In a new essay appearing on NPR‘s website, Drive-By Truckers founder Patterson Hood debates changing the band’s name, which he came up with. The winding and touching essay was inspired by the recent name controversy surrounding Lady Antebellum.
After originally mocking the pop-country group who changed their name (a reference to the pre-emancipation South) to Lady A as a show of good faith with ongoing racial protests only to steal the name of a well-established, Back, female artist, Hood got to thinking about his own band’s name. Hood will be the first to say the name of the band is stupid, but for the first time, he considered whether it was harmful.
Anybody remotely familiar with DBT’s signature brand of socially-conscious, Americana folk-rock will tell you that progressive ideals have shined through the band’s lyrics throughout their 22-year career. Hood, however, is his own harshest critic as he revisits his younger days in Athens, GA. By taking readers through his musical journey of enlightenment—from growing up with a father making hit soul records as part of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section to becoming enamored with punk, hip-hop, and finally classic country—Hood creates a road map of how music shaped his world view. He explains,
Due to how I was raised, I grew up with a far different view of our country’s history of racism than most of my white classmates. I also grew up in a home filled with soul music. My music education was pilfering through my dad’s record collection with hundreds of records from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Mille Jackson and Parliament. They informed my world view long before I got to see the world and were always a driving force in my songwriting and playing.
It also probably allowed me to pat myself on the back, and even think I was one of the good guys.
As for the intent behind the name Drive-By Truckers, Hood simply states that it arose as a joke that came out of a few cases of cheap beer at the band’s first recording session back in 1996.
Our name had an irreverence that befit our style and sense of humor. It was such an absurd band name that I didn’t have to worry about a blues performer in Seattle having the same. I had the privilege of being blissfully unaware.
Throughout the essay, Hood thoughtfully articulates the intersecting paths of his musical career and the social causes he tries to champion. Unlike Lady Antebellum, Drive-By Truckers’ name doesn’t literally point to the historic oppression of minorities, yet Hood continues to search for answers to a question only he is asking. At points, he appears to be searching for absolution for himself, looking for accreditation from a community at large that is finally looking to the roots of its structural inequities. It should be safe to say that a band that earnestly includes the lyrics “Black Lives Matter” in a song (“What It Means”), especially a band with an audience as predominantly white as DBT’s, is committed to the cause of social justice. Even so, Hood closes his op-ed by saying “In the meantime, you’re welcome to just call us Lady DBT.”
Read the full essay from Patterson Hood on the origins of Drive-By Truckers here.