When he was 27 years old, Patterson Hood went through the most turbulent period of his life. His band broke up, he got divorced, and he had a falling out with his family, who he had been extremely close to. As he explains in the bio for his new solo album, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, he seriously considered suicide, but instead wrote over 500 songs in a three-year period.
So perhaps it’s true that music can save a person’s life.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Hood says as he’s pulling into Boston for a gig with his band the Downtown Rumblers. “I’m not saying I wrote 500 good songs—or even a hundred good songs. You know, a lot of that may have been awful. But I learned something from each one of them.
“Young writers have asked me stuff about songwriting,” he continues, “and I said the secret’s to not be afraid to write a thousand bad ones. If you write a thousand bad ones and you can learn something from each one, you’ll probably be ready when the good one comes along.”
There’s definitely a few goodies on Heat Lightning, which includes an appearance by Hood’s bassist father—David Hood of the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section—on the title track. One of the more personal numbers is “(untold pretties)”, which sees the Georgia native applying the spoken-word story-song approach he’s used so effectively with his other band, the Drive-By Truckers.
“I probably picked up a little bit of that from Springsteen,” Hood notes, “ ’cause he would tell those stories in concerts—particularly in the older days. Like the first time I saw him on the River tour he probably told three stories that night, and it was the thing that I probably connected the deepest with from that show.
“There’s been a lot of spoken parts in a lot of country records, too,” he adds. “So it’s just somethin’ else to do. It’s something I’ve kinda dabbled in for years, and come back to from time to time, and hopefully get something decent out of every now and then.”
Another new track that seems a byproduct of Hood’s stormy life experiences is the pulsating “Betty Ford”, in which he tells of dealing with another person’s all-consuming drug addiction.
“It’s always a bummer when you gotta take charge and throw down some tough love,” he relates, “but sometimes it’s gotta be done. And sometimes that ain’t enough—sometimes it don’t work. But you do the best you can.”
Hood is joined in the Downtown Rumblers by a couple of DBT members—keyboardist Jay Gonzalez and drummer Brad Morgan—plus cellist Jacob Morris and sisters Claire and Page Campbell, whose band Hope for Agoldensummer is the opening act on the current tour.
“They’re amazing,” Hood says of the Campbells. “They do those sister harmonies, and it’s incredible. And they play about five or six instruments each, so it really opens things up.
“I’m as proud of these sets as anything I’ve really ever gotten to do,” he concludes. “I mean, it’s a real good show.”
Patterson Hood and the Downtown Rumblers play the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday (September 29).