of the things that I’ve thought about this year is although Patterson and Cooley have this big catalog of songs between them that they’ve written, they’ve been as passionate about playing their cover of Eddie Hinton’s “Everybody Needs Love” as anything they’ve ever done.

SB: Oh hell, yeah. The whole band and crew live, eat, and breathe Eddie Hinton’s catalog.

BR: So here they are, with a certain amount of success under their belts which they’re using to carry the torch for Eddie – but it’s still no easy road; they’ve got to keep on slugging to pay the bills.

SB: Yeah, it’s not like the old days when you could write one song and then start buying Ferraris a week later.

BR: Right, right – reading Bobby Whitlock’s autobiography earlier this year: he was broke and then he bought a Ferrari; then he’d be broke: and then he’d buy a Ferrari; and then he was broke again … and then he’d buy a Ferrari. (laughter) That doesn’t happen like that now.

SB: Just the broke part. (laughter)

BR: And I guess my point is, this band is going out of their way to promote the work of someone who’s long gone and never got the attention they deserved. No royalties or anything involved – that’s just their mission. If that’s not playing with your heart, what is?

SB: Oh, yeah. They have a unique sense of family loyalty that other bands don’t usually have – it’s more than just a business. I hope you get a chance to see [Patterson’s father] David Hood hanging out with the Drive-By Truckers. You’ve never seen a prouder papa in all your life – a gleaming, glowing grin that’s on David’s face from the minute Patterson walks out on stage to the end of the show. It’s just so cool to see a father so proud of his son. And David’s so humble himself … here’s a guy who’s played on everything – every record that’s ever been made, practically. (laughs) And he looks just like a proud father whose son just hit the homer that won the World Series whenever he’s at one of those shows.

BR: That’s definitely something I should do sometime – talk with David. But where would you start and where would you stop?

SB: Oh, yeah – just to capture that whole “inside Muscle Shoals” scene – the whole energy there. To me, that’s what Athens is like these days – a collection of really, really talented people with such great attitudes.

Nuci’s Space is a non-profit organization here in Athens that does some wonderful things for the well-being of musicians and their families. The Camp Amped program for middle-school-aged kids is great – it’s like a rock ‘n’ roll boot camp, where local musicians work with them for two weeks, leading up to a public performance. For the finale of the last session, the kids performed “Another Brick in The Wall” and it was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen.

It’s cool, because this little complex where we all are here has turned into this office park of art energy, you know? (laughs) I’m on one side of Dave Barbe’s studio and the Truckers’ space is on the other side. And the guy who does all the art for the Widespread Panic merch is in this same complex.

It’s definitely a family thing.

BR: Scott, I really do appreciate you taking the time to do this. A lot gets done in an hour of your time – thank you for putting it into talking with me.

SB: Thanks, Brian. I hope you can make it down here sometime – come and see the shop.

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