BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Wes Freed, a musician and artist whose association with the band Drive-By Truckers spanned over 20 years through the many album covers he designed for them, died Sunday. He was 58 years old.
Freed, who was based in Richmond, Virginia, designed 10 of the Truckers albums, starting with “Southern Rock Opera” in 2001 to the band’s latest album, “Welcome 2 Club XIII,” which was released earlier this summer.
Leading up to his death, Freed had been dealing with colorectal cancer, which had first been diagnosed back in January.
“I know word is out. I’ll be posting something when I can,” lead singer Patterson Hood wrote on the band’s social media pages Sunday. “Just too damned sad right now to articulate anything. Love each other, MF’s.”
Before closing out his concert in Charlottesville, Virginia Sunday, Jason Isbell, who spent several years with the Truckers before embarking on a solo career, dedicated “Decoration Day” to Freed.
“He was one of the first people I met on the road on tour with the Drive-By Truckers, many many years ago, more than 20 years ago. I slept on his couch with his dog,” Isbell said. “I loved him. He was a great man and a great artist and he painted the covers of all the Drive-By Truckers records. This is a song for him.”
Originally from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Freed came to Richmond in 1983 to study art at Virginia Commonwealth University. He became a mainstay of the local scene through local bands and art he did.
“I think initially, when I was in high school, I always wanted to go to New York and be an artist and do all that and came to Richmond and I was like ‘Richmond might seem like it may be big enough.’ Then I went to New York and was like ‘Richmond is definitely big enough,'” Freed told WTVR before his death.
While playing in bands like Mudd Helmet and Dirtball, Freed began designing the posters for shows. From there, he honed his signature “outsider” style that would be part of his work.
“Some of my professors were like ‘Well, you seem to have found what you want to do and I guess that’s good. It might not be good, but if you can make it work, then it’s good,” Freed told WTVR.
Freed first met the Truckers in 1997 while both were playing the Bubbapalooza Festival in Atlanta. From there, he and the band formed a partnership that lasted over 20 years.
“I guess it’s just luck that we ran across each other the way we did and it did kind of just clicked when we met,” Freed told AL.com in 2019.
Stephen Deusner, author of “Where the Devil Don’t Stay: Traveling the South with the Drive-By Truckers,” said that Freed’s conflicted relationship with the South was often expressed in his art.
“Like the Truckers and like me, he had a conflicted love for the South, and his work embraced the beauty of the place and rejected the ugliness and especially the hate. He used his powers for good. And he populated his fantastical landscapes with Southern artists — not just the Truckers, but Hank Williams, the Allmans, Skynyrd, Gram Parsons, and so many anonymous troubadours who strummed guitars for the same reasons he wielded a brush,” Deusner said in a Facebook post.
In a foreword to “The Art of Wes Freed – Paintings, Posters, Pin-ups and Possums,” Hood described what Freed’s art meant to him.
“Wes’s art seems to inhabit its own universe, a world where Hank Williams and Patsy Cline still walk among us, where people co-exist among big scary black birds and there’s an owl in every tree. Every yard has a well and cemetery,” Hood wrote. “It’s a vision that is both cinematic and dreamlike yet you get the immediate impression that to Wes, it’s a world as vivid and real as the one most of us live in one day.”