Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"Stand Tall, Turn Your Three Guitars Up Real Loud, and Do What You Do": The Redneck Liberation Theology of the Drive-By Truckers

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"Stand Tall, Turn Your Three Guitars Up Real Loud, and Do What You Do": The Redneck Liberation Theology of the Drive-By Truckers

Article excerpt

Michael Buma

University of Western Ontario


The relatively new genre of alternative country music often offers a similar theological perspective to that of its predecessor, traditional country. Both generally respond to the redneck condition–the plight of the rural working classes in the American South–by focussing on the immanent and material rather than the transcendent and spiritual. This paper will address alternative country's concern for the here-and-now as it occurs in the lyrics of one prominent band, the Drive-By Truckers. I will suggest that the Truckers subscribe to what David Fillingim has called "redneck liberation theology," a belief that the end to human suffering is due in the present world rather than in the promise of a distant heaven. The Drive-By Truckers ultimately find God and the organized church lacking in their ability to bring about human redemption, and, consequently, look to music as a surrogate "religion" that provides necessary, if provisional, spiritual answers.

Alt.Country Music and the Drive-By Truckers

[1] Most accounts of the notoriously difficult to define genre of "alternative country" begin with Uncle Tupelo's album No Depression in 1990. Named for the Carter family's song "No Depression in Heaven" (a version of which appears on the album), Uncle Tupelo's No Depression is derivative of traditional country music before the rise of the heavily produced and effect-augmented "Nashville Sound."Simply put, Uncle Tupelo hearkens back to an era of "simpler arrangements and more traditional instrumentation" (Fillingim 2003,12). At the same time, Uncle Tupelo was like no one else before them, a country band that owed as much to punk outfits like Black Flag and the Stooges as it did to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. In the words of Chuck Taggart, this new style of music could "blast and blaze and blow the roof off of a club, then turn around and be quietly acoustic, having you weep into your beer" (Taggart). Bands like Blue Mountain, Whiskeytown, the Old 97s, the Bottle Rockets, Slobberbone, and the Jayhawks followed in the wake of Uncle Tupelo's success, forging a genre that "defied clear definition, ranging from rock-flavoured to neo-honky tonk to various other forms of fusion" (Malone and Stricklin 2003, 172). When Uncle Tupelo split up in 1994, the break spawned two new alternative country titans:Wilco (led by Jeff Tweedy) and Son Volt (led by Jay Farrar).

[2] The common element between all these country-influenced bands was their "opposition to Nashville's industrial approach to music making and the homogenized predictability of Top Forty radio programming" (Malone and Stricklin 2003, 172). From the early days of Uncle Tupelo onward, nobody really knew what to call this new incarnation of country music. Bloodshot Records, an independent record-label in Chicago, devised the name "insurgent country," and defined it as music that "applies a steel-toed boot to the rhinestone-encrusted ass of commercialized country crap" (quoted in Taggart). Jay Bennet, a former guitarist for Wilco, referred to the genre as "rural contemporary" (quoted in Taggart), and some called it "No Depression music" after the album that had started it all (Malone and Stricklin 2003, 172). Among the other appellations that arose were "country-rock," "roots country," "country-punk," "cow-punk," and perhaps most famously, "alternative country" ( By 1995 the scene was thriving enough to warrant a bimonthly magazine, also called No Depression, which devoted itself to covering "alternative country (whatever that is)" (

[3] One of the most critically-acclaimed inheritors of the mantle has been the Drive-By Truckers, "an alternative country band steeped in twang, rock, punk, and Southern Gothic" (Dechert 2003, 97). In the late 1990s the Drive-By Truckers emerged as one of the dominant second-generation bands of the so-called "Redneck Underground" in Athens, Georgia. …

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