ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, OCT. 21, 2004
By Steve Newton
On the back of the booklet that comes with the Drive-By Truckers’ latest CD, The Dirty South, there’s a photo of a bare-chested toddler standing in front of Buford Pusser’s gravestone. For the uninitiated, Pusser was the Tennessee sheriff whose brutal approach to law ‘n’ order inspired the hit 1973 “hixploitation” flick, Walking Tall. He was noted for using a hefty chunk of lumber to mete out wooden justice to the criminals and lowlifes who dared mess with his town.
The real-life events portrayed in Walking Tall took place not far from where DBT vocalist-guitarist Patterson Hood grew up in north Alabama, but Pusser was no hero to Hood as a kid. He still isn’t.
“It’s nothing personal,” drawls the rocker, on the line from his home in Athens, Georgia. “I didn’t know him or anything. But I wrote the song from the point of a view of someone who certainly wasn’t a fan of his. I’d really thought that there was a more interesting story in the people he was fighting and why, you know, why they wanted him dead. And what their perspective on it was.”
“We’re huge, huge fans [of the Band],” he stresses. “This week I actually went and saw Festival Express at a theatre here in Athens, and the footage of Richard Manuel singing ‘I Shall Be Released’ is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, if it doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, you probably need to go to the doctor.”
The Drive-By Truckers have been known to raise a few goose bumps themselves. As anyone who’s witnessed them in concert can attest, Jack Daniel’s–drenched, triple-guitar southern rock hasn’t sounded so sweet since the heyday of Skynyrd. No wonder roots-rock bible No Depression named the group–which returns to Richards on Richard’s on Sunday (October 24)–as 2003’s Band of the Year.
“I love it any time anybody ends up liking the band,” says the modest Hood. “It makes me very happy. [Guitarist Mike] Cooley and I have been playing together for 19 years, and really, up until about three years ago we had been in pretty much total obscurity. We got a couple of nice reviews for the live record [2000’s Alabama Ass Whuppin’], but it was still two- or three-thousand people in the world who might have known a little bit who we were. So it’s kind of a treat for us to all of a sudden have all these people seeming to like it.”