Three years ago, in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, protests, Drive-By Truckers cofounder Patterson Hood wrote a song called “What It Means.” Ever since, the song has pulled him and his band into conversations they never thought they’d have. Herewith, Hood tells us about the life and times of an American band on the cusp of a perilous night.
I wrote a nearly complete first draft of “What It Means” in one afternoon in my kitchen in Athens, Georgia. As a song, I didn’t know if it was worth a shit. But I had to get those feelings off my chest. The song at least felt honest and real.
It was November of 2014. After the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, protests had risen. More protests erupted across the country over senseless killings of black men (and sometimes women) at the hands of police officers. I wasn’t thinking in terms of writing a protest song, and I certainly did not think I had written a song for my band, Drive-By Truckers. I was just trying to make some sense of what was happening. Songwriting is how I find my bearings.
I did not write it from a black man’s perspective. That would have been dishonest. There is no shortage of black men and women describing their struggle far more eloquently than I could. I chose to write it from a white Southerner’s perspective, one not too far from my own. My phrasing (and singing voice) both reflect this. I often write songs from other people’s perspectives but chose to write this one in the words of a fellow who pretty closely resembles me. Some of the phrasings differ slightly from things I would actually say, but not the actual content.
Three years ago at that kitchen table, I didn’t know that “What It Means” would kickstart the creation of our 2016 album, “American Band” — our biggest-selling record to date. And I didn’t know how many conversations that song would start — among so many people — in the three years I’ve been playing it, both solo and with the band, on the road.
The song doesn’t offer any answers; I have none. It just poses a bunch of questions. I figured that was the first step — at least, acknowledge the questions.
Edward Wright was a young black man who lived with his mother on Ruth Street, across the street from where I first lived after moving to Athens. His mother was always out working in her yard. She would wave and sometimes speak when we were coming and going. The Wrights’ yard looked way better than ours did. Her son, Edward, was mentally challenged, his behavior often childlike although he was a full-grown man of 20.
The Wrights were deeply religious. One day, Edward received what he was sure was a message from God, telling him, “Cast off all worldly possessions and go spread the word of the Lord.” Edward interpreted that as “Go take off all your clothes and go downtown and talk about Jesus.” Which he proceeded to do.
His mother was rightly concerned about her boy and called 911 to see if the police could bring Edward home. Instead, they shot him multiple times. He was unarmed and naked, but a cop perceived him as a lethal threat and shot him — in full view of some school children in the neighborhood, no less. The officers involved were cleared by the district attorney’s office. There was never a trial.
Athens is liberal and progressive, and the whole town was up in arms about it. Of course, in those days, we didn’t all have cameras in our pockets. Since most of the witnesses were black, not much was made of it all — at least officially. But it remains talked about, especially in Athens’ African-American neighborhoods.
I was always haunted by memories of the sweet lady across the street and her lost son. Edward Wright’s spirit certainly drove “What It Means.”
Right after I wrote the song, I flew to San Francisco to play a three-night stand at the Fillmore — the shows that became DBT’s “It’s Great to Be Alive.” From there, my wife, Rebecca, and I flew to Portland to do some legwork for our impending move there. We looked at a bunch of schools and checked out neighborhoods.
While we were there, a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict the cop who shot Michael Brown. Protests broke out all over America, including a big one in Portland.
Late that night, taken by the moment, I posted the lyrics to my unfinished song on my private Facebook page and went to bed. The next morning, I awoke to see thousands of comments, a couple crossing the line into threats. One person said he hoped my family would be killed by cops. Happy Thanksgiving, motherfuckers!
The following month I had some solo shows booked, including one in St. Louis. Several people asked me if I was going to play “that song” there. I responded that of course I was. In fact, I had to. If I wasn’t willing to play it there, I would have no right to play it anywhere, ever.
On Saturday, December 20, I played the Sheldon Arts Foundation in St. Louis, a beautiful room, to a packed house. About two-thirds in, I played “What It Means” live for the first time. It received a standing ovation.
A week later, I played a solo show in Selma, Alabama. I have family there, and most of them were coming to the show. The town had recently hosted the premiere of Ava DuVernay’s award-winning film, “Selma,” and President Barack Obama had come to town, along with many heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, to commemorate Bloody Sunday. Some of the locals had winced at the way their town was portrayed by the media during that time, and my cousin asked me if I was going to play the song. Again, I felt I had an obligation to play it. Again, it received an overwhelmingly positive response.
I still didn’t think “What It Means” was necessarily a Drive-By Truckers song. I wasn’t sure if the band would want to play it, and I never want to have the band playing a song unless they’re all completely comfortable with it says. But when I played my new song to them, they embraced it and quickly made it their own. My co-founder in this band, Mike Cooley, responded by playing me his new song, “Ramon Casiano,” which has become one of my all-time favorite DBT songs.
Ramon Casiano was a Mexican teenager shot and killed by an American teenager in a Texas border town in 1931. The Texan was named Harlon Carter. He was initially convicted, but it was overturned. He grew up to be a border agent. Then, in 1975 when the National Rifle Association established its lobbying arm, Carter headed it. He was instrumental in turning the NRA from a non-political group for hunters and gun collectors into the right-wing political power it is today.
“Ramon Casiano” tells a story that was well documented but not widely known, and the questions it asks seemed especially pertinent as we were approaching what was already looking to become a heated election cycle. Musically, it sounds like the Clash channeling Marty Robbins (two of Cooley’s favorite things, for sure), with some of the best lyrics he’s ever written. The song fit our band like a well-worn glove.
“What It Means” had a more difficult gestation. The rest of the band took to it right away, but I had trouble finding my own way into a full-band arrangement. I tried it with an acoustic guitar, and it seemed to lack a certain ass-kicking power that an electric would bring. Then, I tried an electric, and it bulldozed away the subtleties and buried the vocal. I went back and forth while our drummer, Brad Morgan, tried several rhythmic approaches trying to find the right feel. Then, during the summer of 2015, our tour hit Colorado, and our friend, the great Athens luthier Scott Baxendale, turned up with an old guitar he had just finished rebuilding.
It was a Gene Autry model from the early 1930s, built for children in the Harmony factory and sold through Sears & Roebuck catalogs. Legend has it George Jones learned guitar on one just like it. Scott had rebuilt it, re-braced it, and put a fine pickup system inside it. When I tried playing it through my Fender Deluxe Reverb amp, it worked perfectly for “What It Means.” It gave me the exact sound I had been looking for.
The rest of the album came together quickly, with Cooley and I sending each other and our bandmates songs as we wrote them. We would work them up during sound checks before our shows.
That same summer, in June, I moved my family from Athens, where I’d lived for 21 years, to Portland. The four of us spent three weeks driving across country — a sort of hellish vacation, like what might happen if David Lynch directed a Chevy Chase movie. We saw some beautiful scenery, and the kids got a feel for how huge this county is, but my 5-year-old was angry at us for dragging him away from everything he’d ever known or loved. He did his best to make us pay for it at every turn.
One night, as we checked into a hotel in Denver, the TVs in the lobby showed some kind of carnage going on in Charleston. I got the kids situated in the room, then snuck downstairs to check out what was going on. That’s when I learned of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dylann Roof had killed nine congregants at a Bible study.
The next day, flags across America were flying at half mast — except, ironically, for the Confederate battle flag flying on the South Carolina State House grounds in Columbia.
And my phone began ringing off the hook. I had often written and talked about the South and its racial history, including an essay I wrote for The Bitter Southerner in 2013, and suddenly, the press wanted me to comment on it all. This culminated with me being asked to write an op-ed for The New York Times Magazine.
When the Times called, we were still a few days out from arriving in Portland. I had to get my family there safely and situated before I could sit down and try to write something like that. They told me they wouldn’t commit to running it, but the sooner I submitted it, the better the odds would be.
We hit Portland on June 30, and as quickly as I could, I sequestered myself at a coffee shop and began writing feverishly. I wrote all afternoon and into the night that Wednesday, then woke up the next morning, read what I had written, promptly destroyed it, and started over. I finished a rough draft that evening. I sent it to my friend Chuck Reece, the editor of this publication, to edit before I submitted it to the Times. He helped me tighten it up considerably, and I was glad. I wanted to make a good first impression. The next day, I submitted it and began working with Times editors.
The following Wednesday, the moving vans came with our stuff. I spent all day helping to arrange our house while going back and forth with the Times on changes to the piece. The next morning, my op-ed was up online.
It was probably seen by more people than had ever heard my band or my music.
The recording of “American Band” was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in 30 years of making music.
We went into Sound Emporium in Nashville the day after completing our fall tour with a simple plan: three days just to get our feet wet and start the process of making the album. We would then resume after the holidays to make the actual album.
We ended up tracking nine songs in those three days. Eight of those takes made the final record. I had been especially worried about getting a good take on “What It Means,” and we decided to kick off the second day with it. I hoped to at least get a workable take we could improve upon later. We ended up getting a perfect first take. A half-hour later, we were recording another song.
My wife and I started off 2016 by seeing Patti Smith play her classic album “Horses,” in its entirety, at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Locals call it the Schnitz. Smith’s show was jaw-dropping, cathartic, anthemic. At one point, she raised her tiny arms and shouted, “Love each other, motherfuckers!”
With those four words, I thought she answered all the questions that “What It Means” poses.
Our record was finished before Donald Trump won his first primary. When it came out in September, “American Band” was instantly our most successful album, giving us our first ever Top Ten chart spot in Billboard. We began a grueling 15 months of touring all over America and western Europe.
Then, our country elected the most unqualified and, in my opinion, despicable person ever to the highest office. We made Donald Trump the most powerful man in the world.
I grew up in Florence, Alabama — part of the Muscle Shoals area in the northwest corner of the state. My hometown has a rich and legendary musical tradition, and I grew up uncommonly close to it. W.C. Handy (often called the “father of the blues”) was born there, as was Sam Phillips, who grew up a couple farms over from my maternal grandmother and went on to discover Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, and, of course, Elvis Presley. He was basically the father of rock and roll. My own dad, David Hood, was part of the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, which played on literally hundreds of classic records from the ’60s and ’70s and beyond.
My childhood was unique, strange perhaps, in many ways. My father’s job was atypical. My parents were young when I was born. My dad was an anomaly, a long-haired musician (with a beard, even) in our conservative, Bible Belt town. I spent much of my childhood with my grandmother and great uncle, playing at their farm, riding go-carts with my cousins and hearing my older family members tell tales of the Great Depression, World War II, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. My grandmother loved JFK and Elvis. She grew up in the shadow of Wilson Dam, which gave birth to the TVA project. I grew up knowing the great things that can be done by a government that puts its resources and energies into bettering society.
I also grew up watching Richard Nixon and George Wallace on TV. They were the great political villains of my childhood. Wallace stood in the schoolhouse doors, spewing hatred and extolling segregation. My elementary school was integrated the year before I began first grade. I came home from third grade every day and watched the Watergate hearings on TV. Nixon was a Republican and Wallace a Democrat. Funny, that.
I had a brief and misguided flirtation with Reaganism during my college days. I drank the Kool-Aid of “less government” and the man himself’s charm before an awakening early in his second term that put me on the trajectory I’m on now. I’m actually grateful for my time buying into that, though. It has helped me understand and communicate with people on the other side of the arguments I’ve been a part of ever since. (Many of the best liberals, in my opinion, spent some time on the other side).
While many of my heroes have been Democrats, the Democratic Party in the South has a long and dark history, especially on issues of race. Lyndon B. Johnson was president when I was born, and he’d spent his long career protecting the Jim Crow status quo in the Senate before Kennedy’s assassination launched him into the White House. Johnson vowed to carry out Kennedy’s plan and quickly moved to enact the Civil Rights Act and, a year later, the Voting Rights Act. When an aide asked him why he'd want to risk his political capital on such controversial endeavors, he famously replied, "Well, what the hell's the presidency for?"
Of course, he screwed it all up by getting us into the quagmire in Vietnam. But as an artist who has a lifelong obsession with dualities, I find LBJ to be one of the most interesting (and frustrating) people ever to hold the office.
After Johnson’s civil rights legislation, Wallace ran for president and Nixon launched his “Southern strategy” — the beginning of two decades of migration in Southern politics from the Democratic Party of old to today’s Republican Party. Whenever anyone brings up that the old segregationists and racists of my childhood were Democrats, they are factually correct. But I believe, in the bigger picture, they’re wrong. It was no coincidence that the Klansman David Duke ran for governor of Louisiana as a Republican.
I turned 18 in 1982, and I was thrilled my first vote was against George Wallace, who I had hated since kindergarten. I had grown up hearing my dad and other family members lament the way Wallace made Southerners look, and now I had the chance to actually vote against him as he was running for an unprecedented fourth term as governor. To this end, I ended up voting for a man named Emory Folmar, the tough-talking mayor of Montgomery, who carried a handgun to his speeches. Wallace ended up winning with over 90 percent of the black vote. I was so blinded by my dislike for Wallace that I ended up voting for someone far worse.
My Alex P. Keaton phase lasted just long enough to vote for Reagan in 1984, before a respected friend sat me down and talked some sense into me, showing me the flaws in my thinking — and paving a path to my depressing and sometimes pathologically frustrating life as a modern-day Democrat.
As we mixed and mastered our record in 2016, we watched the debates and primaries attentively. As usual, we were on the road, previewing a few songs each night from the new record. "What It Means" was almost always part of the show. One night in Providence, Rhode Island, we were playing a theater that oddly enough also contained the tiny rehearsal space of our friends in the band the Low Anthem. During our show, one of them brought up a Black Lives Matter sign and leaned it against Cooley's guitar amp. The next day, we taped it to the front of Hammond B-3 organ played by Jay Gonzalez, our beloved keyboard and guitar player.
It’s been there ever since.
As Trump swept the Republican primaries, I had two interpretations. First, it hurt me to see so many Americans (including some people I know and love dearly) voting for someone I found so despicable. At the same time, I believed that his campaign was just a more brazenly honest version of the shadow campaign the Republican party had been building to since the era of Nixon’s Southern Strategy.
Like the big picture pragmatist I am, I supported Hillary Clinton in the general election, although I sincerely felt she was a candidate whose time was a decade or two behind her.
In July, as the first press releases about “American Band” were coming out, we were asked to go to Philadelphia to play an event during the Democratic National Convention. We arrived in Philly to 100-degree summer heat bearing down on a city already facing the logistical horrors that accompany a major political convention. We played an event hosted by the former congresswoman from Arizona, Gabby Gifford, whose career in our Capitol ended because of gun violence. With her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, were trying to raise awareness of the issue.
Then, MSNBC asked Cooley and me to come to the convention hall to do an appearance. We answered questions as best we could and performed an acoustic version of “What It Means.”
That appearance marked the biggest upturn in internet hate mail I had seen since I first posted the lyrics to “What It Means” nearly two years earlier.
August found Cooley and I fielding endless hours of interviews to promote the new album. I flew with my son to Atlanta for him to visit his grandparents and close friends while I did a week or so of solo dates in the South. I was heartened by the sheer number of press requests we were getting and because the early reviews of our album were all stellar. At the same time, each new article or review brought with it a slew of hate mail from disgruntled, self-proclaimed “lifelong fans.” Clearly, they had not really listened to “Puttin’ People on the Moon” or any of at least 20 or so songs we had released that were as politically leftist as anything on “American Band.”
To read the Facebook comments, one would think we had just alienated half of our fan base and were committing career suicide. The reality of that was certainly not lost on me. I am in my 50s and have two small children to raise, a mortgage, and a company that several dozen hard-working people depend upon to support their families. I take our commitment to our fans seriously.
At the same time, I didn’t choose to do this for a living to not speak my mind. We built our entire fan base by speaking out about the things that moved us. Fifteen years earlier, we were told that our new album would ruin everything we had built up to that point. That album was “Southern Rock Opera,” which ended up being our breakthrough.
We didn’t write our songs to piss anyone off; we wrote them to make sense of things that struck us as fundamentally wrong. To that end, I knew “American Band” was an album we were exceptionally proud to put our names on.
If I had to start driving for Lyft or tending bar to support my family, so be it.
Our record company, ATO, announced the album would come out on September 30. September 2016 was one of the most grueling times I had experienced in two decades of touring in this band. We zig-zagged back and forth between Washington DC and New York City, doing interviews and performances for NPR, SiriusXM, The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and dozens more.
The reviews for “American Band” were unanimously great. Four stars from Rolling Stone and an A from Robert Christgau, recognized by true music nerds as the “dean” of all rock critics. By year’s end, we found ourselves on more year-end lists than we’d seen in nearly a decade. Ticket sales were great for the tour.
Then, came a show in San Luis Obispo, California.
It was in an old theatre that strongly favored the Shoals Theatre in my hometown, but it was not as well maintained. The show had originally been booked as an outdoors show, but for reasons I can’t recall, it was moved indoors. Earlier that day, Jay Gonzalez was cornered and questioned by a couple of guys about my song, “What It Means.” Jay is one of the sweetest and least confrontational people I know. He was a little flustered by the encounter.
During the show, I looked out to see a couple of guys in the front row. They held up small signs that said, “Blue Lives Matter.” I tried not to let this throw me off, but every time I would glance their way, they would hold their little signs up.
I take such things seriously. In my own dealings with cops (and I’ve had many), I’ve met and known fine ones and some ordinary joes who were well-meaning even if they sometimes fell short of their ideals. I’ve known only a small handful who terrified me. I wrote a song, “Used To Be a Cop,” about one of those in particular.
“What It Means” is not an anti-cop song. It questions how all of us look at people we view as “the other.” Too many Americans share a visceral fear of people who look or pray or fuck differently than they do. This fear has too often led to unarmed black people being shot in the street. Most of our police officers do their utmost to perform an often horrific job with fairness and compassion, but it only takes a few bad apples to screw things up.
There have been times in my years on the road when I have felt disrespected on stage and hit back hard, but that night in San Luis Obispo, I was trying to be as inclusive as I could be. When the time came around to perform “What It Means,” I paused to acknowledge the viewpoint of the guys in front with the sign. I tried to calmly explain where I was coming from, how I felt, the things that had inspired my song. Then, we played an especially good version of the song.
As we played it, I watched nearly half of our audience get up and head for the door. Holy shit! If this is how the new album was being received in blue-state California, what was going to happen the following night when we played in red-state Phoenix? Or the following month, when we took our show back home to the deep South?
DBT doesn’t have a lot of history with Phoenix. We had played there a few times, but only in recent years had we gotten any enthusiastic response. Our regular venue in Phoenix had been among the smallest rooms we played on tour. But this time, we were playing a much bigger theater, in a state known for opposition to the kinds of stances we took on “American Band.”
We arrived at the venue — it seemed way too shiny and upscale — in 100-degree temperatures and relentless sunlight. Soundcheck was uneventful, but it did nothing to assuage my bad feeling about the impending show, particularly with the bad aftertaste lingering from the night before.
Our walk-on music that night in Phoenix was the Clash’s defiant “Know Your Rights.” Showtime came and we hit the stage, and there we found a packed house who greeted our every gesture like conquering heroes. It was absolutely one of my favorite shows of the year, right there in the home state of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
There’s no predicting these things.
Meanwhile, Trump had survived a couple of horrific debate performances and being caught talking shit to Billy Bush about grabbing women by the pussy. Still, he somehow closed the gap on Hillary’s lead to a frightening extent.
On election day, we played the “World Cafe” radio show in Philly. We had plans to have dinner together before watching the returns. We planned on a celebration, but by the time dinner was over, it was becoming painfully apparent there would be no party. We all sat on the bus, watching in horror as state after state went red. One by one, another member of the band or crew someone would pack it up and head for his room.
It was one of the worst nights I can remember.
The next day, we all wandered around in a daze of disbelief and depression. Now, everything was different. We had no idea what to do or what our role was to be in this new world we had awakened to. I walked around in a daze. Back home, my wife couldn't stop crying, and our kids were depressed and confused. My flag was at half mast, just like the one on our album cover.
That evening, it was pouring rain in Philly as we made our way to soundcheck at Union Transfer, a former farmers’ market and railway baggage-handling facility from 1889, converted into an excellent concert venue. By the end of sound check, we knew that our job was to get up there and do that thing we do. We had to rock and roll like our lives depended on it. Because they do.
The show was by far my favorite of the year. The audience crammed in there. It seemed most of them felt as confused and angry as we did. Our show became an exorcism for the way we all felt. I was of the most life-affirming evenings of music I had ever played.
We even renamed the tour that night. From this point forward, it would be called “The Dance Band of the Resistance Tour.”
After Philadelphia, we headed south. Deep South.
Two nights in Richmond at the beautiful National Theatre. A show in Charlotte, several shows in Florida, in Macon, in Tuscaloosa, with a final Southern show at The Tabernacle in Atlanta. We played loud and unapologetically, and the response was exceptional — with a few exceptions.
Atlanta had always been one of our better cities, the first town where we had built a following. That show proved to be among our best, in my opinion, although I couldn’t help noticing that the Tabernacle did not have to open its top balcony to accommodate fans.
During one of Cooley’s songs, his spoken introduction was interrupted by a heckler, who told him something we’ve heard before: “Shut up and sing.” Cooley responded with this: “Being a redneck isn’t something to aspire to. It’s something to rise above.”
The crowd roared in loud agreement.
Thus, we ended 2016 with an after-show party in a high-rise hotel room, Atlanta’s skyline looming out the window. It had been almost exactly a year since we had recorded our album, a little more than two since I had written “What It Means.” We would be heading into the new year with our album more timely than ever and a renewed sense of purpose.
We have spent the better part of 2017 on the road. We’ve had the occasional moments of pushback (one night in Detroit, of all places), but we have also been engaged in some amazing conversations that cut across socioeconomic and racial lines. “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” has been transformed from an ode to hard living to a call for resistance. Cooley’s song “Made Up English Oceans,” originally inspired by the antics of the late campaign troublemaker Lee Atwater, has become more relevant than ever amid the toxicity of the current political dialogue. We were asked to play the prestigious Newport Folk Festival this past summer and a live recording of an especially rousing version of "What It Means" from that day has been released as a single.
As I moved into the fourth year of performing “What It Means,” protests arose once again in the streets of St. Louis, because another black man had been shot by an officer multiple times under questionable circumstances. I wondered how our culture got to a place where white supremacists bring terror and death to a beautiful college town like Charlottesville and our president says the blame falls on “both sides.”
Simultaneously, I am lifted by the personal encounters I have with people from all walks of life. A cop in Utah engaged me in a serious and respectful debate last month. I walked away feeling there was a better understanding on both sides.
I’ve always felt my darkest songs had at least a ray of light in them, an undercurrent of hope. The few political songs I’ve written this year seem devoid of those feelings. One in particular, “The Perilous Night,” was begun in January, on the day of the electoral-college vote, then abandoned due to its negativity, only to be rewritten and worked up by the band in the wake of Charlottesville and Trump’s shameful response. It conjures an environment where the worst aspects of the South have risen again.
Not the New South that gave us a prosperous Charlotte and Atlanta and a culturally vibrant Nashville.
Not the New South that gave us Outkast and Alabama Shakes.
Not the New South that saw my hometowns of Florence and Muscle Shoals become world famous for their home-sourced designer clothes and legendary music scene.
No, too often I see the South I grew up watching on television, the one where Wallace stood in schoolhouse doors, where peaceful black protesters were hosed down in the streets of Birmingham.
But this time, it’s not just “down here.”
Our president has tapped into the seething underbelly of our society. He has empowered the worst of America to take loud, proud, and often violent stands. I hope that one day, I’ll see their last stand, but even that will be a terrible moment in our history.
The evening after I finished writing “The Perilous Night,” I had a solo show at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California. It’s a small venue, one of my favorite places to play solo. I opened my set with my new song. It received a standing ovation. I had lamented the song’s lack of hope or light, but that night, it seemed to hit the nerve of where we are at right now in our country.
Sometimes, I suppose, an artist just has to vent the vitriol of the times and provide a cathartic outlet for our collective moment.
I hope to make a different kind of DBT album next time. Most of my newer songs are of a much more personal nature, dealing with family and feelings — and perhaps putting some distance between my family and the daily horrors we see unfolding around us.
The band decided that releasing a single of “The Perilous Night,” as soon as we can get it pressed and released, would be a fitting epilogue for our “American Band” album. We took a three-day break from our fall tour and went into our producer David Barbe’s studio in Athens and slammed out a rocking version of our new song. In the tradition of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” we decided to cut it as a dance song, complete with backing vocals from Mississippi gospel singers 3D — Tangela Longstreet, Joyce Jones and Tawana Cunningham. All three are granddaughters of the Rev. Robert Wilkins, who wrote "Prodigal Son," which most of us first heard by the Rolling Stones on "Beggars Banquet." Matt Patton laid down an infectious bass groove. We’re putting it out next month, on vinyl, with the live-from-Newport version of “What It Means” on the flip side.
I have never believed a song could change the world. But perhaps a song can provide an outlet for emotion, a tonic for the troops. Maybe a song can be a platform to launch our dreams from, a source of a little light to warm up our darkest nights. One more reason to raise our fists into the air and quote Patti Smith: “Love each other, motherfuckers!”