News Column

Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood traces his musical heritage back to the famed Muscle Shoals

December 5, 2013


Dec. 05--For the pop music fan, the term "Muscle Shoals" has a certain magic to it. It is associated with some of the greatest pop and R&B records of the 1960s and '70s and is shorthand for a specific kind of Southern soulfulness.

This is where singer/songwriter Patterson Hood came from, quite literally.

Muscle Shoals is, in fact, a small town in northern Alabama that was the home of the Swampers, a group of studio musicians who commanded enormous respect across the rock/country music spectrum, thanks largely to their association with the recording giants Atlantic Records and Stax Records. Acts as diverse as Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones and the Staple Singers recorded with the Swampers in Muscle Shoals. The town and the band are even mentioned in Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama."

Hood, 49, grew up as the son of a Swamper -- bass player David Hood -- and now leads a band that carries on the Muscle Shoals reputation, the Drive-By Truckers.

Patterson Hood, who plays Saturday at Don Quixote's in Felton, eventually moved away from Muscle Shoals to another small-town Southern musical mecca -- Athens, Ga.

"For all the similarities, they were also very different from each other," said Hood of the difference between the two musical hotbeds. "Muscle Shoals was in a dry county, no clubs and no live music scene whatsoever, back in the day. It was based around recording. A handful of really talented and ambitious guys in these makeshift studios that made some of the greatest records the world has ever known."

By contrast, Athens, the home of the University of Georgia, was a magnet for fans of live music. "I came to Athens and within two years, I had Drive-By Truckers going and within four years, we were selling out clubs all over. Athens was great to me."

The Truckers' first album, "Gangstabilly," came out in 1998, and by the time of its follow-up, the ambitious "Southern Rock Opera," DBT were redefining Southern rock.

But Hood was interested in pursuing other musical avenues that didn't fit comfortably in the Truckers' mystique. He released his first solo album, "Killers and Stars," in 2004.

His latest recording, 2012's "Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance," explores thematic ground that is so personal and so connected to some of his own travails that it couldn't have come from the band.

"It was conceived and written in a short period of time before DBT took a hiatus. It was a very personal piece of work about my family and a dark time in my past, juxtaposed by a very time in the present. It just felt like a solo album in that I just didn't want to collaborate in the usual way that I do with DBT."

Though Muscle Shoals is in his bones, Hood says that he was a generation too late to really take advantage of it, as a musician or recording artist.

"By the time I grew up, the heyday of Muscle Shoals had ended and most of the musicians had moved on to greener pastures, Nashville in particular. My dad was one of the few that stayed on and times were tough for them. It had gone wet, with legalized beer and such, but the clubs were very bad and there was still no live music scene to speak of. I had the only band in town playing original music and we were hated for it. That fed my punk-rock anger, which only made the situation worse for me."

By the time he left for Athens, his fabled hometown was on the verge of change.

"Ironically, my hometown now has an incredible music scene," said Hood. "It took another generation for it to happen and I just couldn't wait that long. I hung in there for over a decade trying to do what I do before moving to Athens. I at least hope I've been a positive influence on some of it."


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