Our 2004 exclusive interview with Drive-by Truckers’ Patterson Hood
Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood quickly puts little doubt as to whether he's a mellow fellow within the first five seconds of our phone call. Before our introductions have even settled, Hood coughs up, "Man, do I ever need a joint!" It seems that this man in-need-of-weed is caught without his stash—he has just flown into Chicago from Athens, Ga. and with the paranoia fallout from the Bush Administration's reelection, Hood has been forced to cancel his membership with the real mile high club—and hence is still jonesing for his morning joint. If anybody deserves a joint it's this guy. Hood and his merry band of Truckers average at least 200 shows a year.
When not onstage, he spends all of his off time writing fiction, screenplays and helping run the business side of things for the Truckers without the help of a deep-pocketed record label. When it comes to records, his load doesn't get any lighter either as he definitely travels the long road through his fervent imagination as opposed to just hobbling together releases for the Christmas rush. People are still reeling from his adventurous Southern Rock Opera and if that showed the Truckers at full throttle than their new southern fried The Dirty South has them once again spittin' dust while taking even more turns down back roads that don't appear on any map.
Heads Lifestyle: It's funny because people have this misconception about stoners being these lazy, flaky people and everybody I know who smokes are always people with iron clad work ethics. You obviously are no exception judging by the massive workload you take on.
Patterson Hood: Yeah, it's like people have this Hollywood concept of people who smoke pot. They all think it's like these Cheech and Chong kind of characters. What a lot of people don't realize is that even Cheech and Chong worked their asses off before they got any kind of success. Before they were putting out records and way before they started doing movies, those guys were touring comedy clubs for years.
HL: It seems movies like Dazed and Confused and those other rash of stoner Hollywood movies didn't really help.
PH: Yeah, exactly and then there's the alcohol thing and that's accepted. It's like Bill Hicks (comedian) when he says, If there is a fight at a baseball game is it alcohol or pot? Alcohol is just way more destructive.
Dirty South-era Drive-by Truckers L to R: drummer Brad Morgan, guitar and vocals Jason Isbell, bassist Shonna Tucker, guitar and vocals Patterson Hood, guitar and vocals Mike Cooley.
HL: You are quite a cinephile and that influence really shines through in your songs. Tell us about that?
PH: I really like to study films. I like a lot of the same filmmakers that a lot of people like, you know Kubrick and people like that, but I've really been getting into John Huston a lot now. I just really liked that he never had a signature style but he just chose to do whatever style he was into at that time. Some of his quintessential films were totally different. Whether it was the noire style of The Maltese Falcon or Ashphalt Jungle to the whimsical style of the original Moulin Rouge film. I would really like to be able to take that reinvention that Huston does and apply it to my music.
HL: Your songs definitely have that storyteller cinematic feel especially when you tackle projects with such a panoramic scope like on A Southern Rock Opera. This time around you tell the story of Walking Tall on The Dirty South and it's hardly from Hollywood's angle. Would you ever consider directing?
PH: I would love to! I always wanted to take some of the songs on The Dirty South and remake the Walking Tall film with a different point-of-view.
HL: Both versions are a bit hard to take. The rock version is just ridiculous. What was your attraction to tackling Walking Tall?
PH: I'm always way more fascinated by the bad guys. I think why I like Huston's film Treasure of the Sierra Madre so much and why I study that film so much is that the good guys turn into the bad guys. It's like if you don't take care of that badness inside of you it can take you over and sometimes even a person with the best intentions can do the most terrible things. The real Walking Tall story, I think, is full of that. It's about a sheriff named Sheriff Buford that happened about 30 miles from where I grew up in the late sixties. In my songs about it, I transferred it to the early seventies. He was a sheriff working in a dry county and he was in a war against the bootleggers who would bring in liquor, gambling and prostitution. He eventually ended up dying over some mysterious circumstances but not before some incidents that involved the killing of his wife and blowing up his house. A lot of people that I grew up with are pretty close friends with the people that he was fighting and there is definitely another side of the story that said he was just a sadistic guy. To me I just imagine driving in my car and some guy is pulling me over with a big stick and that's the kind of angle I came at it with.
Patterson Hood with some foresight on the perils of corporate cannabis.
HL: Writing just seems so natural for you. Did you start at a young age?
PH: I guess I started when I was around eight years old. If you look at my report card you can pinpoint the month I started writing because my grades really dropped. I was writing both fiction and songs back then. With songs I didn't know how to write the music but if I read the words I could hear the music in my head and that's still how I do it. I picked up guitar O.K. but it took me a really long time to be able to play what I heard in my head. It was hard because by the time I started playing guitar I had been writing so long that it was far more advanced than my ability of what I could play musically. I always wanted somebody else to sing this stuff but nobody would so it's been a never-ending attempt at satisfying what I hear in my head. It gets a little closer each year but I still haven't hit it yet.
HL: It seems like America has never been in more of a domestic crisis and the Bush Administration is making it even harder for the legalization of pot. Are you feeling legalization keeps getting swept even further under the rug as the years go on?
PH: Oh yeah, I mean obesity is killing more people than cigarettes and they haven't really tried to do anything about that yet. My only fear is that if it did get legalized, like Camel Cannabis or something, they would just put so many additives in it, it would just be really unhealthy for you as opposed to the weed itself. All of this talk about weed is making me want to go to the show early to see if anybody has a joint (laughs).
HL: Well, Heads would never get in the way of a friend in need. Good luck on the search!
The Swampers. From left: Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, and Barry Beckett.
Papa was a Swamper
Patterson Hood's Southern Soul lineage
Some of you may or may not have heard about the Muscle Shoals sound but anybody who has a pair of functioning ears has heard the Muscle Shoals sound. Bordered by four small towns and sandwiched 20 miles from the Mississippi River and 10 miles from Tennessee, the sound emanating from Fame Studios would be like a shot heard around the world. Back in the sixties and seventies, as you drove into Muscle Shoals, you would be greeted by a rickety unassuming sign that said, “Muscle Shoals: The Hit Capital of the World.” Despite not even being able to boast a small airstrip, this truly was ground zero for the southern soul sound.
Patterson Hood got a front row ticket to this magic factory as his father Dave Hood was the bass player for such classics like Aretha Franklin’s Respect, I Never Love A Man and Do Right Woman, and Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally and Land Of A Thousand Dances—just to name a few. Dave Hood played around town and got the reputation of being the best four-string slinger in town and through constant pestering of the studio owners became one of the architects of the southern soul sound.
Oddly enough Dave Hood’s first studio session at Fame Studios would not be as a bassist but as a trombonist on James and Bobby Purify’s I’m Your Puppet. This slathered in southern soul classic would catch the ear of industry bigwig Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records and turn the song into a national smash and hence took the small studio and its inhabitants out from under radar. Wexler was no Johnny-come-lately and quickly recognized that there was gold in them thar hills and started getting his A list talent down to the rural area—the hits just kept on coming. Word quickly got out and Wexler’s little secret spread to people like The Rolling Stones (Wild Horses, Brown Sugar), Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Etta James, Carlos Santana, Paul Simon, and more, all of whom were trying to glean the signature Muscle Shoals soul sound.
The first time Hood became aware of what Daddy did between 9 and 5 was when he was three years old and driving in the car with his mother. The radio was on and his mother pointed out that his father was playing on the song they were listening to. Patterson, in his infant mind, was convinced that his father was actually at the radio station playing the song. You would think that a gifted songwriter like Patterson was just a product of living in a musical house, but he insists that once his father came home, the guitars barely left their cases as he was never fond of “bringing the office home.” The next recollection Patterson had of the magnitude of his father’s bass playing was when he was around eight, again driving around in a car, and a new band called Lynyrd Skynyrd was playing a three-cord ditty called Sweet Home Alabama. It included the lines: “The Muscle Shoals got the swampers/They’ve been known to pick a song or two” and this would seal the deal as his dad really being the bees’ knees.
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The ‘Director’s Cut’ of the Drive-By Truckers' 2004 release what would become the best selling album in their illustrious catalog. A concept album that examines the state of the South, and unveils the hypocrisy, irony, and tragedy that continues to exist.
This article first appeared in Heads Vol.56 Issue 01 - February 2005