Drive-By Truckers Finally Unveil Their Origins with Adam’s House Cat’s ‘Town Burned Down’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Ever since the documentary on the Drive-By TruckersThe Secret to a Happy Ending many of us have been wondering why we’ve never heard anything from the first band that Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley formed, Adam’s House Cat. Now, the wait is thankfully over as Adam’s House Cat’s Town Burned Down, recorded in 1990 and long considered lost, has been resurrected. So now, some history.

We’ve heard a few of these songs in recent DBT sets such as “Lookout Mountain” (which appears on the DBT live triple album) and “Runaway Train.”  As we think back now, Cooley and Hood have been playing together for 33 amazing years. They founded the Truckers in 1996, 11 years after meeting in northern Alabama. As roommates in a dingy apartment, they became fast friends and traders of songs. Eventually in 1985 they formed this band, Adam’s House Cat, which takes its name from a Southern colloquialism, “I wouldn’t know him from Adam’s House Cat.”

Of course, the music in the Muscle Shoals area, where Hood’s dad, David Hood, was a founding member of the legendary Swampers, was known mostly for soul and R&B.  Adam’s House Cat was the only band at that time playing original, hard rocking music that borrowed from punk, twang rings of soul and R&B, and what was termed collegiate rock at the time. Other area bands were playing Top 40 and country & western. Hood and Cooley were ever confident in their brand of aggressive rock n’ roll, enlisting drummer Chuck Tremblay (10 years older than they were) and John Calhoun, after a series of others who tried, on bass.

After a couple of years playing dives and clubs, the band’s regional popularity began to attract national interest, but no deals came forth. This pissed the boys off and they put together a four-song cassette Trains of Thought of which has two of this album’s best tracks –  “6 O’ Clock Train” and “Buttholeville,”both evoking frustration with their home region, and precursors for the irreverent material purveyed later by the DBTs. This was enough impetus to begin recording at Muscle Shoals Sound in November,1990. Recorded live on 2’’ analog 24-track the 15 songs (of which 12 make the cut here) were laid down in the raw, unadorned style that’s still a hallmark of the DBT sound today.

During the following year, the band was still struggling to fund the record and make peace with each other. Cahoon left the band, replaced by Chris Quillen, who eventually contributed high harmony to this album’s “Long Time Ago.” Hood was not happy with his vocals and that may have somehow put a damper on the recording. It not only went unreleased but was lost when Muscle Shoals Sound was sold and liquidated. The original mixes were again at risk when a tornado struck the new owner, Malaco Studios, in 2011.

So, eventually Hood and Cooley, after a brief falling out, regrouped in Athens, Ga to form The Drive-By Truckers, originally intending Quillen to be the bassist. Unfortunately he passed in 1999 due to a fatal car accident.  Fast forward to 2015, and three boxes labeled “Adam’s House Cat” mysteriously appeared at DBT producer David Barbe’s home in Athens. Contained within were the unmixed 2’ tape masters of Town Burned Down and another tape with an EP’s worth of songs recorded the prior year.

Inspired by Chuck Tremblay’s near-fatal heart in early 2017, Hood make a resolution to finally complete the album and with Barbe’s help in February 2018 the tapes were baked and placed on reels. This is raw, powerful music but Hood remained dissatisfied with his vocals on the originals and recorded new ones for this record in just two hours. Hood and Cooley completed the mixing s in April. Voila! We now have the fiery, unbridled energy of Adam’s House Cat – a strong Southern rock n’ roll album that holds little back with Hood’s impassioned vocals and Cooley’s screaming guitar leads and riffs.  

It’s impossible to not enjoy this recording if you’re a DBT fan. The only drawback for some will be that Hood is the lead vocalist on every tune, unlike the alternating rhythm he and Cooley have established on both their DBT records and live shows. DBT fans and can now really for more information.

Hood comments in the liners, “Finally releasing Town Burned Down brings a sort of closure to one of the saddest and most important chapters of mine and Cooley’s lives. The years we spent pounding out these songs made us the people and artists that we have later become, but we carried with us a darkness from never having been able to get the album out. The sound of these songs blasting out of the control room after all these years while Coley, Chuck and I grinned from ear to ear has truly been one of the most joyous events of my entire life. Songs from literally half of my life ago that somehow still seem vital to me all of these years later.”

Bask in their joy. This is the pure essence of rock n’ roll and the precursor to one of our best bands in the last two decades.

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