Based in Athens, Georgia, the Drive-by Truckers are a southern rock band with strong roots in Alabama. Co-founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley were raised in the Muscle Shoals region of the state and met in 1985 while attending the University of North Alabama (UNA). After playing in a number of bands together, Hood and Cooley co-founded the Drive-by Truckers in 1996. Renowned for earnest songwriting, heavy touring schedule, and a distinctive musical style drawing from southern rock, country, R&B, punk, and soul, the group has developed a devoted following across the world. The band is known for its robust three-guitar sound, which has been likened to that of legendary southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Drive-by Truckers songs are frequently narratives or first-person stories of life and struggle that show sympathy and solidarity with poor and marginalized people. At the root of their lyrical style is the band members' own experience of being southerners and of accepting both the positive and negative aspects of the region. Both embracing and rejecting elements of the stereotypes applied to southerners, the band often explores the culture of the southern underclass while criticizing powerful entities such as politicians, law enforcement, and religious authorities. Alabama figures prominently in many of their songs. Frontman Patterson Hood is often credited on their albums for a majority of the songwriting, but other members of the Drive-by Truckers also have contributed songs that stand out as album highlights. Each member brings a different but complimentary perspective to the band's lyrical theme of the South. Another common theme in their writing is the celebration of the redemptive power of music.
As children, Hood and Cooley were steeped in the musical sound of their hometown, Muscle Shoals, in Colbert County. Hood often visited FAME Studios and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, where his father, David Hood, recorded as the bassist for the renowned Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. By the third grade, Hood was writing his own songs. Mike Cooley also showed an early interest in music. He began playing guitar at age eight, and by age ten had played several times on a local television musical show hosted by musician Al Lester. After meeting at UNA, Hood and Cooley began performing together in the late 1980s in a rock/punk band called Adam's House Cat. The band broke up on 1991, but a number of the songs written during that period have appeared on the Drive-by Truckers playlist, including crowd favorites "Lookout Mountain" and "Buttholeville." Hood and Cooley continued to play together in various bands around Muscle Shoals and Auburn, Lee County. The duo split in 1996, with Hood moving to Athens, Georgia, and Cooley settling in Birmingham. In Athens, Hood soon met a group of musicians that would go on to form the Drive-by Truckers and was involved in establishing the Soul Dump Records label. Cooley remained in the Birmingham area, but he quickly became involved with the new band, commuting to practices and performances in the Athens area.
The Drive-by Truckers is prolific, producing 12 albums since its founding. The band has also produced several singles, vinyl-only releases, EPs, and tracks to other albums. The band's first four releases Gangstabilly (1998), Pizza Deliverance (1999), live album Alabama Ass Whuppin' (2000; rereleased in 2013), and Southern Rock Opera (2001) were self produced on Soul Dump Records. The band line-up for Gangstabilly included Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley on guitar, John Neff on pedal steel guitar, Adam Howell on bass, and Matt Lane on drums. With the exception of Cooley and Hood, membership in the band changed significantly during the first few years. After bassist Howell's departure in 1998, Chuck Bradburn, Rob Malone, and Earl Hicks each played with the band for some time. Drummer Matt Lane was replaced by Brad Morgan in 1999. In 2001, the band signed a deal with Lost Highway Records to re-release and distribute its self-financed album, Southern Rock Opera. The album received much critical praise, including a four-star review from Rolling Stone magazine. The same year, the band was signed by New West Records and began work on its follow-up album to Southern Rock Opera. In 2003, the band released the album Decoration Day, the first to feature new member Jason Isbell, originally from Green Hill, Lauderdale County. Isbell played on the Truckers next three albums and wrote some of the group's most popular tracks. Bassist Earl Hicks left the band after Decoration Day and was replaced by Shonna Tucker, another Muscle Shoals native.
During its New West Records years, the band released the albums Decoration Day (2003), The Dirty South (2004), A Blessing and A Curse (2006), Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2008), Live from Austin, Texas (2009), and The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities (2009). Original member John Neff returned in 2008 to replace the departing Isbell. In 2009, the band was the subject of the documentary The Secret to a Happy Ending. The film, directed by Barr Weissman, explores the band's art and encompasses three critical and difficult years of touring and recording as the band struggles with creative and personal turmoil. In 2010, the band changed labels to ATO Records. With that label, the band has released four albums thus far, including the most recent American Band (2016). The current line-up of the band is Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Brad Morgan, Jay Gonzalez, and Mike Patton. Though not credited as an official member of the band, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician and Alabama native Spooner Oldham has also toured and recorded with the Drive-by Truckers.
The band is among the most actively touring in the modern music business and has developed a reputation as one of America's great live rock bands. From its beginnings as an unsigned band, the Drive-by Truckers has toured relentlessly. Since 2000, the band have typically played more than 150 shows per year. In 2009 and 2010, the band had to cancel some performances due to illness and exhaustion among the members. The band has also developed a strong following in Europe. In 2002, following the success of Southern Rock Opera, the band performed in the Netherlands and have added regular European dates to their touring schedule. Drive-by Truckers performances are usually loud and raucous affairs lasting well over two hours. In 2007, following the departure of Isbell, the band scheduled some acoustic shows, including a set on the NPR show, Mountain Stage. In concert, Hood often introduces songs with lengthy stories that give the audience an insight into both the songwriter and the subject of the song. In addition to the band's solo touring, it has been the opening act for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and played for music festivals across the United States and Europe. On September 26, 2008, the Drive-by Truckers played for the long-running PBS music program Austin City Limits.