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Though they formed in Athens six years ago, the Drive-By Truckers are, in many ways, an Alabama band. Three of Hood's four current bandmates also hail from the Muscle Shoals area. One, guitarist Rob Malone, recently moved to Birmingham, where the band recorded Southern Rock Opera earlier this year. The Truckers even fly the Alabama flag on stage during shows.
Earlier this month, while awaiting finished copies of Southern Rock Opera, the Truckers went to Birmingham to play what was potentially their most significant gig ever: opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Of course, this was no longer the same Skynyrd the Truckers celebrate in song -- only two original members still play in the reformed classic-rock troupe. Still, here was a band coming face to face with the object (or the closest thing to it) of its mythologizing. Did Skynyrd know about the record? Would they be flattered? Humbled? Or would they sic their lawyers on the Truckers' unauthorized representation of the band?
"I'm as curious as anybody," Hood said the day before the show. "If I end up in a one-on-one conversation with [founding Skynyrd guitarist] Gary Rossington and it's going pretty good, I'd definitely like to put [the CD] in his hands and say, 'Here's what we did in tribute to y'all. Thanks for the rock.'"
Ironically, Hood -- along with his fellow Truckers -- grew up rejecting Lynyrd Skynyrd as too emblematic of redneck culture. Says Truckers guitarist and co-founder Mike Cooley, "It was what all those redneck assholes listened to -- the ones who popped me on the side of the head with their class ring every day. So why wouldn't I turn against it? You grow up around that stuff, and everything gets shoved down your throat -- God, momma, country and Lynyrd Skynyrd. You gotta rebel against something, and there it was."
For Hood, the rejection was even more personal. After all, he associated Skynyrd with his dad -- and that sometimes left a bitter taste. "I didn't necessarily see my dad a lot as a kid," Hood says. "He was almost like a cool older brother who was doing this real cool thing somewhere else. I'd see him and ask him about it, and he would give me a two-word answer and kind of move on. It was a source of some animosity from me growing up. I took it like, 'Why's he wanting to keep me away from all the cool stuff?'"
Instead of the stuff played in the high-school parking lot, Hood gravitated toward newer, more alien music. He got a job at the local record shop, read magazines like Trouser Press religiously, and schooled himself in the songs of the Clash, XTC and the Replacements.
Hood met Cooley in the early '80s at the University of North Alabama. The two formed a bond around their shared musical taste and desire to escape northern Alabama. In 1985, they founded Adam's House Cat, an alt-rock band that gained a regional following despite its conscious effort not to be a Southern rock band.
Adam's House Cat nearly hit the big time when it won Musician magazine's unsigned band contest in 1988 and began fielding label offers. But when deal after deal fell through, the group was left with an unreleased record and a whole lot of lost momentum. By 1991, they'd disbanded.
Hood and Cooley stuck together, though. As they had been singing in "Buttholeville" -- an old Adam's House Cat song that has become a Drive-By Truckers favorite -- "one day I'm gonna get out of Buttholeville." Finally, they did. First they moved to Memphis and hated it. Then to Auburn, back in Alabama. They occasionally gigged as the duo Virgil Cane, trying to assemble new bands. But nothing lasted.
After a falling out with Cooley, Hood migrated to Athens in 1995 to live with his girlfriend, whom he'd later marry and, later still, divorce. As he moved further from home, the things he'd been trying to escape began to seem less worth running from. As he came to understand the preconceptions outsiders had of the South, the dichotomy of Hood's upbringing became more and more a source of fascination to him, his own Southernness inspiring a font of material to write about.
Upon arriving in north Georgia, Hood discovered he wasn't alone. By 1995, the so-called Redneck Underground had been long established in the Atlanta/Athens music scene. Acts like Slim Chance and the Convicts, the Diggers, Deacon Lunchbox and Redneck GReece Deluxe offered a do-it-yourself stew of old-time country and Southern rock 'n' roll styles that skewered the negative stereotypes of the South while revering homegrown music, redneck style and proud regionalism.
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