Memphis State of Mind 

The Drive-By Truckers give a nod to their old hometown.


Earlier this year, the Georgia-based Drive-By Truckers released their eighth studio album, The Big To-Do, a typically excellent collection of Southern rock character sketches and story songs. Bandleader Patterson Hood takes a sidelong glance at a couple of mysterious crimes in "Drag the Lake Charlie" and "The Wig He Made Her Wear" (the details of which will be familiar to most Memphians) and issues a tough alcoholic's testimonial on "The Fifth Night of My Drinking." As is the case with all Drive-By Truckers albums, Mike Cooley comes through with some priceless low-rent character sketches. And this time out, newish third wheel Shonna Tucker's starkly written contributions provide tonal contrast.

Hood and Cooley once lived in Memphis and have long peppered their music with local and regional references, including songs about Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and the night punk provocateur G.G. Allin played the Antenna club.

The Big To-Do continues the band's Mid-South connections: The album is dedicated to late Memphis producer Jim Dickinson and features "The Wig He Made Her Wear," a song about the 2006 murder case in nearby Selmer, in which Mary Carol Winkler shot her husband, a minister.

The Flyer asked Hood about some of the album's and band's Memphis connections:

Flyer: The Big To-Do is dedicated, in part, to Jim Dickinson, and you reference your relationship with the Dickinson family in the liner notes. Can you elaborate on your connections to the Dickinsons and what Jim means to you?

Patterson Hood: Jim was very much a hero of mine and to some extent the whole band — not only the work he did but how he did it and the point of view he represented with it. I met him many years ago when Cooley and I were in Adam's House Cat. We were managed by [Memphis Grammy chapter director] Jon Hornyak, and he introduced us. I really wanted [Dickinson] to produce that band and actually always wanted DBT to work with him too on some level. In later years, I've become good friends with [Dickinson's sons] Luther and Cody, who I also admire so. Luther and I had this idea to form a side project band with my Dad and Jim. Between the five of us, it's a pretty kick-ass band and covers the bases. Not long before Jim got sick, we all convened at [Dickinson's studio] the Zebra Ranch for a couple of days and tracked a few songs with the intention of making an album. Of course, between DBT's schedule and the many irons Luther and Cody have in the fire, getting all of us together is next to impossible, so it never got finished. I still hope to finish it all at some point and maybe turn it into a tribute to Jim. Jim and my father had their own history together, which made it all even cooler.

Also, Big Star's 3rd [which Dickinson produced] is one of my desert-island discs, and "Kangaroo" is one of my all-time favorite songs. Jim autographed my vinyl copy of 3rd.

In addition to writing about Sam Phillips on at least a couple DBT songs and dedicating this album to Dickinson, you had a chance to work with another legendary Memphis figure in Booker T. Jones, when the band backed him up on his recent album Potato Hole. He's got a reputation for being pretty reserved. Did you get a chance to talk to him much about Memphis or let him know about your history with the city?

I felt like we bonded pretty well. He's one of the most truly amazing people I've ever met. We all adore him. We made the album in four days, so there wasn't much talk then. But touring, we got to hang out some. He told us some cool stories. I really hope we get to collaborate again, as we all kinda know each other now. And although I'm extremely proud of Potato Hole, I think we could make a far better go of it next time.

On another semi-local note: I'm interested in "The Wig He Made Her Wear" since that case was big news in Memphis, obviously. You approach the story from a side angle that's more a bemused commentary on community standards. Can you comment a little on deciding to write about that story and how you came up with that angle?

It's weird, whenever someone Southern does something sensational or violent or even crazy stupid, someone sends me the clipping and tells me I ought to write about it, and I usually run as fast as I can away from it. Like, haven't I written "that" song enough already? But something about that story hit me very differently. Not the murder or the event, because where I come from there's always some violent story that involves a preacher and a killing, but it was the audible gasp in the courtroom that got me. I just happened to be watching. When they pulled out the wig and shoes, it was like an episode of Perry Mason. I knew at that moment I had to write about it. It's the gasp I'm writing about, because I'm "from there," as they say. I grew up 35 miles from Selmer, and the mores and religiousness that inspired the gasp is something I knew far too well from my own upbringing. The story itself was just a way of setting up the gasp.

The Drive-By Truckers With Henry Clay People Minglewood Hall, Friday, September 17th, 8pm, $22 inadvance, $24 day of show.

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