In the case of the Drive-by Truckers, it may be well earned. But it's a little unfortunate because the band, which makes an unexpected stop in Bend next week, has pretty much transcended the Southern Rock genre, bearing little resemblance to previous torch bearers like Molly Hatchet and Lynyrd Skynyrd. You won't find any cliché two-guitar harmonies on Truckers albums or in its shows. There are no cowboy hats and giant belt buckles; no Stars and Bars on the band's tee shirts.
While the band often wears its Southern pride on its sleeve, it's an aching pride. At their best, the band's songwriters - at least five different writers have contributed songs to band's studio albums over the years - explore themes that resonate well beyond the South. The band's songs, which are defined by their storybook narratives, tend to focus on ordinary people whose lives fall apart by violence, drug abuse, sickness, death and poverty.
Songwriter Patterson Hood paints unflinching portraits of characters that populate the margins of society - washed up singers, meth addicts, and drug dealers. It's a world of broken promises and dreams that have fallen by the roadside.
"I don't necessarily have to agree with any character in a song...because some of the people in some of my songs are kind of dumb asses. (Laughs) They do some stupid things and make mistakes and you know I don't want to trivialize that, I'd rather find out why," Hood said in a recent interview from his home in Athens between a break in tour stops.
In the Truckers world it's not just bad choices that doom us, it's a society that hasn't lived up to its end of the social contract - a place where hardworking honest folks fail. The farm gets repossessed and the factory shuts down. It's a place where characters find themselves in free fall without a safety net. And violence explodes without explanation as in the Patterson Hood gem, "Tornados" from DBT's 2004 release The Dirty South.
The song, which opens with the strumming of a lone acoustic guitar, builds like a gathering storm while spinning the tale of a band rolling into its hometown for a concert just as a massive tornado touches down.
"It came without no warning," said Bobbi Jo McLean
She and husband Nolen always loved to watch the rain
It sucked him out the window, he ain't come home again
All she can remember is "It sounded like a train"
The fans that make it out to the show are swallowed by the twister when it rips the roof off the gym. And so it goes in the DBT universe.
The band's most recent album, "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" opens on an equally somber note with a song based on true events about a fellow southern musician, Bryan Harvey who was killed along with his wife and two children at his home in Richmond, VA during a home invasion.
Given the dark subject matter it's probably not a surprise that the Truckers haven't found a steady FM rotation. That's too bad because the band is one of the few acts out there that's contributing anything original to the straight ahead rock genre.
There's also the problem with classification when it comes to DBT. The band's work is tracked by the Internet site Jambase, but you won't find any multi-minute guitar solos, or, God forbid, bass solos in DBT's live shows or otherwise. They've also been slapped with alt-country label which fits, at times, but glosses over their rock backbone, which shines through on songs like "That Man I Shot," a growling and propulsive anthem about a soldier who returns home from the Iraq war bearing heavy emotional baggage.
Instead the band has carved a niche on smaller independent and college station's like Seattle's KEXP which has kept the band on its playlist since DBT's early days. The limited airplay hasn't kept the band from building up a fiercely loyal international following. (The band's remaining summer tour, which kicked off last Friday at Bonnaroo consists primarily of dates in Canada and Europe) The band has made up for its lack of FM presence by hitting the road hard over the last decade. This year, however, the band has taken a more measured approach to touring, opting to spend more time at home between gigs.
DBT is just coming off a recent break between tour legs and Hood says he expects the Truckers to be hitting on all cylinders when they blow through Bend midweek next week.
"I'm looking forward to getting back on the road. We've managed to pace ourselves a little better this year than in years past...We do have a three-week run and we ought to be shifting into overdrive. It ought to be a real good time," Hood said.
To read a complete transcript of our interview with Patterson Hood, click on the blog tab at tsweekly.com and go The Blender.
with Dead Confederate
Doors 8pm, Show 9pm; Wed. June 25
Midtown Music Hall, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. 21 and over. $22/adv. $25/day of show. Tickets at Ranch Records and ticketswest.com