- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was complicated growing up in Alabama in the 1970s, says Patterson Hood, leader of the Drive-By Truckers.

Gov. George Wallace was the public face of the state. Mr. Hood was the son of a prominent musician, but the jocks ruled the high school parking lot. "Sweet Home Alabama" and other Lynyrd Skynyrd songs provided the soundtrack.

It didn't get any simpler when he finally left home. Mr. Hood says that because of his Southern accent, many Northerners assumed he was stupid and racist. Then, once he dissociated the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd from the high school bullies, he found himself drawn to it.

"You think I'm dumb, maybe not too bright," Mr. Hood screams on "The Southern Thing," one of the songs on the Truckers' new two-disc album, "Southern Rock Opera." "You wonder how I sleep at night."

Hood and fellow Trucker songwriter Mike Cooley explain their view on why stereotypes about Southerners are hypocritical and why Lynyrd Skynyrd is misunderstood.

"Southern Rock Opera" is a stew of social history, Lynyrd Skynyrd legend, personal musings, fantasies of arena rock stardom and political commentary. It ends with a three-song suite about the 1977 plane crash that killed three members of Skynyrd, including leader Ronnie Van Zandt.

Members of Lynyrd Skynyrd have received copies of the album but didn't want to comment, said spokeswoman Emily Burton.

"When I first ventured out of the South, I was shocked at how strongly Wallace was associated with Alabama and its people," Mr. Hood raps on "The Three Great Alabama Icons." (The other two are Mr. Van Zandt and longtime Alabama football coach Bear Bryant.)

"Racism is a worldwide problem, and it has been since the beginning of recorded history. And it ain't just white and black," says the 37-year-old Mr. Hood, who now lives in Athens, Ga. "But thanks to George Wallace, it's always a little more convenient to play it with a Southern accent."

The musical setting is Southern rock, the three-guitar sound Mr. Hood rejected as a teen-ager. In the 1980s, the son of Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood played alternative rock as part of the critically acclaimed band Adam's House Cat.

About six years ago, as Drive-By Truckers was being formed, Mr. Hood came across a vinyl copy of "One More for the Road," Skynyrd's double live set, at a used record store. It was priced at $1. He bought it and discovered that he loved the music. He also took in the "Freebird" concert film.


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