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Published: 2012/02/03
by Brian Robbins

The Drive-By Truckers’ Family Part III – David Barbe


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 some key DBT family members and are sharing our conversations with them.

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.

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. And the Truckers have David Barbe.

David Barbe

David Barbe’s relationship with the Drive-By Truckers is a unique one, as he’s contributed to their music in a number of different ways over the years. He’s the man responsible for the sound and vibe of the Truckers’ albums dating back to Alabama Ass Whuppin’, their out-of-print live nugget from the early days. In the conversation that follows, Barbe explains the “just roll tape” approach that he and the band relish and has served them well.

At the same time, Barbe has been known to strap on a guitar, sit down at a keyboard, or wield a bass to contribute to the Truckers’ music as needed – both in the studio and on the stage. In fact, when longtime DBT bassist Shonna Tucker announced she was leaving the band back in early December, it was Barbe that stepped up the plate for the band’s subsequent live performances, including their recent 3-night “Homecoming” stand at the 40 Watt in Athens, GA. (It is expected that a different bassist will be on hand for the band’s shows in March, but as of early February there has been no formal announcement.)

Since opening Chase Park Transduction studios with partners Andy LeMaster and Andy Baker in 1997, Barbe has worked with artists way too numerous to mention. (You could start with Jerry Joseph, REM, Bob Mould, and Son Volt – and then add a few hundred or so others.) He’s also made his own music over the years with bands that include the Quick Hooks, Mercyland, Sugar, and Buzz Hungry – playing guitar, bass, writing, and singing. Barbe’s most recent musical collaboration is with DBT’s Patterson Hood and The Downtown 13, recording a just-released single, “After It’s Gone” in an effort to raise awareness to help stave off Wal-Mart from moving into downtown Athens.

Of course, that’s when he’s not busy in his role as the director of the Music Business Certificate Program at the University of Georgia (UGA).

Or – most importantly of all – enjoying life with his wife Amy and their three children.

David was gracious enough to share a few minutes of his time to talk with about his role in the Drive-By Truckers’ family and how his relationship with the band came to be.

BR: Thank you so much for making the time to do this, David. I know your days are full and you’re probably right in the middle of something as we speak.

DB: Well, I’m actually here at the university, reading some students’ papers and listening to Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain that I just bought. I always try to spend money locally – at the record store; at the club; wherever. I could get a lot of free stuff if I wanted to, but I always try to spend a few bucks in the local music community … if we don’t all do that, we’re not going to have a music community any more.

BR: Ain’t that the truth. Well, I do appreciate having a few minutes to chat. When I think about all you have going on with the Music Business Program there at UGA, your music career – both as a producer and an artist yourself – and raising a family … there’s nothing average about your average week, is there?

DB: Nothing average about it at all. (laughs) I work a lot at everything – but I’m lucky to have so many great opportunities. For the last year or so, what I’ve done is just try to juggle it all the best that I can.

During the summer and during Christmas break, I’m way, way focused on being in the studio. And then during the academic year, I spend more time at UGA, which is still related to the music, of course. It’s a lot, but it’s a lot of great stuff. I just make it work.

I don’t sleep much, but I never really have. My wife Amy is incredibly patient. We stated dating 27 years ago, so she’s just used to living with me; I’ve always got something going on. I coached Little League for 10 years and I’m really into that.

I like living, man – there’s a lot to do; no shortage of it. But when the opportunity comes up, making Drive-By Truckers records is pretty much one of my absolute favorite things to do in the entire world. I can always make time for them.

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