After sharing nearly a solid hour and a half of heartfelt songs with the Vinyl Music Hall crowd, Patterson Hood stood in front of the sold-out audience, embraced the cheers and graciously returned the adulation with a humble smile and a story about their early days. Glowingly reflecting on a broken-down van, four hour shows in our town and playing their music for the people in the city called Pensacola.
Many years, albums and tours have passed since the last time the Drive-By Truckers played Pensacola, but time didn’t matter when the band, who’ve always look like the friends you grew up with, took the stage. More story-telling confessional than the current radio electronic pop-star parade, the music of the Drive-By Truckers instantly moves you into swaying and reflection of the good time trouble you got into last Saturday and the heartache you’ll never forget.
Opening artists for the evening were the Futurebirds, who also hail from Athens, Georgia. Led by Payton Bradford, D. Wahlmack, C.W. King, Thomas Johnson and Dennis McLawhorn and describing themselves as “Psychedelic Country”, their high-energy mix of raw gospel harmonies combined with country attitude and punk flair was eagerly received by the Pensacola crowd. With youth, well-crafted songs and plenty of musical dynamite in their arsenal, they should have a solid music career in front of them.
As the Futurebirds left the stage, I did what is customary in the south…I made friends. Growing up in Pensacola, you’re bound to run into someone you grew up with, or who is a friend of a long-time friend of yours. And this was the case tonight. Maybe it’s the town, maybe it’s the people, but no one is a stranger in Pensacola for too long. Sharing stories of the town and mutual friends quickly gave way to hearing stories from the Drive-By Truckers.
Headlining their first show at Vinyl Music Hall, The Drive-By Truckers entered the stage under a sea of white light and loud cheers from the crowd. With a soon-to-be released album entitled “Go-Go Boots” and born from the sonically rich Athens music scene, The Drive-By Truckers (Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals), Patterson Hood (guitar, vocals), John Neff (guitar, pedal steel guitar, vocals) , Brad Morgan (drums), Shonna Tucker (bass, vocals, guitar), and Jay Gonzalez (keyboard, vocals) immediately dove into the music that has endeared them to countless music lovers for nearly 15 years. Moving poetic in words, delivery and spirit, each song was layered in beautiful detail similar to a compelling story or secret.
Much like a church service, the audience was compelled and the DBT spirit moved many. I was bonked in the head by some appendage of someone who was jumping and reveling in the emotion of song. After a quick apology, all was forgiven in the name of good music and a good time.
After the performance, I caught up with Eric Jones, owner of Revolver Records to discuss the Drive-By Truckers’ performance, local music and the surprise visit by Patterson Hood, who shopped for some vinyl just a few hours before his performance at Vinyl.
TCAS: For those that may not be familiar with you and Revolver Records, share a little bit about yourself and the store.
EJ: Who am I? I’m just a guy a local guy. I have a record store, I sell records and CDs. Nothing fancy, been doing it for awhile, nothing to brag about. I like music. I’ve played in bands, just like you have. Long story short, I have a record store. I sell records. I do a pretty good job of it. I’ve been doing it for awhile and that’s about it.
TCAS: I know you’ve helped a lot of people turn-on to different types of music. Is that a skill you’ve developed over the years?
EJ: Sure, I guess I really haven’t thought about it. I like music a lot and went to record stores a lot and there was a really good one in town in the 80’s called The Sound Box. A great guy owned it. A really good store and I went there a lot, spent a lot of money. I moved back from Tallahassee in 87’ and my girlfriend told me that they were looking to hire. So I walked in and he knew that I knew my stuff….more than he did. So the customers would come in and ask for something. He’d be like “I don’t know, let me check on that.” I would go “blah, blah, blah” like a geek, you know. Like a Dungeons and Dragons geek, but Minutemen and Clash instead of Sword and Sorcery. So anyway, I got hired and you just learn, it’s a passion, you don’t think about it. You soak it up. I had two older brothers that listened to The Beatles and Herman’s Hermits and the Beach Boys and The Monkees when I was two, three, four, five years old. I just grew up around rock music and pop music and as I got older, jazz, hip-hop, metal. It’s just what I do, I don’t over-think it. It’s just, I like it, so I make a living doing something I like. It comes naturally. I don’t know where it comes from.
TCAS: When did you start playing music?
EJ: 1987. Officially with Troy Moon and the Moon brothers in a band, a really crappy band, legendary if only for its suckiness, called Fudge Pop. It has been all downhill from there.
TCAS: Do you still play now?
EJ: I’ve actually just started talking about a month ago to an old friend of mine named Rob Stark about forming a new band. I play drums, he plays guitar. Got two girls lined up as potential band members, bass so forth, so on. But right now it’s in its embryonic stage. Otherwise I haven’t really played drums in probably 10 or 12 years. I don’t know why that desire hit me. But I’ve missed playing and I’d like to get back into it soon, so maybe the Spring or Summer you’ll see. I don’t know if I can tell you the name of the band. It has an “F” bomb. But we’ve yet to practice. We’re slackers, don’t hold your breath.
TCAS: What was your introduction to the Drive-By Truckers and their music?
They played Sluggo’s way back in the day. I distinctly remember seeing them play with Vic Chesnutt when he was alive; another legend from Athens (who) died about a year plus ago. And they would open up and play. At the time they were just another Athens band. They had a bit of a buzz about them. This probably was about 90…I don’t know…96’…95 thereabouts. And they’d come out and play and then Vic Chesnutt would come out and play with them and he was their backing band and they would leave and Vic would stay by himself and do an acoustic set. So it was a nice transition from DBT to DBT plus Vic Chesnutt to just Chesnutt. They did that a couple of times as I recall and put out records slowly, gradually built up a reputation as a great live band and recording band. They kept putting out records…more records on bigger and bigger labels, so eventually they got to the point where they were too big for Sluggo’s or The Handlebar and they would play Austin or New Orleans or Orlando, Atlanta, etcetera, until just last week.
TCAS: During their show at Vinyl, Patterson Hood talked about those days fondly. And apparently, before the show, he stopped by Revolver. Did you know or have any hint they were going to come in?
EJ: No. I didn’t know. I didn’t even know, for a majority of the time, he was even here…..who they were, because I just didn’t recognize the face. Couple of guys came in and one of them was talking on a cell phone talking to some guys getting directions. Someplace, I don’t know. (I) didn’t recognize him….asking about the new Iron and Wine or the new Wanda Jackson. She’s an old Rock-a-Billy singer; has a new record produced by Jack White. Didn’t even dawn on me they were playing that night. I knew they were playing soon. I didn’t make a connection and he comes to the counter, there’s a stack of fliers for the show, and he looked at the fliers and he looked at me and he said, “You comin’ to the show?” And I said, “Uh….no.” And he looked at me like you’re looking at me, yeah like that, huh, and so I quickly saved it and said “Well, I’d like to, but record store owners aren’t the millionaires that they were back in the heyday of disco. Downloads and everything.” (Hood replied) “Well we don’t have anyone on the guest list. I can get you on the guest list. For once we don’t have a packed full guest list; don’t really know too many people here. You need a plus?” So he pulls out a cell phone. He was real nice and obviously a big vinyl fan. He talked about some records that the band’s doing for record store day, coming up in…I guess April. It’s a day of, for your readers that don’t know, it’s an annual day, like Mother’s Day for record stores. So its record store day and usually certain select bands will release vinyl on that day that you can only get at an independent record store, not at a chain store or on Amazon, and it’s usually vinyl only super-limited that goes for 10 times that on Ebay. So he talked about, he’s obviously a vinyl geek, like me, maybe even more so, he talked about his records, other bands records and just records. He bought records, he and the other guy in the band probably spent a hundred bucks up there (points to the register) and he got me in the show free. I’m now a bigger fan of Drive-By Truckers than I was before.
TCAS: Any highlights of their Vinyl show for you?
EJ: I would say when, I think like near the end of the set he (Hood) mentioned Sluggo’s. He talked about the old days of the band. The early, lean, hungry years when they played a show here and their van broke down, so someone that worked Sluggo’s was going to fix their van and they rented a small Chevy, whatever, sedan to ride to a gig in New Orleans the next night. And when they got there, it was cancelled so they rode back in the middle of the night and played Sluggo’s from 2am to 6am. That was neat. Then he was talking about the old days, when I had first seen them. That and the fact they still sound great, in fact they probably sound better now than when I had seen them, 10, 12, 15 years ago. Maybe a little more mature, obviously they’re older now, but fleshed out. Not as raw, maybe not as gritty, not as, like country. Just more relaxed older, mature, confident. It’s nice. They were probably 22, 23 years old when I first saw them.
TCAS: This is a pretty awesome year for music in Pensacola and Downtown is exploding. Business wise and musically…
EJ: Yeah. It’s doing great, it’s out of control. I’m looking forward to Sharon Jones and Robert Randolph. Saw some great local bands at Sluggo’s during Gallery Night last weekend. Saw Joan of Arc here and at the Handlebar last Saturday, just blocks away. Yeah. Just between Hopjacks, saw a free show of some guy doing like hot jazz, Louis Armstrong, Squirrel Nut Zippers type jazz, but on a guitar, washboard and a tuba. So between Jackson, Vinyl, Sluggo’s and the Handlebar or even Blazzues, you have a nice diversity of jazz, of rock n’ roll, garage, punk and metal all within three blocks of where we are right now.
TCAS: Your calendar is going to be booked.
EJ: Maybe! It’s not a bad thing. Because after said years of not having much of a live venue…Sluggo’s was on the westside, now it’s downtown, so it has been a bit of a dry spell, but I say the pendulum has definitely swung back toward the right direction for Pensacola musically.
TCAS: How does the current trend rank, so far as live music and entertainment since you’ve been here?
EJ: It’s good, still early. Very good, no complaints, but I would say, as of yet, it still would hold second to, I guess what I would call the Sluggo’s heyday of the early, mid, late 90s when it was downtown on Palafox Street, before they moved out of downtown. When I’ve seen old calendars, old fliers from the old Sluggo’s. That heyday, that Golden Era when they would put out fliers like a calendar or mail it out to your house or grab one at the club. There would be, in any given month, you’d see Everclear and Flaming Lips and The Melvins and Mercury Rev and The Dwarves and the Throwing Muses or Ween, Man or Astroman. Sometimes it would be like five, six, nights a week there would be a big national band playing at Sluggo’s. It was definitely jam-packed. So you know, imagine if every night or every other night at a small club like Sluggo’s (goes into radio DJ voice) “Amy Winehouse tonight, and then tomorrow night it’s the Red Fox Band, and then the night after that it’s Wilco, and then two nights later it’s Neil Young, and then the next night after that it’s Conan O’ Brien’s Big Band.” It’s like…jeez, every night. It was like a killer band or two or three. Not just some local garage band…not that there’s anything wrong with that, I have love for local garage bands, but like seriously, you know…Superchunk and At The Drive-In and AFI. When these bands were just getting out and started and it was three or four dollars to get in. That was definitely more out of control than…in a good sort of way, than things are right now, but who knows. Come back and sit down in this chair a year from now, Michael and we’ll see how 2011 shapes out to be. It might be as Frank Sinatra said, “The best is yet to come.”
TCAS: Who is on your wish list?
EJ: Arcade Fire. Spoon, who I saw at Sluggo’s when their first album came out, which was great. Hmmm. Jack Johnson! No, just kidding. Sorry kids, I don’t want to see Jack Johnson. You want to go see him, go see him.
TCAS: There might be a few Pensacola people that would like to see him.
EJ: There are quite a few. I’ve sold quite a few Jack Johnson CDs. I’ve paid the light bill a few times with proceeds from JJ. Deer Hunter. I wouldn’t mind seeing Deerhunter, Monotonix.
-Michael L. Smith