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"I guess we sort of made it cool to be country," says Slim Chance (who contributes to CL under his real name, James Kelly). "The Convicts and our circle of friends were all educated, professional people who lived in the city but loved NASCAR, classic country music and the South, without the ignorance and racism that most people associate with rednecks."
Hood began to develop his own spin on the spirit that birthed the Redneck Underground. He combined the proud redneck sensibilities of the bands that preceded him, but with a more sinister veneer that looked outside the subculture for inspiration. By then, he'd patched things up with Cooley and, along with some Athens scenesters, they formed the Drive-By Truckers, naming their debut CD Gangstabilly.
"I always liked gangsta rap, and I was like, 'This is kind of a country equivalent,'" Hood says. "It's kind of in-your-face and blunt and belligerent. Approaching with a rap group's militancy -- or a punk band's -- something that normally was approached in softer tones. When we came around, the big bands in the alt-country scene were, like, Son Volt and Wilco, and we certainly were way more belligerent than they were."
Even as the Redneck Underground scene began to decline in the late '90s, the Truckers' reputation grew, first in Georgia and Alabama, then as far north as New York City, where they earned favorable notices in the Village Voice and even The New York Times. With 1998's Gangstabilly and 1999's Pizza Deliverance, the Drive-By Truckers offered songs drenched in Southern culture -- sometimes as a matter of shtick. But more often, they were creepily matter-of-fact ("Bulldozers and Dirt," "Tales Facing Up") or touchingly humanistic ("The Living Bubba," "Uncle Frank").
Where early lineups featured a stand-up bass and pedal steel, and leaned more toward a country sound, personnel changes and the difficulties of touring with those instruments helped the group evolve into one of the harder-rocking bands to emerge from the alt-country sphere. As Athens musicians fell by the wayside, more often than not they'd be replaced by old Muscle Shoals friends, including Rob Malone -- who joined to play bass but has since become the band's third guitarist -- and Earl Hicks, who helped produce Pizza Deliverance and last year's live album (Alabama Ass Whuppin'), and recently came aboard as bassist.
By the time the Truckers recorded Southern Rock Opera, they'd made -- in sound, membership and vision -- an almost complete return to their sweet home, Alabama.
For all the fun the Redneck Underground had with Southern iconography, musical references were mostly limited to country music and rockabilly. Few had stooped low enough to deal with the Southern rock of the '70s, as defined by the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and .38 Special. In the '90s, Southern rock enjoyed a virtually non- existent level of cultural currency -- and for the most part, that's still the case today.
"When I came to Athens, there was no Skynyrd on the radio," Hood says. "If anyone yelled 'Free Bird' at the club, they were being very ironic and it was very much a joke."
But if the idea of Southern rock as nostalgia still lies far below the radar of popular culture, then the Drive-By Truckers might just be shock troops on the front lines of what cultural anthropologists call "structures of feeling," or the slowly shifting individual perceptions that bring styles and ideas into public currency. In fact, the idea for Southern Rock Opera has been brewing since before the band itself existed.
As Earl Hicks recalls, it first came up back in 1995, when Hood helped him move from Muscle Shoals to Athens. On a trip back to Alabama to pick up another load, Hicks says, "We started talking about a lot of the themes that ended up being on the record. How we didn't really listen to a lot of Skynyrd when we were in high school because that was what the jocks were listening to. But then, when we moved away and actually started listening to it again, we really rediscovered it and became amazed at how misunderstood it was, like the way much of the South was misunderstood."
They first discussed writing a screenplay that depicted the dramatic rise and fall of Lynyrd Skynyrd's original incarnation, but as they realized they had no clue how to go about getting a movie made, Hood's thinking gravitated toward music. Soon, Cooley and Rob Malone were involved in brainstorming ideas for what they termed their "rock opera." The three songwriters contributed pre-written songs that fit the themes of the story, and they also split up the chores of writing new songs that told parts of the narrative. Over the course of years, the project developed on the slow track until they'd built a critical mass of material to put it all in place.
*Christ, Lord sorry
"Punk" style like this seems like it is the polar opposite of punk. Bradford Cox…
They're kind of starting to look like a joke of themselves. Song's good though.
All 80s movies want you...
Their show with Chris, Lord about 3 years at the Unicorn was the best.