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Drive-By Truckers are an alternative country/Southern rock band based in Athens, Georgia, though two out of five current members (Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley) are originally from The Shoals region of Northern Alabama, and the band strongly identifies with Alabama. The band currently consists of Mike Cooley (Lead vocals, Guitar), Patterson Hood (Lead vocals, Guitar), Brad Morgan (Drums), Jay Gonzalez (Keys/Pedal steel) and Matt Patton (Bass guitar). Like many alternative country acts, the Drive-By Truckers record in analog (using 2 inch, 16-track open reel tape recorders). The band's constant touring has developed its dedicated following.
Drive-By Truckers was co-founded by Patterson Hood (son of bassist David Hood of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) and longtime friend, former room-mate, and musical partner Mike Cooley in Athens, Georgia, in 1996. The two had played in various other bands including Adam's House Cat which was chosen as a top ten Best Unsigned Band by a Musician contest in the late 1980s. After the demise of Adam's House Cat, Cooley and Hood performed as a duo under the name "Virgil Kane." They eventually started a new band, "Horsepussy" with bassist Adam Howell (later to join DBT) and Aaron Bryant (brother of DBT webmaster Jenn Bryant) before splitting for a few years. It was during this split that Hood moved to Athens, Georgia and began forming what would become Drive-By Truckers "with the intent of luring Cooley back into the fold."
Together with a revolving group of musicians, Drive-By Truckers put out their first two albums, Gangstabilly (1998) and Pizza Deliverance (1999). Following their second release, the band embarked on a nationwide tour resulting in a live album entitled Alabama Ass Whuppin' (released in 2000 by Second Heaven Records, re-released in 2002 by Terminus Records and again in 2013 on ATO Records). The band's online presence was created in 1996 by and is still maintained by long-time friend Jenn Bryant. It has been credited with helping the band gain momentum. The band also began to use another long-time friend, Wes Freed, to produce the band's signature visual style with his cover art and posters. Freed continues his collaborative work with DBT to date. In March 2014, the newly debuted English Oceans album cover was named Album Art of the Month by Consequence of Sound editor Dan Caffrey. However, it was the band's constant touring and lauded live shows that largely developed their dedicated following.
Southern Rock Opera
After three years on the road, a tight-knit group of musicians emerged and began work on 2001's double album, Southern Rock Opera. The album weaves the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd into a narrative about a fictitious rock band called "Betamax Guillotine," whose story unfolds within the context of the South during the 1970s. Southern Rock Opera was originally released independently on Drive-By Truckers' own Soul Dump Records on September 12, 2001, and garnered praise from fans and critics alike. In order to meet the new demand brought on by, among other things, a four-star review in Rolling Stone, Southern Rock Opera was re-issued by Mercury and Lost Highway Records in July 2002. Soon after, Drive-By Truckers were named Band of the Year by No Depression.
Before Drive-By Truckers went on tour in support of Southern Rock Opera, the band ran into a problem when they were left with only two guitarists (Cooley and Hood) following the departure of Rob Malone in late 2001. The band added fellow Alabamian guitarist and songwriter Jason Isbell (originally from Greenhill, Alabama) to their line-up as the band's third guitarist. During his five years with Drive-By Truckers, Isbell's compositions became as highly praised as those of Cooley and Hood.
With Jason Isbell
After signing a new deal with Austin-based record label New West, Drive-By Truckers set about recording the follow-up to Southern Rock Opera. The result was 2003's Decoration Day, which, like its predecessor, received much critical praise. It was another concept album, containing characters who are faced with hard decisions about marriage, incest, break-ups, revenge, murder, and suicide.
After years of producing and playing with Drive-By Truckers, bassist Earl Hicks left the band on December 22, 2003. Hicks was immediately replaced by studio bassist Shonna Tucker, then wife of guitarist Jason Isbell. Tucker had previously guested on Decoration Day playing upright bass on the Cooley-penned track, "Sounds Better in the Song."
In 2004, Drive-By Truckers released yet another concept album entitled The Dirty South. The Dirty South further explored the mythology of the South, with songs focusing on Sam Phillips and Sun Records, John Henry, and a three-song suite about Sheriff Buford Pusser.
After touring throughout 2004 and 2005, Drive-By Truckers found their way to the Fidelitorium Recording Studio in Forsyth County, North Carolina during late 2005. These recording sessions, once again produced by David Barbe, resulted in the band's seventh LP, A Blessing and a Curse. Released on April 18, 2006, A Blessing and a Curse showcased Drive-By Truckers' ability to branch out into new territory, and can be seen as the band's attempt at shaking labeling by critics, detractors, fans, and followers, particularly the Southern rock label that has haunted the band since Southern Rock Opera. The album sounds less like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and more closely resembles the bare-bones British rock of the early 1970s such as The Rolling Stones and Faces. Tom Petty, Blue Öyster Cult, and Neil Young's influence on the band's sound is more prominent on this album as well.
On September 1, 2009, Drive-By Truckers released a collection of b-sides and rarities entitled The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities which were recorded during the Decoration Day and Dirty South sessions. Though released after he left the band, the album includes two tracks written by Jason Isbell.
In 2006, Drive-By Truckers reunited, both on-stage and on-record, with Athens-based, Savannah, Georgia-born pedal steel guitarist, John Neff. Neff first played with the band on their 1998 debut LP, Gangstabilly, and played pedal steel on three subsequent albums, 1999's Pizza Deliverance, and 2003's Decoration Day. Neff was featured heavily on the 2006 release, A Blessing and a Curse. During the next year, Neff began touring with the band as an unofficial sixth member.
On April 5, 2007 Jason Isbell announced that he was no longer a member of the band. The following day, Patterson Hood confirmed the break on the official site. In his letter to the fans, Hood described the parting of ways as "amicable" and expressed the hope that fans would continue to support Drive-By Truckers as well as Isbell's solo efforts. In the same letter, Hood announced that John Neff would become a full-time member playing both guitar and pedal steel. Six years after Isbell's departure from the band, Isbell revealed the reported "amicab[ility]" of the split was a charade and that he had been forced out; Hood had asked Isbell to take a break from the band; upon Isbell's refusal, Cooley informed Isbell "that isn't going to work for us."
Shortly after Isbell's departure, on April 20, 2007, Patterson Hood announced via the band's website that a longtime friend of the Hood family, Spooner Oldham, would be joining the band playing keyboard for a string of acoustic performances called The Dirt Underneath Tour. This stripped-down tour would set the writing mood and style for the band's next release, 2008's Brighter Than Creation's Dark, a far more "swampy" and country record than its predecessor. Brighter Than Creation's Dark went to No. 37 on the Billboard 200 album chart and was billed as a gothic masterpiece. Spooner Oldham contributed to the recording of the album, and also toured with the band in support of the record. The record boasted nineteen tracks, clocked in at over 75 minutes (for this reason the record's vinyl format was released as a double album), and features the first song contributions from bassist Shonna Tucker. Gonzalez would go on to tour with the band once Oldham stopped touring with the band at the end of Brighter Than Creation's Dark's "Home Front Tour."
On July 7, 2009, New West Records released the band's second official live album and DVD called Live From Austin TX. Material from Brighter Than Creation's Dark made up the majority of the mostly acoustic set-list. This was the first official release featuring Jay Gonzalez as the official 6th band member. Hood later recalled this recording as "absolutely the best filmed performance our band has ever had."
Work with others
In 2007, Drive-By Truckers backed up Bettye LaVette on her comeback album The Scene of the Crime, which was released on September 25 on Anti Records. Scene of the Crime was mostly recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. On it, LaVette transforms country and rock songs written by Willie Nelson, Elton John, and Don Henley, among others, into devastating mini-dramas. Scene of the Crime was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Album" and landed on numerous "Best of 2007" lists. Drive-By Truckers frontman, Patterson Hood, produced the album alongside LaVette. The album also features one song co-written by LaVette and Hood.
Drive-By Truckers backed up Booker T. Jones on his instrumental album Potato Hole, which was released on April 21, 2009. Neil Young also contributed over-dubbed guitar work to the album; he and the Drive-By Truckers never met in studio. Potato Hole features a re-recording of the Cooley penned track "Space City," which originally was released on the album A Blessing And A Curse. The band performed with Jones as "Booker T and the DBTs" at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on June 14, 2009. On January 31, 2010, Potato Hole won the Best Pop Instrumental Album award at the 52nd Grammy Awards.
In late 2009 Barr Weissman released a documentary on the Drive-By Truckers entitled The Secret To A Happy Ending. The film follows the band over three particularly straining years of their career, and captures their near break up as well as the departure of Jason Isbell from the band.
Departing New West Records
After being released from New West Records, the Drive-By Truckers entered the studio throughout periods of 2009 and emerged with two albums worth of material. The songs were divided between The Big To Do (2010) and the Drive-By Trucker "R&B Murder Album" Go-Go Boots (2011). The Big To-Do further brought media attention to the band, resulting in their highest chart success, appearances on David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon's late night shows, as well as a scheduled tour opening for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. During a performance on the Late Show with David Letterman in June 2011, the band played a cover of Eddie Hinton's song Everybody Needs Love and were asked by Letterman to play an encore. Along with John Hiatt and English band The Heavy, they are the only musical act ever asked to play an encore on his show. As the band's contract with New West Records expired after The Fine Print was released, the band signed and released The Big To-Do and Go-Go Boots on ATO Records.
On April 17, 2010, the band released a single penned by Mike Cooley to commemorate Record Store Day. "Your Woman is A Living Thing"/"Just Maybe" is the only record the Drive-By Truckers have released solely in a vinyl format. Digital downloads of the single can now be found on the band's website, as well as Facebook. Based on the success of the single, the band decided to release a limited edition (2,500 copies) special 10 inch 45 with two new songs "The Thanksgiving Filter"/"Used To Be A Cop" on Black Friday of 2010. Both of these songs also appear on the album Go-Go Boots.
New West Records released Ugly Buildings, Whores, and Politicians: Greatest Hits 1998-2009 on August 2, 2011. The announcement was immediately met with mixed perceptions by fans.
Another lineup change
On December 5, 2011, Patterson Hood announced via Facebook that bassist Shonna Tucker had left the Drive-By Truckers. He did not cite any of Tucker's reasons for leaving the band and merely stated that "we all love and respect her and wish her all of the best in everything she sets out for." David Barbe replaced Tucker for their subsequent shows until Matt Patton of The Dexateens joined the band for their spring 2012 tour. John Neff also departed on December 27, 2012; no third guitar replacement was announced, and all tours during 2013 consisted of Cooley and Hood on guitar with Gonzalez alternating between keyboard and guitar. During the Drive-By Truckers' 2013 New Year's Eve rock show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, an expanded vinyl release of their first live album, Alabama Ass Whuppin' was announced to be released in 2013.
On August 3, 2013, Hood's Instagram account revealed the band has begun recording their next album at Chase Park Transduction in Athens, GA; Hood's pictures show Matt Patton has been recording with the band. Released on March 4, 2014, English Oceans, showed that Patton has become an official member of the band.
Patterson Hood – guitar, vocals, bass, banjo, mandolin (1996 – present)
Mike Cooley – guitar, vocals, bass, banjo, harmonica (1996 – present)
Brad "The EZB" Morgan – drums (1999 – present)
Jay Gonzalez – keyboards, guitar, vocals, accordion, saw (2008 – present)
Matt Patton – bass, vocals (2012 – present)
David Barbe - producer, engineer, guitar, bass, keyboards and vocals (1998–present)
Former members and collaborators
Adam Courson - horns (2013)
John Neff – guitar, pedal steel guitar, vocals (1998, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2007–2012)
Shonna Tucker – bass, vocals, guitar (2003–2011)
Spooner Oldham – electric piano, electric organ, vocals (2003, 2007–2008)
Jason Isbell – guitar, vocals (2001–2007)
Scott Danborn – fiddle (2003)
Clay Leverett – harmony (2003)
Earl Hicks – bass, snare drum (1999–2003)
Rob Malone – guitar, vocals, bass (1999–2001)
Jyl Freed – vocals (2000)
Kelly Hogan – vocals (2000)
Amy Pike – vocals (2000)
Anne Richmond Boston – vocals (2000)
Adam Howell – upright bass, vocals (1999)
Matt Lane – drums (1999)
Barry Sell – mandolin (1999)