While some bands just aren’t cut out for life on the road, there are a few that call the singing of rolling tires music to the ears. The Drive-By Truckers embrace the latter.
With nearly 3,500 live shows now under their belt, the Truckers have always known where their bread was buttered: Ear-piercing guitar layers, dark bars and darker subject matter. DBT has never been an idea that was necessarily marketable to the popular-music hierarchy, but just maybe that may be the very reason that has made them the relentless touring rock band they are today.
While recently listening to The Fine Print, a refreshing collection of extras and rarities recorded over the last decade, I realized it was time to revisit one of the Drive-By Truckers’ earliest albums. The jamming version of “Uncle Frank” found on Fine Print had me itching to hear the original, more stripped-down version of the song on the Athens-based band’s 1999 album, Pizza Deliverance. The band was in its infancy when, legend has it, guitarist Patterson Hood hosted a week-long party at his house in which Pizza Deliverance was recorded. After the album’s release on Soul Dump Records, the Drive-By Truckers started a nearly eight-month tour in which they played nearly 200 live shows. It was during this time when the Hood and Mike Cooley would begin piecing together the now legendary Southern Rock Opera.
But sitting back now, over a decade after the release of Pizza Deliverance, it’s refreshing to listen to Truckers’ in a more country-based tone. Whether Hood and Cooley are searching their soulful side in their most recent project Go-Go Boots, to finding their unique songwriting styles in Pizza Deliverance, the Northern Alabama songwriting duo has always been about the storytelling. And that in itself is the band’s best and most awe-striking quality.
The opening track might be one of Hood’s best – a comical, yet on-the-money tale of the domestic bliss of trailer park love in “Bulldozer’s and Dirt”: “I met your mama when I was sixteen. You couldn’t have been anymore than three. She caught me stealing y’all’s color TV. She called the cops and they arrested me.” Hood delivers several other quirky cuts in “Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)” and “The President’s Penis is Missing,” but in the Drive-By Truckers’ second studio album, it’s Cooley that really shines.
In his first major contributions to the band, Cooley dished out two now-classic Truckers’ tunes: In “Uncle Frank,” Cooley gives his take of the dark side of the Tennessee Valley Authority. With eminent domain pushing the subject of the song into the urban environments and out of his home in the holler, suicide becomes Uncle Frank’s only way out: “Uncle Frank lived in a cabin down on Cedar Creek, bought 15 acres when he got back home from overseas. Fifteen rocky acres, figured no one else would want, ’till all that backed-up water had to have some place to go.”
“One of These Days” is another terrific Cooley ballad that cautions against focusing on the other side of the river, lest you fail to appreciate where your feet stand. Its beautiful chord progression mixed with Cooley’s painfully truthful lyrics sets this song apart from other early Drive-By Truckers.