Jun 282013

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Back in 2010, Cover Me posted a Live Collection of the Drive-By Truckers, the Athens, GA band led by Patterson Hood. It featured “every DBT concert cover we could get our hands on,” adding that “Hood’s vast solo repertoire will wait for a later date.” That’s an undertaking for another day, but today we can at least scratch the surface and share a few of Hood’s covers.

The Drive-By Truckers are one of those bands that critics love; whenever there’s an informed argument about the best American rock band of the last however many years, they’re certain to be nominated. The quality and power of their playing and the stellar songwriting set them apart from many of their contemporaries. While former member Jason Isbell wrote a handful of great songs for the band, and Mike Cooley’s contributions to each album are almost all memorable, Hood is the primary songwriter and front man. Hood’s solo albums tend to be quieter and more introspective than his work with the Truckers. Although it may be hard to say that the Drive-By Truckers are “Under the Radar,” Hood’s solo work does inhabit that space.

As befits the son of David Hood, the Muscle Shoals bassist who played on sessions with artists ranging from Paul Simon and Cher to Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Frank Black (to name just a handful), Hood is an artist with broad musical tastes, and his covers reflect the size and scope of his record collection. On his first solo album, he covered “Pay No Attention to Alice,” a lesser-known song by country music star Tom T. Hall; on his second, he covered “The Range War,” a lesser-known Todd Rundgren song. (His current solo album, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, is apparently too full of excellent original songs to fit in a cover.) But the concert stage is where Hood gets to really stretch out and play songs that, presumably, have influenced him the most (or that he just likes). So, while this collection may not be exhaustive, it should be illustrative, at least.

Patterson Hood – Second Guessing (R.E.M. cover)

It is probably hard for a southern rocker living in Athens, GA not to be a fan of R.E.M., and Hood contributed a number of songs to a benefit concert that became an album, Finest Worksongs: Athens Bands Play the Music of R.E.M.. During his set, Hood discusses what a big fan he is and recounts a story of the first time he saw R.E.M. play – some fan yelled out something stupid, and the band spent the next couple of songs glaring at the fan and playing with palpable hatred. One of those songs was “Second Guessing,” originally on R.E.M.’s second album Reckoning; listening to it, it’s easy to forget that this not a creation by Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe, but a recreation. Hood recently wrote a song, “After It’s Gone,” arguing against commercial development in downtown Athens, which featured a number of local musicians, including R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills.

Patterson Hood – Adam Raised a Cain (Bruce Springsteen cover)

[audio: https://ia902606.us.archive.org/16/items/pattersonh2007-12-01.flac16/pattersonh2007-12-01t05.mp3]
The 14-year old Patterson Hood bought a copy of Darkness on the Edge of Town, and it quickly became, and continues to be, one of his favorite albums of all time. In 2007, a somewhat older Patterson Hood was opening for Sonic Youth at the legendary 40 Watt Club in Athens and decided to play a set of Springsteen songs from Darkness. Hood has said that “Adam Raised a Cain” remains one of his favorite songs, and his passionate performance supports that claim.

Patterson Hood – Panties in Your Purse (Drive-By Truckers cover)

[audio: https://ia801400.us.archive.org/2/items/pattersonh1998-08-12.shnf/pattersonh1998-08-12t05.mp3]
Yes, Patterson Hood is in the Drive-By Truckers, so how is this a cover? Because this song was written by Mike Cooley, who sings lead when the band plays it. “Panties” is from the band’s early days, before they began to achieve critical and commercial success. Although the title makes it sound frivolous (like another Truckers song, “The President’s Penis is Missing”), in fact, like so many Cooley songs, it is a finely, economically and poignantly drawn story about people living on the edge. This version is also from the 40 Watt Club, in 1998, when the Drive-By Truckers themselves were well below the radar, and the crowd’s seeming indifference to Hood’s performance may be a reflection of this.

Patterson Hood – Take a Letter Maria (R.B. Greaves cover)

This song was a huge hit in 1969 for R.B. Greaves, the nephew of Sam Cooke, and it firmly ensconced Greaves in the pantheon of one-hit wonders. Playing bass on the song was David Hood, and in 2012, when Patterson was touring, his father played bass with him on some dates. This cover is from the Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford, Mississippi. As so often happens with live performances, the editor places the pre-song banter at the end of the prior track, so this recording doesn’t include the story that Hood tells of finding out that his father hadn’t played this song since the original recording session.

Patterson Hood – Star Star (Rolling Stones cover)

[audio: https://ia902605.us.archive.org/14/items/pattersonh2006-03-02.flac16/pattersonhood2006-03-02t03.mp3]
Hood seems to enjoy doing themed cover shows, and in 2006, once again at the 40 Watt, he performed a set of Rolling Stones covers as part of another benefit; this one, “Gimme Shelter,” helped out the Athens Area Homeless Shelter. Leading a band including fellow Truckers Mike Cooley and Brad “EZB” Morgan, off-and-on Trucker John Neff, and Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, Hood’s set of rambling, sloppy and fun cover is highlighted by a raucous version of “Star Star,” as the Stones’ record company insisted on calling this song, whose original title and chorus remain NSFW.

Gov’t Mule w/ Patterson Hood – Southern Man (Neil Young cover)

The Truckers first gained wide attention with their album Southern Rock Opera, a reflection on what Hood calls “the duality of the Southern thing,” with a strong dash of Lynyrd Skynyrd influence. One of the key songs on the album is “Ronnie and Neil,” which Hood describes as being (at least partly) about “the misunderstood friendship between Ronnie Van Zant and Neil Young, who were widely believed to be bitter adversaries, but were in truth very good friends and mutual admirers.” The “feud,” of course, derived from Young’s “Southern Man,” and Skynyrd’s response in “Sweet Home Alabama” (here’s more on that issue). Gov’t Mule, a band that featured members of The Allman Brothers Band, one of the roots of the “Southern rock” family tree that includes both Skynyrd and the Truckers, invited Hood to sing “Southern Man” with them at the 2008 X-Mas Jam in Asheville, North Carolina. As you’ll hear, he took to it like a duck to water.

Patterson Hood – D-I-V-O-R-C-E (Tammy Wynette cover)

[audio: https://ia601401.us.archive.org/28/items/pattersonh2001-02-28.shnf/pattersonh2001-02-28d2t13.mp3]
Currently happily married with two young children, Hood has unfortunately been strongly influenced by divorce. The child of divorced parents, he went through a difficult split himself that was personally wrenching, but resulted in a number of very intimate songs. Many of these songs appeared on Hood’s solo albums and some of the best of them, often referred to as the “divorce trilogy,” appeared on the Decoration Day album. In 2001, at a solo performance in Black Mountain, North Carolina, Hood performed the country classic “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” made famous by Tammy Wynette. After the song, he introduces the next tune, the intriguingly titled “Belinda Carlisle Diet,” and mentions that he recently got divorced and dropped 30 pounds.

Patterson Hood – I’m In Love With A Girl (Big Star cover)

[audio: https://ia600203.us.archive.org/23/items/pattersonh2008-04-17.flac16/pattersonh2008-04-17d2t06.mp3]
Big Star is one of those bands whose reputation and influence far outstripped their commercial success. Now recognized as one of the seminal power pop bands, during their initial recording career they were thwarted by ineffective marketing, indifferent labels, and internal strife. Ultimately, though, they have been acknowledged as a key influence by more bands than you can count, many of whom have covered Big Star songs. The original version of this song, the closing track to Big Star’s second record Radio City, is a plaintive, sweet ballad. Hood’s cover, from a 2008 performance at the Five Spot in Atlanta where he led a band that was, essentially, the Drive-By Truckers minus Mike Cooley, adds a prominent pedal steel part from John Neff that countrifies the song a bit.

Bonus: Jason Isbell – The Assassin (Patterson Hood cover)

[audio: http://ia902308.us.archive.org/5/items/pattersonh2005-06-13.flac16/pattersonh2005-06-13t13.mp3]
When Jason Isbell left the Drive-By Truckers, it was explained as being based on his desire to go solo. More recent reports indicate that Isbell’s now-acknowledged drinking problems were a big reason for the split. Isbell’s first solo album, Sirens of the Ditch, was produced by Hood, who also performed on it. “The Assassin” is a Hood song, which appeared on his Killers and Stars album; Isbell apparently liked the track better than Hood, who encouraged him to play and record it. This version is from the Sirens sessions (although not on the album) and may well have Hood playing on it.

Whether there have been hard feelings between Isbell and the members of the Truckers has long been fodder for DBT fans, but Isbell played a few songs with the band back in 2011. The picture above is from the recent Clearwater Festival in Croton, NY, at which Isbell and Hood were scheduled to play back to back sets on adjacent stages. Hood joined Isbell to sing background vocals on “Outfit,” and Jason returned the favor, singing and playing guitar with Patterson on “Heathens.” And Hood exhorted the crowd to buy Isbell’s new album, Southeastern, which is brilliant.

Although heat lightning actually doesn’t rumble in the distance (or anywhere), check out Patterson Hood’s latest cover-free solo effort on iTunes and Amazon.

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