In the span of about two weeks, Patterson Hood got divorced, had his car stolen and watched the band he started with Mike Cooley, Adam's House Cat, break up. This was back in 1991. Shortly thereafter, he and Cooley were eating dinner and listening to an elderly couple who looked like they'd just come from church discuss a newspaper's account of GG Allin's show at Memphis's Antenna Club the night before.
"The guy actually kind of looked like Thurston Howell from Gilligan's Island," Hood recalls. "They were sitting there having dinner, eating macaroni and cheese, turkey and dressing or whatever. It was hilarious hearing a seventy-something-year-old man commenting about a GG Allin show. It said in the paper that he was throwing shit at the crowd and people were literally running out in the street. The guy stopped and said, 'I guess even punk-rockers don't want to be shat upon.'"
Hood captured that scene in a song called "The Night G.G. Allin Came to Town," which he wrote for Cooley as a birthday present. Although the pair went on to form Drive-By Truckers in 1996, it would be another three years before the tune actually made it onto a disc -- namely, Pizza Deliverance, the act's second release. The song would have fit just as well on Gangstabilly, the band's chicken-fried 1998 debut.
By their third album, 2001's Southern Rock Opera, the Truckers were a little more straight-faced. The record was well received and earned them a steadily growing fan base -- and more than 200 dates on the road. During that time, they polished their arena-sized production, allowing it to move into the arenas it was built for rather than the dive bars where it was perfected. Even so, Hood says, the band missed the intimacy of the early days.
"We were seeing more of the backs of the security guards than the actual crowd," Hood notes. "We got to the point where we wanted to take everything back to where there was more interaction between us and the crowd."
Such was the impetus for the group's current mini-tour. Dubbed "The Dirt Underneath," the shows are stripped-down, sit-down acoustic affairs (with Hood and Cooley playing guitars made by Denver luthier Scott Baxendale, who's touring with the band as a guitar tech). The shows will give the Truckers a chance to shed a different light on older material, as well as road-test a lot of new songs -- some of which they might record when they start working on their new album in June. "It's definitely kind of a reinvention tour," Hood declares.
At the same time, Drive-By Truckers has also gone through some bittersweet changes. Last month, Jason Isbell announced his departure from the band to pursue a solo career.
"He's an enormously talented and prolific writer," Hood says of Isbell. "With three writers in the band and two of us being particularly prolific and being able to put out a record every two years, that didn't make for too many of his songs to really surface, no matter how much we tried to do that."
Softening the blow is the addition of legendary Muscle Shoals keyboardist Spencer Oldham, who will join the Truckers on this tour and on the new album.
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