Patterson Hood is a prolific writer and performer whose character-driven stories are packed with political subtext. He is best known as front-man, singer, songwriter and guitar player for the critically acclaimed rock and roll band Drive-By Truckers, but is also a writer of essays, columns and short stories.
In the past few years he has written an op-ed on the on-going controversies surrounding the confederate flag for The New York Times Magazine, a piece on Vic Chesnutt for The Oxford American’s annual music issue, and retrospectives on David Bowie for American Songwriter and Merle Haggard for NPR. Most recently in October of 2016, Patterson published his first short story featured in “The Highway Kind,” a car-themed crime fiction anthology.
Drive-By Truckers have released 13 albums and played over 2,000 shows in the past nineteen years. They also released a 35-song, career-spanning box set in 2015 that was recorded live at The Fillmore in San Francisco. American Band, their most recent album released in the height of election season on September 30th 2016, takes their political undertones much closer to the surface than ever before. The album delves into matters that resonate deeply in divided America, including last year’s massacres in Charleston, SC and Roseburg, OR; the death of Michael Brown; the continued controversy over the Confederate flag; and the roots of the National Rifle Association. According to Patterson, the track “What It Means” is the most blatant protest song on the record. “I look at that song as the beginning of a conversation that, perhaps, we all need to have. I think white people are afraid to talk about race. Maybe it’s time for us to get past that, too,” he explained in an interview with CNN.
Praises have rolled in for “American Band” since its release. NPR has claimed it to be one of the best albums yet from Drive-By Truckers, deeming it “unapologetically progressive,” and “a poignant take on what it means to be an American in a time when uncertainty and fear are omnipresent.” Rolling Stone raves, “’American Band’ comes from the very distinct perspective of a group that remains burdened by, and reckoning with, its own bloody southern history.” The record has been also been recognized on several 2016 year-end lists including The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, NPR, Uncut, and Entertainment Weekly.
In addition to his work with Drive-By Truckers, Patterson has amassed 3 solo albums and co-produced or played on additional albums by Bettye LaVette, Booker T. Jones and The Dexateens. As a speaker and lecturer, he has spoken and conducted classes at Princeton, The University of Indiana, The University of Georgia, and The University of Alabama. Earlier this year he spoke at the Frank and Kula Lumpuris Distinguished Lecture Series at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, and also delivered the commencement address to the graduating class of 2015 at the University of Northern Alabama.
Alabama is near to Hood’s heart, being born in Florence and raised in the Muscle Shoals area. He attended The University of Northern Alabama before he moved to Athens, Georgia where he lived for twenty-one years. Last year, he and his family left Georgia for Portland, Oregon.
“Southern Rock Opera,” Drive-By Truckers’ best known work, is a concept album that examines growing up in the post-civil rights South and something called “The Duality of the Southern Thing.” Hood penned an article for The Bitter Southerner in 2013 titled “The New(er) South,” and in it he revisits many of those same themes found on the record by giving a glimpse into his first 28 years of life in Alabama. “I grew up as a living part of the legacy of Muscle Shoals music,” Hood says. His father, David Hood, co-founded Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and was a bassist in the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, more casually known as The Swampers. He built his career by backing up African-American R&B stars as a white southerner in the thick of the 1960’s civil rights movement, playing on records by Aretha Franklin, Etta James, The Staple Singers, Percy Sledge, and Odetta to name a few. Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, and Simon and Garfunkel also worked with him over the years. David’s monumental career is celebrated in the 2013 award-winning documentary, “Muscle Shoals.” Patterson claims that this environment his father created for him to grow up in was the breeding ground for a lot of his current viewpoints. He is still “fiercely proud” of his hometown, its music scene, and the beautiful music his father created there, but also “ashamed” of the political landscape he had to endure. “Such is the duality of the Southern Thing,” Patterson says.
When he relocated to Athens at age 30, he “felt like he had died and gone to heaven.” Athens is where Drive-By Truckers was born, and where Patterson really hit his stride. Despite finding success in moving on from Muscle Shoals, he still makes it a point to praise his hometown on the transformation it has seen in the last several years. Now a Portland resident on the other side of the country, Hood continues to embrace his Southern, Alabama-bred identity with uncompromising loyalty and a heart for seeing the South become one of the best places to live.