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In defense of southern rock

In defense of southern rock

“The best hard rock band in America today”

Patterson Hood takes geography very seriously. One reporter learned this after he commented on Hood’s Alabama roots, only to have Hood insist that he was a native of “Northern Alabama.” When the reporter asked Hood what the difference was, Hood explained “In southern Alabama, if someone yells out ‘Freebird’ during a show, it’s meant to be ironic. If that happens in northern Alabama, the next four words out of your mouth had better be ‘if I leave here tomorrow,’ or someone’s going to throw a beer bottle at your face.”

Hood is the founder and band leader of the underground phenomenon known as the Drive-By Truckers, a group that all too often falls into the “I’ve heard of them, but never listened to them” category.

Over the past 10 years, the southern rock outfit has built a relentlessly loyal fan base with virtually no radio or video play. But the five piece has overcome the lack of broadcast media exposure by putting on stellar live shows (playing in excess of four hours at both concerts I witnessed), enjoying critical acclaim (Rolling Stone gave the Truckers 2001 effort Southern Rock Opera a four-star review, and called them “the best hard rock band in America today”), and maintaining an unflinching loyalty to their southern culture.

If you take the time to listen to a handful Drive-By Truckers songs at random, it’s easy to pick up on two main themes that the band carries like a torch: taking the “Skynyrd sound” into the future, and telling the stories of working-class southerners who struggle to make ends meet

All music is created equal

Sadly, “southern rock” carries about as much respect these days as “hair metal” and “diso,” often being seen as musically irrelevant by those who have never lived outside the glow of suburban security lights. But the genre is alive and well, and still speaks for the people who put together your cars, grow your food, and quietly keep America running strong.

Growing up in the tiny village of Fishook, Illinois, I watched relatives farm for 16 hours a day, only to spend late nights at the kitchen table, with calculator in pencil in hand, praying for a miracle to make that month’s mortgage. And while other teens were cutting their teeth on the likes of Green Day and Blink 182 pounding out songs about girls and being bored with school, I related more to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” and “Need all my Friends,” and yes “Sweet Home Alabama” (which is actually about racial equality if you read the lyrics).

Music should be about creativity, beauty, and capturing a moment…and should be judged on these criteria alone. But many of my twentysomething hipster friends discredit the genre bases solely on the three-guitar lineups and clothing styles of the bands. In essence, this is no different than saying you can’t take the music of Ray Charles seriously because he was black, or that you’ll never pop in a Nirvana disc because Kurt Cobain wasn’t “man enough” to handle his depression.

I hope you give the Truckers a try. They’ve brought me a lot of enjoyment over the years. Yeah, it may be different than what you’re used to…but so was Sufjan Stevens before the world caught on to his story-songs. In fact, Sufjan fans might actually find the Drive-By Truckers to be like Sufjan on Jack Daniels and menthol lights. Ok, a whole quart of Jack and the entire pack of menthols chain smoked in 10 minutes.

A Guide for Further Exploration:

One of the great things about Drive-By Truckers is that you can pick up their entire anthology for about $20 by subscribing to But if that seems a little daunting, here’s a breakdown of the albums that will introduce you to southern rock:

Drive-By Truckers: Southern Rock Opera: DBT’s most well known work to date, SRO is a concept album that follows front-man Patterson Hood as he first rejects his southern roots in favor of punk rock, only to later embrace the music of his upbringing and re-tells the stories surrounding the legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Drive-By Truckers: The Dirty South and A Blessing and a Curse: DBT’s two finest, catchiest, and most musically mature albums to date. The Dirty South tackles such issues as moonshining, working-class pride, and what it’s like to be poor and without health insurance and discover that you have cancer. A Blessing and a Curse rocks hard, but ends on the slow-burning “A World of Hurt,” a spoken word piece about turning away from suicide and finding beauty in every new day.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: All Time Greatest Hits: Fourteen songs that you need to know, and no filler. The only drawback is that the disc contains a live version of “Freebird” rather than the original studio recording…which you might want to download from iTunes.

Decemberadio: Self-titled and NeedtoBreathe: The Heat: Two excellent releases from the Christian side of music that dig into their dirty & distorted southern heritage.

Jason Isbell: Sirens of the Ditch: A former member of DBT, Isbell strikes it out on his own by turning down the amps, and creating a lush sound of acoustic guitar, B3, and some of the best songwriting seen this year.

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