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A Conversation with Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers

With 20 years on the road and over a dozen albums, the Drive-By Truckers is still running strong. Front-runners in the early alt-country scene, the band has consistently produced provocative, original music, often laced with social and political commentary. After two decades, DBT continues to define its sound, steadily growing its loyal fan base and proving it may very well be at the top of its musical game.

Patterson Hood, who shares lead vocals with longtime friend and bandmate Mike Cooley, is thrilled to be back at this historic honky tonk. “It’s the perfect venue. It’s one of my favorite venues in America,” he commented. “We always love it. It’s just an amazing room. We’ve seen our crowd grow considerably since we’ve been playing it, which is always good.”

A fan of Western swing, Hood finds the Ballroom’s history particularly appealing. Bob Wills, the “King of Western Swing”, broadcast his live show with his band the Texas Playboys from the venue’s stage during the late 30s and early 40s. “I’m a huge Bob Wills fan,” Hood noted. “The very beginning of this band coincided with the time when I first really got turned on to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. It was actually an early influence on some of the first songs we wrote for the Truckers.”

Hood, who also counts punk rock among his influences, loved the way Western swing pulled from so many genres. “It was certainly one of the roots of what we know of as country, but it also had all these elements of jazz and all these other early American styles of music mixed in it. There was a certain amount of vaudeville and even burlesque mixed in, too. I just loved that,” he explained.

According to Hood, early DBT songs “Zoloft” (a tune about antidepressants) and “Demonic Possession” (about Pat Buchanan and the Republican National Convention of 1996) were his modern take on that genre. “I wrote them in kind of a rip off of Western swing, and I don’t think I really had the chops to do it justice,” he laughed. “But it was definitely in there.”

Hood and DBT co-founder Cooley have been playing together almost 30 years, and Hood is still happy to be on the road and creating new music. “We’re actually in an upswing now,” he commented. “Things are really doing well for us. We just finished what I think is easily one of the best records we’ve ever made, which will be coming out in the fall.” Cain’s fans will likely be hearing some cuts off the upcoming album.

“We’ve really unified our sound in the last five years,” Hood continued. “This lineup has really solidified a lot of things with us. Our new record is extremely topical, and it’s very direct. In the past we’ve often talked about contemporary subjects or controversies or political things, but we’ve veiled it under these stories that are set in a different time. But this time, it’s way more direct. The record we’ve done is just about shit going on right now. It seems like we need a rock and roll record right about now,” he laughed.

Despite its large, loyal and continually growing fan base, DBT wasn’t always accepted in the early Americana scene. “In the early days of it, we weren’t totally embraced by that audience,” Hood recalled. “We were considered a little too rowdy, a little too rambunctious, maybe even a little too rock for that, even though that was definitely some of our roots. I think we just had too foul a mouth. The alt-country scene in the 90s was kind of Midwestern, and our southern slant on it was a little ruder and a little cruder, and so I think we were kind of almost looked down upon initially, which is probably fair enough.”

The band kept on doing its own thing, and its fans followed. “We’ve hung in there and survived. We never really defined ourselves by any of the subgenres anyway because we always considered ourselves first and foremost a rock and roll band. Certainly the Americana thing was a big part of it for sure, as was R & B and western swing and punk rock and everything else that we were into at any given time.”

The band is looking forward to its Tulsa date. “It’s always a treat to come to Cain’s,” Hood said. “It’s really one of my favorite places to play, and it’s an honor to get to play on that stage, so we’re excited about it.” 

-With permisson from Currentland.

The true king of swing was Bob Wills. However, Spade Cooley, Mike Cooley's Grampa, billed himself as the "King of Western Swing" after claiming victory in a Venice, California battle of the bands which included Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys around 1940. Spade killed his wife, in 1961, in front of his kids, including Mike's Dad. After he got out of prison, he performed one more show and died.

I had to add this...when you google Spade Cooley, the Wiki page is the first link...the second one says "Spade Cooley - Film Actor, Television Actor, Murderer"...you have to read a ways before you get to the part where it says he billed himself as "King of Western Swing".  I guess if you kill someone and get convicted it does put a damper on your musical career...

I was aware of Spade Cooley's story and have a CD compilation of his work which is certainly in the western swing genre but sounds dated compared to the great Bob Wills. But I never knew Mike Cooley was his grandson. What a strange bit of musical trivia...

I see that online a couple of places, but I do not know of a credible source confirming it is true.