Friday, February 23, 2018

Drive-By Truckers – "The Three Great Alabama Icons" (2001)

I grew up in north Alabama back in the 1970s
When dinosaurs still roamed the earth
I'm speaking of the three great Alabama icons: 
George Wallace, Bear Bryant, and Ronnie Van Zant

If you had to name an iconic political leader, an iconic athlete/coach, and an iconic musician from your state, who would they be?

That’s not as easy to do as you might think, is it?

For example, take Maryland – where I’ve lived for about 35 years.  I think you’d have to go with Spiro Agnew as the political figure.  (I doubt that you can name another Maryland politician – plus  corruption is endemic to Maryland politics, and Agnew was as crooked as they come.)  

George Wallace
Cal Ripken, Jr., would be the obvious Maryland athlete to go with.  (He grew up in Maryland, and played every game of his storied major-league career for the Baltimore Orioles.)  

But who would be the musician?  (I suppose the third icon doesn’t have to be a musician – you could go with an artist or an author or a movie director.  John Waters, who directed Pink Flamingos and Hairspray, is closely identified with Baltimore, and he would be a good choice as a non-musician artistic icon.)

Paul “Bear” Bryant
Massachusetts has an obvious political icon: John F. Kennedy.  And you couldn’t go wrong choosing either Tom Brady or Bill Belichick as your athlete/coach icon.  

But just like Maryland, Massachusetts is a little short of iconic musicians.  (Who would you pick if you had to?  James Taylor?  Carly Simon?  Donna Summers?  Tom Scholz of Boston?  Rob Zombie?  The singer from the Dropkick Murphys?  Bobby “Boris” Pickett?)

Ronnie Van Zant
What about Arkansas?  The political icon is easy – you’ve gotta go with Bill Clinton, right?  And there are plenty of great musicians from Arkansas – Johnny Cash may be the most iconic.  

But if you’re picking three iconic figures to represent Arkansas, one of them has to be Walmart founder Sam Walton – I’d include him instead of an athlete.

*     *     *     *     *

Patterson Hood – a native of Muscle Shoals, Alabama – got the idea of writing a screenplay about growing up in the South around the time of the plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines of Lynyrd Skynyrd long before he formed Drive-By Truckers.

The screenplay idea was later transformed into Southern Rock Opera, the band’s third studio album.  

But after recording the songs that would become Southern Rock Opera, the group didn’t have enough money to put the record out.  So they printed up a prospectus and solicited investors, eventually raising $23,000 – which enough for them to manufacture 5000 copies of the double album in 2001.  (There was enough left over to buy a used van so the band could tour.)

The critics loved Southern Rock Opera, and the Drive-By Truckers signed a distribution deal with Lost Highway Records, which re-released the album the following year.

Here’s “The Three Great Alabama Icons,” a seven-minute-long spoken track from Southern Rock Opera:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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