By Aaron Ladage
What is it that characterizes a trucker?
Is it the lifestyle, spent traveling mile after mile of broken highway, trying to make it to that next destination? Is it the endless waiting game, always wishing you were just a little bit closer to home? Or maybe it’s the belief that a life on the road is one of the most honest ways there is to make a living.
Strictly speaking, Patterson Hood is not a trucker. But, he is a “Trucker” – or, more specifically, he’s a guitarist, singer and songwriter for the band the Drive-By Truckers. And while he may not know what it’s like to pilot an 80,000-pound rig, the road-weary musician knows quite a bit about life on the road.
Land Line Magazine had a chance to speak with Hood just hours before his band opened for tourmates The Black Crowes in Cleveland, OH. On that particular night, the Truckers were playing their 32nd concert in 47 days – and it would be another eight days before the tour’s end, when they’d be allowed to return home to their families.
“This tour we’re on right now is 40 shows over a 55-day period. That’s 55 days that we’re away from home, and the show itself is only 40 minutes a day, so the rest of the time is a lot of driving from one city to another, and a lot of waiting around,” said Hood, an obvious trace of homesickness in his voice. “We’ve been on the road a long time. We’re all pretty ready to go home at this point.”
Whether he likes it or not, Hood has learned firsthand one of the toughest parts about the life of an over-the-road trucker.
“Truck drivers do a lot of (waiting), too,” he said. “Waiting to have their loads loaded or unloaded – there tends to be a lot of that stuff in the truck driver’s life, so I can relate to that.”
Beyond the long days, truckers and the Truckers share one obvious trait – the name. Hood said the unusual moniker dates back almost a decade, when he and the band’s original lineup began writing songs together.
It was also around that same time when Hood’s mother got remarried – to a long-haul trucker.
“It originated from a song I wrote about my stepfather and my mom called ‘18 Wheels of Love,’” Hood said. “She went from one extremely different life into that lifestyle overnight. It was kind of entertaining to watch, I guess.”
With lyrics like “They can see the world from way up in the cab” and “They got married in Dollywood by a Porter Wagoner look-alike,” the song “18 Wheels of Love” set a precedent for gritty instrumentation and down-to-earth narratives that still holds true in the band’s music today. Their latest album, “A Blessing and a Curse,” was even recorded analog – not digital – using all-vintage equipment.
The band’s blue-collar sound and style may be why they’ve attracted such widespread attention. Some might refer to their music as southern rock; others might say it has more of an alt-country feel. But Hood said trying to classify the band’s music is counterproductive.
“We’re a rock ’n’ roll band. People say, ‘what kind?’ and I say all kinds,” Hood explained. “That’s the whole point of the term ‘rock ’n’ roll,’ is that it shouldn’t have to be broken down further.”
Growing up in Florence, AL, Hood said his musical influences were broad, and they’ve only grown with time, which might account for the diverse style he brings to the Truckers.
“I might want to listen to a Hank Williams record, and five minutes later I might want to listen to an OutKast record – and I love both of those records very much, and pretty close to equally,” he said. “I love a lot of different kinds of music, and I think being influenced by a wide range of bands is a big part of our sound.”
Hood said there’s no way to describe a “typical” Drive-By Truckers fan. In any given seat on any given night, you might find a country fan, a rock fan – or maybe a combination of the two.
“Tom Petty and Willie Nelson probably have comparable demographics at their shows, in that it’s all ages and all types. There are people who don’t like country who love Willie Nelson, and people who hardly ever get to concerts any more, haven’t gone in the last 20 years, but they’ll still go out and see Tom Petty play,” Hood explained.
“There’s some extent of that with us – certainly on a smaller scale, because we’re not nearly as well-known as either of them. But the people who know our band and who are into it, it seems to be all shapes and sizes.”
So maybe he’s not a trucker in the strictest sense of the word. But if the trucking industry ever hands out honorary memberships, Patterson Hood might very well be near the top of that list.