DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS with the DRAMS at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Wednesday (October 18), 9 pm. $18. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
It took the drive-by truckers five years to create their magnum opus, Southern Rock Opera, a stellar double-disc song cycle that cleverly uses the events surrounding Lynyrd Skynyd's tragic crash as a metaphor for the decline of Southern culture during the 70s.
And the Truckers will likely spend at least five more years trying to shake off the Southern rock tag they've been stuck with because of it. Although the Athens, Georgia-based crew are definitely a rock band, the Southern rock appellation comes with more baggage than they care to shoulder.
That's completely understandable considering that the Truckers boys have about as much in common with Molly Hatchet, Black Oak Arkansas and that whole Jack Daniel's-hoisting crowd as their Athens homeboys R.E.M., which, apart from a Gibson guitar inclination, is not very much. But just try to explain that to anyone who assumes that having a Southern drawl makes you a Darwin-hating segregationist snake handler.
They're trying to distance themselves from the whole Southern rock thing with their new album, appropriately titled A Blessing And A Curse (New West), which finds them digging into the early-70s grooves of the Stones and Faces and puts them in the company of Primal Scream and the Replacements.
"When we went into the studio to make A Blessing And A Curse, we'd just come off a year of touring behind 2004's Dirty South album," explains singer/guitarist Patterson Hood from his Georgia hideaway. "So everything that had been written about us, however positive, was saying we were the second coming of Southern rock, which isn't at all how we view ourselves.
"Even Lynyrd Skynyrd were trying to rid themselves of the Southern rock label before the plane crash.
"Many of the post-Skynyrd groups flying that flag tended to be very right-wing, which definitely is not us. I grew up loving punk rock and all kinds of music, so to be suddenly pigeonholed in this narrowly defined subgenre felt very stifling.
"That's not to say we're trying to change who we are. As you can probably tell from my accent, I'm still from Alabama and I live in Georgia. A good number of my songs are still drawn from the people and places here."
Another way Hood is working to redefine himself as a singer/songwriter is by taking on projects outside of the Truckers. He regularly performs solo gigs on those rare days when the group isn't recording or touring, and his new solo album, Murdering Oscar And Other Love Songs, is actually finished - he's just sorting out who's going to release it.
"It began with revisiting some songs I wrote and recorded in my bedroom just prior to forming the Truckers back in 94. Going back over what I'd done, I found five or six of the songs really stood up and seemed worth recording.
"In the process, I wrote a few more tunes on a similar theme, but they had a much different perspective because I've been through quite a bit in the last 10 years and many of my opinions have changed. The person who wrote the earlier stuff never imagined being in a happy marriage or having a daughter, but when I finished the new songs I was surprised how well they all worked together. It doesn't sound anything like a Truckers record."
The family theme finally gave Hood the perfect excuse to record with his father, famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood, whose funky bottom end has graced the albums of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, the Rolling Stones, Traffic and more.
"I've always wanted to work on a project with Dad, but he's always in the studio doing a session, so we never got to record together. My interest in punk rock ensured there was a healthy generation gap between us during my youth, but I've always loved the soul music he recorded - and Willie Nelson's Phases And Stages - even if he didn't realize it at the time.
"Back in the mid-80s, I tried to do this project with my dad producing the session, and it was a disaster. About 15 minutes into it he just threw up his hands up and stomped out. But we've both been through a lot in the past 20 years, and this time he was really excited to record with me, and I was thrilled to have him with me.
"My dad's a real cool guy. I got lucky."