Shoals musician Patterson Hood to speak at UNA commencement

Frontman and guitarist for Drive-By Truckers Patterson Hood will speak at UNA’s Fall 2015 Commencement in Flowers Hall Dec. 12. College of Nursing and College of Arts and Sciences graduates will participate in the 10 a.m. ceremony, and College of Business and College of Education and Human Sciences graduates will participate in the 2 p.m. ceremony.

by News Editor Anna Brown

UNA is bringing a non-traditional speaker to its commencement this year.

Patterson Hood, best known as the frontman and guitarist for Drive-By Truckers, will speak at the Dec. 12 ceremonies.

“We thought we could enlist speakers who represent those (musical) dimensions of the Shoals,” said Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost John Thornell. “We’re looking for ways to connect with the community. When we starting talking about music, Patterson Hood’s (name) came forward. We looking at others, but we didn’t think they brought as much as him.”

Thornell said university President Kenneth Kitts, with the executive counsel, makes the final decision on who the commencement speaker is.

Between gigs, writing, recording and caring for a family, Hood finds time to share his story. He has spoken at other universities including Princeton University, the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia.

In addition to songwriting, Hood has also published essays, poems and short stories. Some of his work about being a southern musician appeared in the New York Times, and he is also one of UNA’s own.

“I can say that (being the commencement speaker) is among the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot because my life is full of strange turns,” Hood said.

His band began in 1996 with his friend Mike Cooley in Athens, Georgia.

Since then, the band has released 10 full-length studio albums, four live albums and 13 singles.

The group just released a live recording and box set, “It’s Great to Be Alive!” in October.

Hood is the son of bass player for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, David Hood. He was raised in a home filled with music. He said he thinks his father’s career as a musician influenced his decision to pursue music as well.

“(My dad) showed me that such a thing was possible, even living in a place like North Alabama,” he said. “I began writing songs when I was 8 years old and pretty much wrote fanatically from then onward.”

He studied Marketing at UNA, but decided to pursue his true passion instead: music. Hood said he always wanted to make music for a living, but went to college because he was convinced he could not survive in the music industry.

He said he realized he was destined to be a musician after writing for a familiar newspaper in 1985.

“I was writing for The Flor-Ala, doing record reviews, and reviewed a record by a band called The Replacements,” he said. “They were kind of sloppy and kind of crappy, especially in technical areas, but also glorious and great, with excellent songs that really moved me. I had this epiphany while listening to that album (‘Tim’ from 1985) that this was what I should be doing. “I dropped out the following spring,” Hood said.

He moved to Athens, Georgia, where he started the band Drive-By Truckers in 1996.

While he never finished his degree, he said he thinks some of the marketing skills he learned while at UNA helped him in the long run.

“I was a pretty lousy student, but I did have some really great classes during my time (at UNA),” he said. “Ironically, there were things I learned from that, that probably helped me later, too. I’ve been so hands-on in running my business that I wish I had paid a little more attention to some fundamentals there.”

Even music requires continuous learning and discipline, he said.

While being a full-time musician seems “inherently adolescent,” he said he still has to work hard, and has for years, at crafting his music.

“Your education doesn’t stop when you graduate,” he said. “It should never really stop. I’m still trying to get better at my job every day.”

While Hood said he doesn’t want to reveal too much about his commencement speech now, he said he encourages recent graduates to always pursue the things they love.

“Live your life full of passion,” he said. “Do the things you feel strongest about and do them really well.”

Thornell said he thinks more people will attend the ceremonies because of the public interest in Hood and his work.