Drive-By Truckers, A to Z
Houston's Austin City Limits festival spillover season gets underway Wednesday with an overdue visit from Alabama-born, Georgia-dwelling brigands Drive-By Truckers. Wrongly pigeonholed as the thinking man's Lynyrd Skynyrd (who are pretty thoughtful themselves), the Truckers are closer to an amalgamation of Social Distortion, Blackfoot and The Who. The band stopped in Houston regularly until 2004 — Mary Jane's, the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, Continental Club, Meridian — but hasn't been here since 2005, the bastards, when they opened for the Black Crowes and Robert Randolph & the Family Band at The Woodlands.
No matter. It's good to have them back. Since forming in 1996, the Truckers have cultivated a complicated history and mythology that requires an entire alphabet to sort out. So let's do that.
Adam's House Cat — Nail-spitting Dixie punk band started by college roommates and future Truckers Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, two equally gifted but worlds-apart songwriters. Recorded one still-unreleased album, Town Burned Down, and disbanded in 1991.
Blessing and a Curse, A — 2006 DBT LP much more intimate and smaller in scale than widescreen efforts Southern Rock Opera (2001) or The Dirty South (2004). Nevertheless, "Aftermath USA" is the best Rolling Stones song of the 2000s, and one of the few DBT songs to date credited to the band as a whole.
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"Carl Perkins' Cadillac" — Cooley's driving TDS tribute to late Sun Records founder Sam Phillips: "Mr. Phillips was the only man Jerry Lee [Lewis] would call sir."
Decoration Day — DBTs' transitional, backward-looking 2003 LP. Set the tone for more acoustic, downcast albums like Blessing and this year's Brighter than Creation's Dark. Contains creepy Hood-written incest song "The Deeper In."
"Eighteen Wheels of Love" — One of DBTs' first true anthems, from 1998 debut Gangstabilly. Among the very few pre-SRO songs to still surface live; always preceded by Hood's lengthy monologue about how "Mama fell in love with a trucker."
Forty Watt — Legendary rock club in DBTs' adopted hometown of Athens, Georgia, also haunted by R.E.M. circa "Radio Free Europe" through "Fall on Me." Recording site of band's only DVD to date, 2005's Dirty South: Live at the 40 Watt (New West).
Gangstabilly — DBTs' 1998 debut, cut live over two days the previous year. Contains "Steve McQueen," "18 Wheels of Love" (see entries) and "The Living Bubba," Hood's lip-biting tribute to a buddy who died of AIDS.
Hole in the Wall — Venerable Austin club across the street from UT and site of earth-shaking early preview of SRO — DBTs' double-length look at the legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd that remains the band's definitive album — on Halloween night 2000. Floating on a river of Lone Star, those of us who bore witness were lucky to make it out of there alive.
Isbell, Jason — Baby-faced songwriting and guitar prodigy who joined DBT in time for DD, and scored two of that album's standouts: "Outfit" and the title cut. Left the band in early 2007 after splitting with wife/DBT bassist Shonna Tucker; his new band the 400 Unit's show last summer at Walter's was among 2007's best.
Jam — What DBT frequently do live, including on 2000 live LP Alabama Ass Whuppin'.
Kinfolk — For some reason, a topic DBT return to time and again. Must be a Southern thing.
"Let There Be Rock"/"Lookout Mountain" — Two crushing power-rockers that never fail to kill live, one from SRO about Hood having tickets to Skynyrd's first post-plane-crash concert (he did see Molly Hatchet, though); the other from TDS about contemplating suicide.
McQueen, Steve — Iconic 1960s-'70s Western/action movie/TV star whose renegade spirit and brooding masculinity permeate many DBT songs besides the Gangstabilly track that bears his name.
New West Records — Austin- and L.A.-based independent label and DBTs' home since DD, alongside Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam and the Live from Austin City Limits DVD series. Either via reissue (NW re-released Gangstabilly and second LP Pizza Deliverance in 2005) or firsthand, has now released every DBT LP except SRO.
Old Crow — Kentucky-generated acceptable brand of budget bourbon to consume while listening to DBT. See also Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, George Dickel, OldGrand-Dad.
Peace — Often hard to come by in DBT territory, especially peace of mind. See also "Quiet."
Quiet — Improbable theme/mode/mood of many DBT songs, increasingly so on later albums.
"Ronnie and Neil" — Key SRO track that illuminates one of DBTs' primary themes, what Hood labels "the duality of the Southern thing," through the '70s-rock prism of the South's staunchest defender (Ronnie "Sweet Home Alabama" Van Zandt) and harshest critic (Neil "Southern Man" Young) — who were actually great friends.
Scene of the Crime, The — Stellar 2007 album from Detroit-born R&B singer Bettye LaVette with DBT as her backing band, including heartrending covers of Willie Nelson's "Somebody Pick Up My Pieces" and Elton John's "Talking Old Soldiers." Like many DBT albums, recorded at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where the "Swampers" of "Sweet Home Alabama" fame — including Hood's father David on bass — backed soul greats like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and the Staple Singers in the '60s and '70s.
The Dirty South — 2004 offstage counterpart to SRO — concept album about everyone down South who didn't want to be a rock star, and a few — whether convicts or Carl Perkins — became rock stars in spite of themselves.
Underbelly — As good a word as any for the strata of Southern society DBT delve into on every album, on nearly every song. Prime examples are Gangstabilly's "Buttholeville" and TDS's "Tornadoes"
Veterans — Weary war heroes who make frequent appearances in DBT songs; among the band's favorites among its deep roster of stoic, grimacing stock characters. See "Decoration Day," TDS's "The Sands of Iwo Jima."
"Where the Devil Don't Stay" — Menacing Hood-penned TDS opener and, overall, DBTs' hard-won domain. Also, unless you're reading this online, where you live — at least according to Joel Osteen.
Xanadu — Mythical utopia no right-thinking human being should ever confuse with DBTs' South, which although riddled with poverty, violence and despair, retains a certain hardscrabble romantic beauty.
"You and Your Crystal Meth" — Not-at-all-pleasant Cooley entry on Brighter Than Creation's Dark; still, one of the few songs in recent memory to address the teeth-grinding epidemic that has devastated the Southern underclass this decade. And continues to.
"Zip City" — Cooley's tongue-in-cheek SRO tribute to Muscle Shoals. Contains memorable line "Your Brother was the first-born, got ten fingers and ten toes / And it's a damn good thing, 'cause he needs all 20 to keep the closet door closed."
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