Rumbling in the Cactus

Drive-by Truckers frontman and ACLer Patterson Hood

Rumbling in the Cactus

Beginning tonight, Patterson Hood, frontman, mainstay, and guiding light of Southern rock juggernaut Drive-By Truckers, rolls into town with his own band, the Downtown Rumblers. Catch them tonight and tomorrow at the Cactus Cafe, then Friday afternoon on the BMI Stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Hood's just put out Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, his third solo effort. It's a collection of songs that grew out of his trying to write a book about a tumultuous period in his life 20 years ago – before the Truckers.

The book became too arduous a task; he’d written short stories, but never anything in long form. Still, that experience led to the songs making up Heat Lightning.

“I got too busy on tour to really pursue the book as much as I wanted to,” he says. “I started taking it home to work on, but that’s not what I wanted to do when I was home.

“It spurred some thoughts, which spurred some other thoughts, and that’s pretty much this record I ended up with. The idea served a pretty good purpose whether I go back to it or not.”

After 15 years with the Truckers and a couple of solo discs, Hood writing for the band and for himself remains a difference by degrees, although the songs that came from this experience were definitely written as a Patterson Hood project.

“If it was for a Trucker record, I would leave a lot of things more open-ended to accommodate the band,” the Athens, Ga., resident claims. “It’s pretty democratic. We were already planning on this year being a hiatus from the band, so the last thing we needed was another new record to tour behind.

“Honestly, I had a very clear cut notion of what I wanted this record to sound like, and part of the key to having a band with longevity is to not do that. I wanted each of the songs on this record to cast out exactly how I pictured them in my head.”

One of the album’s highlights is a song co-written by former Georgia native and Jody Grind member Kelly Hogan. “Come Back Little Star” bids farewell to their friend Vic Chesnutt, the revered songwriter who committed suicide in 2009.

“Vic’s the shit,” says Hood of his late, fellow Athenian. “I think he’s the finest songwriter of my generation. We were about the same age. I think some day there will be college courses studying his work.

“Kelly sent me some lyrics, kind of free form, stream of consciousness lyrics – the imagery inspired by her friendship with him. I moved things around, added some structure to it, and sent it back to her.

“It was supposed to go on her new record, but they had already tracked it. It was a new song for me, so I called her and asked if I could put it on my record. She came and recorded it with me.

“That was one of my favorite moments of making the record.”

Hood’s father David also makes an appearance on the disc. Patterson reports the famed bassist, a member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section who worked with artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Cher, and Traffic, is busier now than he’s been in 10 years.

“He’s very much not retired. He’s on the new [posthumous] Waylon Jennings record, and worked with Steve Cropper and Frank Black of all people. He’s doing this thing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this month honoring Chuck Berry. He’ll be in the band for that.

“He’s still got it. He plays wonderfully. He’s gotten more work in the last year or so than he’s had in the decade before that. It’s been a hell of a good time and he’s very happy about that.”

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Patterson Hood, Drive-by Truckers, Kelly Hogan, Vic Chesnutt, David Hood, Shoals Rhythm Section, Aretha Franklin, Cher, Traffic, Frank Black, Steve Cropper, Waylon Jennings, Chuck Berry

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