Jason Isbell

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Jason Isbell
JasonIsbellsolo.jpg
Background information
Born (1979-02-01) February 1, 1979 (age 35)
Green Hill, Alabama
Genres Singer-songwriter
Rock
Alternative country
Classic country
Southern rock
Occupations Singer-songwriter
Guitarist
Instruments Guitar
Electronic Keyboard
Vocals
Years active (2001 – present)
Labels Lightning Rod Records
New West Records
Associated acts Drive-By Truckers
Website jasonisbell.com
Members Sadler Vaden
Jimbo Hart
Derry DeBorja
Chad Gamble
Amanda Shires

Jason Isbell (/ˈɪzbʊl/;[1] born February 1, 1979) is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist from Green Hill, Alabama, in Lauderdale County. He is best known for his solo career, and as a former member of the Drive-By Truckers for 6 years.[2]

Early life[edit]

Isbell was born on the Alabama/Tennessee line in Green Hill, Alabama,[3] the son of interior designer mother, Kathy Isbell, and house painter, Mike Isbell.[4][5]

Isbell's parents divorced, and he has half-siblings who are much younger than him.[1]

Isbell grew up in rural North Alabama, a childhood where he said his family had cows in the backyard. While being taken care of by his grandparents (while his parents worked), who had horses and sheep as well as chickens, ducks and geese on their farm, Isbell learned how to care for (and kill) fowl—an easy job for a kid—at an early age of 6 or 7 years old. His grandparents lived right down the street, next to the school that Isbell attended.[1]

Almost all of Isbell's family, except his parents, were musicians, and his father was an avid music listener.[6] On his family and music: "Grandparents, uncles, aunts, great-uncles, and cousins, we all played music together once or twice a week," he recalls. "The music that I make and the way I make it has a lot to do with where I came from. I might have also made good music if I was from a different part of the country or a different part of the world, but I'm really happy to be from there, I think I'm a lucky person to be from there."[7]

Isbell's paternal grandfather, who took care of him, was a Pentecostal preacher and played guitar in church. His grandfather had 7 or 8 brothers, and most of them played instruments either professionally or recreationally.[1]

His father was Pentecostal, so he went to the Pentecostal church with them, but said that when his parents got a divorce, his mom's family was Church of Christ, which Isbell describes as being very strict. Musical instruments were not allowed, only "human voices." Isbell said he switched back and forth between the two churches.[1]

Isbell said his last name is originally Spanish.[1]

Isbell spent a lot of time as a child being taken care of by his grandfather, who along with his uncle, took the time to teach young Isbell how to play multiple instruments. Isbell jokes that "I grew up playing music with my family as a form of child care."[8] Isbell said he first learned how to play the mandolin when he was 6 years old, since he was so young he could play the smaller sized instrument better. The music was mostly gospel, bluegrass, and the humor performers from Grand Ole Opry.[1]

He started playing in a garage band and a country cover band (Keith Whitley, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson) when he was 14, 15 years old with his good friend, songwriter Chris Tompkins.[9] They even played at Grand Ole Opry when he was 16.[1] In high school Isbell played trumpet and French horn.[1]

Isbell attended University of Memphis,[10] studying English and Creative Writing. Isbell was in a fraternity there, but did not graduate - he is short one class: "Human Fitness and Wellness."[1]

Career[edit]

Isbell turned in demos and eventually got a publishing deal with Muscle Shoals, Alabama recording studio, FAME Studios, the oldest studio in an area rich with rhythm and blues history, where he stayed from the age of 21 until he joined the Drive-by Truckers.[11]

When he was just a teenager, Isbell said many of the musicians took him under their wing, "taught us how to play, and how not to play."[11] Isbell said he knew Patterson Hood's dad, David Hood, real well because Hood Sr. was in the Florence, Alabama area and played around town on Friday and Saturday nights in restaurants and local bar and grills. Patterson and Cooley were older and had moved out of town by then.[1]

Isbell said when he was 16, 17, 18 years old he would to go see David Hood and others play. When he finally got up the nerve to tell them he played, they'd have him sit in with them, ultimately becoming good friends.[1]

Drive-by Truckers[edit]

After working as a songwriter, in 2001 at the age of 22, Isbell joined the rock band Drive-By Truckers while they toured in support of their album Southern Rock Opera.[12]

Patterson Hood recalled that meeting Isbell was a "life-changing moment in time," saying they met through a mutual friend, Dick Cooper, a Muscle Shoals guy.[13] Hood had gotten to know both Shonna Tucker and Isbell beforehand, but it wasn't until an acoustic house party when guitarist Rob Malone didn't show up—and Isbell sat in with the Drive-by Truckers—becoming their third guitarist and beginning a songwriting collaboration that was lauded by many as a fertile time for the band.[14]

Isbell recorded and wrote with the Truckers for their next three albums, 2003's Decoration Day, 2004's The Dirty South, and 2006's Blessing and a Curse.

For most of this time was married to Shonna Tucker, who joined the band as a bassist after Isbell. The two later divorced.[15]

On April 5, 2007, Isbell announced that he was no longer a member of Drive-By Truckers. The following day, Patterson Hood confirmed the break on the band's official site. In his letter to the fans, Hood described the parting of ways as "amicable" and expressed the hope that fans would continue to support Drive-By Truckers as well as Jason's solo efforts.

Solo work[edit]

On the name of his band, The 400 Unit, being inspired by the unit of a mental hospital

"It sounds a little insensitive now, I guess. I think [the hospital] changed the name of the place. I don't think that's our fault. I think they changed it anyway, [but] they would take folks out, their day patients. They would take them out once or twice a week, and they would give them all 10 or 15 bucks and put a name tag on them; they would get out of a big white Ford van downtown in Florence, Alabama. They'd walk around and try to get lunch. It just scared the locals. The locals saw the van and knew what it was, and they got out looking real disheveled and disoriented, and they would try to exist in reality as a normal person for an hour or however long it took to get a Subway sandwich or something.

"We had been on the road for about a month. We stopped somewhere and we all got out of the van and we were drinking pretty heavily and not getting a whole lot of sleep, and it was the middle of the day and we were all hungover and smelled pretty bad, and I handed everybody 10 bucks because it was their per diem for the day, and we all went to get a sandwich, and I thought, 'Man, that reminds me so much of something I've seen somewhere before.'"

Jason Isbell, Fresh Air[16]

Jason Isbell released his first solo album, Sirens of the Ditch, on July 10, 2007.

Emergence of the 400 Unit[edit]

Isbell's current band, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, is primarily made up of Muscle Shoals, Alabama-area musicians.[11] The lineup is currently:

The band's name comes from the "400 Unit," a former colloquial name of the psychiatric ward of Florence, Alabama's Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital, which is now named the Behavioral Health Center, or One North, and is located on the hospital's first floor.

On the name Isbell said: "There is a mental treatment facility here in Florence called The 400 Unit. About once a week they would drive downtown and take, I guess, the six or eight healthiest people in the facility and let 'em go downtown. Give 'em all like $15 apiece to go get some lunch. You'd immediately recognize who it was and why they were there; they all had nametags on, saying kinda strange stuff to everybody. And trying to get a sandwich at the same time. When I started thinking about a band, and how we get to a new town and everybody gets $15 and gets out of the van, goes out and tries to get a sandwich, it kinda reminded me of that."[17]

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit's eponymous album was released on February 17, 2009, on Lightning Rod Records. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit was Isbell's second solo release and his first release with his band The 400 Unit. Matt Pence of Centro-Matic co-produced and engineered the record, as well as playing drums on the record.

Isbell and the 400 Unit released their second album, Here We Rest, on April 12, 2011, on Lightning Rod Records. The album was produced and recorded by the band.

In 2012, Isbell supported singer-songwriter Ryan Adams on his tour. Both played solo, acoustic sets.

On June 11, 2013, Isbell released his fourth solo album, Southeastern. Produced by Dave Cobb and featuring accompanying vocals by Kim Richey and Isbell's wife, Shires, Southeastern received overwhelmingly positive critical reviews, earning a score of 88 on Metacritic.[18] Isbell's music video for the song “Traveling Alone,” features the Jackson House, a historic home in Moulton, Alabama.[19]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Year Title Label
2007 Sirens of the Ditch New West Records
2009 Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit Lightning Rod Records
2011 Here We Rest Lightning Rod Records
2013 Southeastern Southeastern Records

Live albums[edit]

Year Title Label
2008 Live at Twist & Shout 11.16.07 New West Records
2012 Live From Alabama Lightning Rod Records

Musical influences[edit]

On the importance of Isbell's Northern Alabama roots: "I definitely don’t feel like I would be the musician that I am, or the type of songwriter, had I not come from that particular place," he says now. "The soul music that came out of there, and a lot of the soul-influenced rock and roll and country music that came out of the studios in north Alabama in the '60s and '70s had a big influence on me."[20]

Guitar equipment[edit]

Guitars[edit]

  • Duesenberg Starplayer TV Goldtop
  • Fender Stratocaster
  • First Act Custom Delgada w/ Bigsby
  • First Act Custom Delia LS w/ Bigsby
  • First Act Delia LS (standard fixed-bridge version)
  • Gibson Les Paul Standard
  • Gibson ES-335
  • Reverend Buckshot
  • Reverend Flatroc w/ Les Trem
  • Harmony Archtop[21]

Amps[edit]

  • Sommatone Roaring-40 head & 2x12 Cabinet

Other gear[edit]

Notable performances[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Isbell married the singer-songwriter and violinist Amanda Shires, with whom he'd worked on and off for a decade, in February 2013, two days after they finished Southeastern.[8][22] Musician Todd Snider married them.[1]

Previously Isbell was married to Shonna Tucker in 2002, a fellow musician from the Muscle Shoals, Alabama community, and a former bass player from Drive-By Truckers.[4]

In February 2012, Isbell's wife, Shires, "with the help of his manager Traci Thomas and the musician Ryan Adams, got him into rehab. Isbell spent two weeks in Cumberland Heights, an alcohol-and-drug-treatment center in Nashville."[4] Isbell has discussed getting sober extensively, saying he drank Jack Daniel's and did cocaine.[16][23] Isbell said he didn't start binge drinking until his late 20s, when he started touring with the Drive-By Truckers.[1] Isbell said “I’m lucky to have a second chance at all this. I don’t remember a lot of the good times from my days with the Truckers.” This time around, he says, “This time I want to remember it all.”[4]

Isbell has a tattoo on the inside of his left arm, words that are lyrics from Boots of Spanish Leather, the Bob Dylan song: "Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled, from across that lonesome ocean." Isbell said: "For me when I read those words, it has to do with travel and keeping something about yourself intact, not letting those pieces get pulled away as you make your way around the world."[8]

Isbell has lived in Nashville, Tennessee since July 2002.[14][24][25] He is a huge Atlanta Braves fan.[26]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Maron, Marc (March 26, 2014). "Episode 482 - Jason Isbell" (podcast). WTF Podcast. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Monger, James Christopher. "Jason Isbell - Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Jason Isbell". Spin It Loud. 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Garner, Dwight (May 31, 2013). "Jason Isbell, Unloaded". New York Times. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "Carthel E. Isbell" (obituary). Florence Times Daily. September 19, 2002. 
  6. ^ Dodds, M.S. (June 28, 2007). "Jason Isbell interview". Illinois Entertainer. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  7. ^ Booth, Jared (May 11, 2011). "Jason Isbell talks writing, war, and family life". Charleston City Paper. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c Lacher, Irene (September 7, 2013). "The Sunday Conversation: A sobering change for singer Jason Isbell". L.A. Times. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  9. ^ Sullivan, James (August 1, 2013). "Jason Isbell: 'There's Still Just as Much Awe' in Sobriety". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  10. ^ DeYoung, Bill (March 19, 2014). "SMF review: Jason Isbell". Connect Savannah. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c Helton, Eric (March 18, 2011). "SXSW Interview: Jason Isbell" (video interview). Rolling Stone. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  12. ^ Schmergel, Daniel Patrick (April 24, 2006). "An Artist Revealed: Interview with Jason Isbell". Lost Writers. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  13. ^ Maron, Marc (March 28, 2014). "Episode 483 - Patterson Hood" (podcast). WTF Podcast. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Leahey, Andrew (September 17, 2013). "Jason Isbell Keeps On Truckin’". American Songwriter. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  15. ^ Mitter, Siddhartha (July 15, 2007). "He'll keep on trucking, but solo". Boston Globe. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  16. ^ a b Gross, Terry (July 17, 2013). "Jason Isbell Locates His Musical Compass On 'Southeastern'". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  17. ^ "Jason Isbell - Current Artists". FAME Music Group. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  18. ^ Parton, Chris (August 19, 2013). "Jason Isbell Leaves a Mark at Ryman". CMT. Country Music Television, Inc. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  19. ^ Qualls, Meredith (August 24, 2013). "Isbell’s music video filmed in Moulton". TimesDaily (Florence, AL). Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  20. ^ Bailey, Rachel (November 28, 2012). "Jason Isbell: That New Southern Style". Flagpole Magazine. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  21. ^ a b c Oz (April 5, 2011). "An Interview With Jason Isbell – Here We Rest.". Hear Ya. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  22. ^ Kerns, William (July 25, 2012). "Happily engaged Shires makes return appearance in hometown". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Retrieved January 1, 2014. 
  23. ^ Bialias, Michael (May 2, 2013). "Hangout and About, Part 1: Jason Isbell is Solo, But Not Alone". Huffington Post. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  24. ^ Portman, Jed (December 7, 2012). "Down South: Southern Rock Star Jason Isbell on Cracker Barrel, Cornbread Poetry, and More". Serious Eats. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  25. ^ Shelburne, Craig (July 25, 2012). "Jason Isbell Finds Americana in "Alabama Pines"". CMT. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  26. ^ O'Brien, David (December 15, 2011). "For Jason Isbell, Braves fandom runs in family". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 

External links[edit]