Patterson Hood: Alabama Ass Whuppin’, Drive-By Truckers’ Upcoming Studio Album, and Thank God For Triple-A
The latest album from the Drive-by Truckers is actually a blast from the past – a full-bore, string-thrashing, drum-pounding, floor-thumping, wall-shaking blast from the past, known as Alabama Ass Whuppin’. Originally released by the band in 2000, AAW is a time capsule chock full of CBGB-meets-Vee-Eff-Dubya-hall chickaboom punkness that captures the Truckers’ live lineup of that period (Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley on vocals and guitar; Rob Malone on bass and vocals; Brad Morgan on drums) playing like their lives depended on it. Which they did, in a manner of speaking.
Patterson Hood was kind enough to give us the backstory of Alabama Ass Whuppin’ – not only the wild-ass road madness that it captures from the Truckers’ early days, but the amazing set of circumstances that led to the supposedly lost album’s recent resurrection.
Along with tales of Alabama Ass Whuppin’, Patterson talked about the Truckers’ upcoming studio album, featuring the current lineup of himself, Cooley, Morgan, multi-instrumentalist Jay Gonzalez, and bassist Matt Patton. With longtime studio compadre David Barbe at the helm, the Truckers have laid down what sounds to be some raw and spontaneous tracks for an early 2014 release.
Note: there are some specific songs – and, more importantly, people in those songs – mentioned in the interview. Truckers fans already know who’s who and what’s what; for the newcomers, here’s a quick crash course:
A 6-year-old Patterson nearly starved to death from spending all his lunch money with “The Avon Lady”; “18 Wheels Of Love” chronicles the romance between Patterson’s mom and his stepfather Chester; and “The Living Bubba” is a tribute to the late (and legendary) Gregory Dean Smalley, the acknowledged founding father of Georgia’s “Redneck Underground” movement.
You want to know more? Listen to Patterson Hood’s songs on Alabama Ass Whuppin’ – living proof that he’s been telling great stories for years.
BR: Hey there, Patterson.
PH: Hey – how you doing?
Well, all right … except I’m still getting over opening up the cover for Alabama Ass Whuppin’ and thinking that was a picture of a young Johnny Cash on stage.
(Laughs) I believe that would be would be Cooley. Well, you know … he probably looks more like Johnny than the guy who played him in the movie. (laughter) And Cooley probably could play him better, too. (laughter)
We all look so young in those pictures, but we really weren’t. I mean, Brad was a little younger than the rest of us, but we were all in our mid-30s by that time … now I look at it and think, “God – we look like babies!”
Well … maybe not babies. (laughter) But we look young.
So let’s set the stage. Tell us a little bit about what was going on in Trucker world back in 1999 when Alabama Ass Whuppin’ was recorded.
That was about the point when we all quit our regular jobs; not because we were making enough money to do it – we were just at a tough crossroads.
We’d put out our second record – Pizza Deliverance – and just as we were finishing that, we parted ways with Matt Lane, who had played drums on our first two records. The thing was, Matt had his own band: he’d been playing with us, but he’d also been playing in another band with his brother since junior high school – literally.
We were basically wanting to hit the road like crazy; like, “Okay – we’re all in; we’re gonna quit our jobs; we’re gonna starve; we’re gonna live one town to the next and do it.” And Matt wasn’t going to be able to do that; he would’ve had to quit the band he was in with his brother.
So we got Brad, who was already playing shows with us whenever there was a scheduling conflict, anyway. I think he’d been playing with us off and on for a year before he joined full.
And you hit the road.
Yeah – we just got in the van and went. We were mostly booking ourselves, although we did get somebody who kind of pseudo-managed and did a little of everything – whatever was needed – from a home base.
We started the tour and just kept on adding to it; we basically didn’t come home for two years. We all ended up getting divorced – except for Cooley …. it was rough! (laughter) I mean, we put everybody through hell, but we knew we had to.
You felt that was the make-it-or-break-it point?
Exactly – we didn’t have the luxury of being in our early 20s and just dropping out of college or not really having anything to quit. We already had lives going but they weren’t going anywhere.
If we couldn’t make it, we didn’t have a backup plan … we just went out and played.
What kind of a schedule are we talking?
We played maybe 250 shows a year those two years. Whenever we came back home to Athens, we’d book a show to play – basically so we could afford to eat at home for a few days (laughs) and probably a little bit to show off how tight it was making us.
We sounded like a band that was playing 250 days a year. We got shit tight.
It seems to me that Earl Hicks was kind of the hero of Alabama Ass Whuppin’ as far as getting the shows onto tape.
Totally – totally. Our buddy Earl – who recorded, engineered and produced Pizza Deliverance – was using his mobile gear to record us whenever we came home to do a show. And, yeah – those are the recordings that became Alabama Ass Whuppin’.
Earl later ended up touring with us and was in the band for two albums – Southern Rock Opera and Decoration Day – as our bass player. But in the early days, he wasn’t really even that active as a musician. He was working at a sound company doing installations in churches and stuff. Now and then when I’d come home, I’d work for him freelance – but by the later point of 1999, there was no doing anything when I came home – I’d sleep for about three days and then we’d pack up and do it again. We were just non-stop.