Isbell with the 400 Unit at Bowery Ballroom, NYC in January 2013
|Birth name||Michael Jason Isbell|
|Born||February 1, 1979|
Green Hill, Alabama, U.S.
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, electronic keyboard|
|Associated acts||Drive-By Truckers, Amanda Shires,|
Michael Jason Isbell (//; born February 1, 1979) is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist from Green Hill, Alabama, in Lauderdale County. He is known for his solo career, his work with the band The 400 Unit, and as a former member of Drive-By Truckers for six years, from 2001 to 2007. Isbell has won four Grammy Awards.
Isbell was born in Green Hill, Alabama, two miles from the Alabama/Tennessee state line, the son of interior designer mother Angela Hill Barnett and house painter Mike Isbell. Isbell's mother was only 17 years old (and his father 19 years old) when he was born and is the subject of a song, "Children of Children". Isbell's parents divorced, and he has two much younger half-siblings, Chantry Barnett and Emily Isbell.
Isbell grew up in rural North Alabama. His grandparents lived on a farm down the road, next to the school that Isbell attended; they looked after him while his parents were at work. His grandfather and uncle taught him to play various musical instruments, including the mandolin when he was 6 years old as it was easier for him to grip as a small child. They enjoyed gospel music, bluegrass music, and the Grand Ole Opry. In high school, he played trumpet and French horn. Isbell's family would get together and play music every week, sometimes twice a week, which Isbell said has a lot to do with where he comes from and the family's focus on music. Isbell's paternal grandfather, who came from a musical family, was a Pentecostal preacher and played guitar in church. Isbell spent his childhood attending both the Pentecostal church and the stricter Church of Christ, which permitted only singing (no musical instruments).
Isbell started playing in a garage band and a country cover band when he was 14 or 15 years old with his friend, songwriter Chris Tompkins. They played at the Grand Ole Opry when Isbell was 16.
When Isbell was a teenager, many musicians took him under their wing. He got to know session bassist David Hood, the father of Drive-By Truckers co-founder Patterson Hood, because Hood was in the Florence, Alabama area and played around town on Friday and Saturday nights in local restaurants and bars. By this time, Patterson Hood and his future Drive-By Truckers co-founder, Mike Cooley, were older and had moved out of town. Isbell would go watch David Hood and others perform. It took a while, but once he finally got up the nerve to tell them he played, they'd have him sit in with them, which resulted in friendship and mentorship.
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. The band operates out of Athens, Georgia, where Isbell lived while with the band. Patterson Hood recalls that he met Isbell through Dick Cooper, a mutual friend from Muscle Shoals. Hood already knew Shonna Tucker and invited Isbell to join Drive-by Truckers after he sat in with the group at an acoustic house party when guitarist Rob Malone didn't show up.
Isbell recorded and contributed many songs to Drive-by Truckers for their next three albums, 2003's Decoration Day, 2004's The Dirty South, and 2006's A Blessing and a Curse. The title track of Decoration Day was revealed by Isbell in the 2014 Live from Lincoln Center concert to be a true story about his family members.
For most of his time as a band member, Isbell was married to Shonna Tucker, who joined the band after Isbell as a bassist. The two were part of the band's documentary, The Secret to a Happy Ending. The two later divorced.
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. Isbell had been with the Drive-By Truckers for six years.
On June 15, 2014, Isbell teamed with Hood and Mike Cooley for a benefit at the Shoals Theater in Florence, Alabama. The sold-out acoustic performance was the first time Isbell had performed with his former bandmates since they split in 2007. In August 2015, Hood joined Isbell onstage and played a couple of Drive-By Truckers songs together in Hood's new adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon.
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, Amanda Shires, Southeastern received overwhelmingly positive critical reviews, earning a score of 87 on Metacritic. Southeastern led to Isbell's clean sweep of the 2014 Americana Music Awards. Southeastern won Album of the Year, Isbell was named Artist of the Year, and the song "Cover Me Up" was named Song of the Year. NPR rock critic Ken Tucker listed Southeastern at No. 1 on his top ten albums of 2013. Isbell's record received praise by artists like Bruce Springsteen and John Prine. Isbell's music video for the song "Traveling Alone" features the Jackson House, a historic home in Moulton, Alabama. In 2014, his song "Cover Me Up" was used as the weather for the Welcome to Night Vale episode "Visitor".
Isbell's fifth solo record, Something More Than Free, was released on July 17, 2015, on Southeastern Records. Dave Cobb produced, continuing the partnership created with Isbell on Southeastern. They recorded the album at Nashville's Sound Emporium studio with a full band. During the summer of 2015, Isbell was on a North American tour to promote the album, with four consecutive sold-out nights at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville at the end of October. In April 2016, Isbell appeared on the BBC live-music show Later With Jools Holland, singing "The Life You Chose", one of the tracks from Something More Than Free.
Isbell said that compared to Southeastern, Something More Than Free has a feeling of celebration, which reflects his upcoming fatherhood and a forward-facing momentum. One track on the record, "To a Band I Loved", is a love-letter to the band Centro-Matic, a now defunct band from Denton, Texas, Isbell played with back in his Drive-By Truckers days.
Something More Than Free debuted at number 1 on Billboard Magazine's rock, folk and country record charts. Although Isbell had had critical success in the Americana genre, this was the first time he received such high ranking across genres. The album was well received, winning two Grammy awards for Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Song ("24 Frames"). On May 11, 2016, Isbell, a four-time winner, was nominated for three more Americana Music Honors & Awards: Album of the Year (Something More Than Free), Song of the Year ("24 Frames"), and Artist of the Year. He won the first two, while Chris Stapleton won Artist of the Year.
Emergence of The 400 Unit
- Sadler Vaden, guitar, backup vocals - also of Drivin' N Cryin'
- Jimbo Hart, bass, backup vocals
- Derry DeBorja, keyboard, accordion, backup vocals - formerly of Son Volt
- Chad Gamble, drums, backup vocals - brother of Al Gamble
- Amanda Shires, fiddle, backup vocals
The band's name comes from the 400 Unit, a colloquial name for the psychiatric ward of Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital in Florence, Alabama. It was originally called the 400 Unit because it was in a separate building from the main three-story hospital. After renovation in the 1980s, the ward was renamed as the Behavioral Health Center, also known as 1st North, and is located on the hospital's first floor.
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 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. The song "Alabama Pines" was named Song of the Year at the 2012 Americana Music Awards.
On March 13, 2017, Isbell announced a new album with the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound. The album was released on June 16, 2017. Isbell and the band won the Grammy Award for Best Americana Album and Isbell won Grammy Award for Best American Roots Song at the 60th ceremony.
In October 2017, Isbell was announced to be the official artist-in-residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. He made a guest appearance on John Prine's 2018 album The Tree of Forgiveness. Isbell contributed the ballad "Maybe It's Time" to the soundtrack of the 2018 film A Star Is Born, where it was performed by actor Bradley Cooper's character, Jackson Maine.
On February 11, 2020, Isbell announced a new album, Reunions. It was released on May 15, 2020. Reunions sees Isbell once again working with producer Dave Cobb and features guest vocals by and Jay Buchanan of Rival Sons and David Crosby. The album announcement was made alongside the release of the first song of the album, "Be Afraid", which peaked at a career high number 5 on the Adult Alternative Songs chart.
Isbell has stated on the importance of his 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 1960s and 1970s had a big influence on me." Isbell said that working at FAME Studios was everything to him, that it was a gateway towards the music that he wanted to play. In addition to citing Neil Young as a big influence, Isbell is a fan of singer-songwriter Ben Howard and guitarist Blake Mills.
Isbell married singer-songwriter and violinist Amanda Shires, with whom he had worked on and off for a decade, in February 2013, two days after they finished Southeastern. Musician Todd Snider officiated their wedding. The couple had a baby girl, Mercy Rose, on September 1, 2015.
In February 2012, Amanda Shires, Isbell's manager Traci Thomas and Ryan Adams initiated an intervention, leading to Isbell entering a rehabilitation treatment program at Cumberland Heights in Nashville. Isbell has discussed getting sober extensively, saying he drank Jack Daniel's and did cocaine during his time with Drive-By Truckers in his late 20s—a time he does not remember very clearly. Southeastern, Isbell's 2013 solo album, is reflective of his newfound sober lifestyle.
Isbell has a tattoo on the inside of his left arm with a quotation from the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song "Boots of Spanish Leather". He said that the quote reminds him about the idea of salvaging things, that for him it evokes the idea of loss as well as learning and growing from the experience. During the 2015 Newport Folk Festival, Isbell cited Dylan as a huge influence on his writing.
Isbell has lived in Nashville, Tennessee, since 2011. He is an Atlanta Braves fan and a Democrat. In November 2017, Isbell was asked on Twitter "Why do we have to inject politics in every aspect of our life can't we just enjoy the music and the football games?" He responded "Until you are the one being treated unfairly, that's easy to say."
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions||Sales|
|Sirens of the Ditch||—||33||—||—||—||—||—|
|Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit||
|Here We Rest||
|Something More Than Free||
|The Nashville Sound||
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
|Title||Album details||Peak positions||Sales|
|Live at Twist & Shout 11.16.07||
|Live from Alabama||
|Live from Welcome to 1979
(exclusive release for Record Store Day 2017)
|Live from the Ryman||
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
|2015||Sea Songs by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires
"I Follow Rivers" and "Mutineer"
|Southeastern Records (digital only)|
|2013||"Traveling Alone"||James Weems|
|2017||"If We Were Vampires"||Joshua Britt & Neilson Hubbard|
|2012||Burn. Flicker. Die.||American Aquarium||Last Chance Records|
|2019||Fever Breaks||Josh Ritter||Pytheas Recordings|
This section of a biography of a living person does not include any references or sources. (February 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- Martin Custom Jason Isbell D-18
- Martin Custom D-35
- Martin Authentic Series 1939 D-18
- Martin D-28 12 string
- Baxendale Custom Acoustic
- Martin OM-28
- Martin HD-28 Retro
- Custom "Dobrato" Resonator - Steel Body w/ Bigsby (Castle Creek Guitars, Gunnison, CO)
- Duesenberg Starplayer TV Goldtop
- Fender Stratocaster
- Fender Modified 'Coodercaster'
- 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 (1961)
- Gibson Les Paul Standard "Red Eye" (1959) Formerly owned by Ed King
- Gibson collector's choice #12 les paul
- Gretsch Duo Jet - 1959 (w/ Bigsby, purchased from Dave Cobb)
- Gretsch White Falcon purchased by Amanda Shires from John Prine
- Reverend Buckshot
- Reverend Flatroc w/ Les Trem
- Harmony Archtop
- Fender Telecaster
Martin D-18 Jason Isbell Signature Edition Guitar
Isbell worked closely with the Custom Shop at Martin Guitar to design his signature D-18. Similar to Martin’s Authentic series, Jason’s Custom is constructed using hide glue, which unlike newer synthetic reproductions, dissolves into the grain of the wood and creates more resonance throughout the instrument. Isbell added a personal touch by adding an inlay of one of his tattoos at the twelfth fret. He also chose a thin finish and left off the pickguard – both design details that have one common goal – to make it loud. “Growing up with my granddad and his brothers and their Martins, whoever had the loudest guitar always had the best,” Isbell says. “So I wanted to make the loudest D-18 we could make.”
- Fender Vibroverb
- Fender Princeton
- Fender Deluxe Reverb
- Fender pro (non-reverb)
- Sommatone Roaring-40 head and 2x12 cabinet
- Magnatone Super Fifty-Nine
- Tone King Imperial MKII
- Vox AC30HW
- Marion Henry Guitar pedals
- Mr. B's Bottleneck Guitar slides
- POG electro-harmonix octave generator
- Klon Centaur
- Z.Vex Box of Rock overdrive pedal
Awards and nominations
The Americana Music Honors & Awards celebrate outstanding achievement in the genre of Americana. Isbell has won nine awards out of 16 nominations.
|2009||Album of the Year||Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit||Nominated|
|2012||Song of the Year||"Alabama Pines"||Won|
|Album of the Year||Here We Rest||Nominated|
|Artist of the Year||Jason Isbell||Nominated|
|2014||Song of the Year||"Cover Me Up"||Won|
|Album of the Year||Southeastern||Won|
|Artist of the Year||Jason Isbell||Won|
|2016||Album of the Year||Something More Than Free||Won|
|Song of the Year||"24 Frames"||Won|
|Artist of the Year||Jason Isbell||Nominated|
|Album of the Year||The Nashville Sound||Won|
|Duo/Group of the Year||Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit||Won|
|Song of the Year||"If We Were Vampires"||Won|
The CMA Awards celebrate outstanding achievement in country music. Isbell has received one nomination.
|2017||Album of the Year||The Nashville Sound||Nominated|
The Daytime Emmy Awards are American accolades bestowed by the New York–based National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in recognition of excellence in American daytime television programming. Isbell has received one nomination.
|2018||Outstanding Musical Performance in a Daytime Program||"Cumberland Gap"/"If We Were Vampires" on CBS This Morning||Nominated|
The Grammy Awards celebrate outstanding achievement in music. Isbell has won 4 awards out of 4 nominations.
|2016||Best American Roots Song||"24 Frames"||Won|
|Best Americana Album||Something More Than Free||Won|
|2018||Best American Roots Song||"If We Were Vampires"||Won|
|Best Americana Album||The Nashville Sound||Won|
|2018||International Album of the Year||The Nashville Sound||Won|
|2016||International Artist of the Year||Jason Isbell||Won|
- Weissman, Barr, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Shonna Tucker, Brad Morgan, John Neff, and Jason Isbell. The Secret to a Happy Ending: A Documentary About the Drive-by Truckers. New York: ATO Records, 2011. (DVD of 2009 documentary)
Notes and references
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- Welch, Will (7 January 2016). "Meet Three Country Badasses Who Are Shaking Up the Nashville Establishment". GQ. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
- Welch, Will (7 January 2016). "The GQ&A: Jason Isbell, the New King of Americana Music". GQ. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
- "Jason Isbell". Spin It Loud. 2009. Archived from the original on 27 March 2014. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
- Garner, Dwight (31 May 2013). "Jason Isbell, Unloaded". New York Times. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
- "Carthel E. Isbell". Florence Times Daily. 19 September 2002.
- Bialas, Michael (10 August 2015). "During the Long, Hot Summer, Jason Isbell Warms Up to Become One Glad Dad". Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
- Mason, Anthony (9 August 2015). "The fall and rise of Jason Isbell". CBS News. Archived from the original on 10 August 2015. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
- Mason, Anthony (8 August 2015). "Jason Isbell on his musical education (web extra)". CBS News. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
- Booth, Jared (May 11, 2011). "Jason Isbell talks writing, war, and family life". Charleston City Paper. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
- Dodds, M.S. (28 June 2007). "Jason Isbell interview". Illinois Entertainer. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
- Gage, Jeff (9 June 2017). "Jason Isbell: 5 Things We Learned From New Interview". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
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- Kellmurray, Beth (27 July 2015). "Jason Isbell Celebrates the Chart Success of 'Something More Than Free'". Diffuser.fm. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
- Hight, Jewly (5 August 2015). "Country Star (and Expectant Dad) Jason Isbell 'Glad to Have My Baby on the Brain'". Billboard Magazine. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
- Mazor, Barry (4 August 2015). "'Something More Than Free' by Jason Isbell Review". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
- "2016 Grammy Awards: Complete list of winners and nominees". Los Angeles Times. 15 February 2016. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
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- "Jason Isbell to perform at Country Music Hall of Fame as Artist-in-Residence". Tennessean.com.
- "John Prine To Release His First Album Of New Songs In 13 Years". Npr.org. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
- "Soundtrack for A Star is Born, Starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, Announced".
- Sodomsky, Sam. "Jason Isbell Announces New Album Reunions, Share New Song "Be Afraid": Listen". Pitchfork. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
- Hudak, Joseph. "Jason Isbell Previews New Album 'Reunions' With Urgent Anthem 'Be Afraid'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
- Bailey, Rachel (28 November 2012). "Jason Isbell: That New Southern Style". Flagpole Magazine. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
- Lacher, Irene (7 September 2013). "The Sunday Conversation: A sobering change for singer Jason Isbell". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
- Kerns, William (25 July 2012). "Happily engaged Shires makes return appearance in hometown". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- "Amanda Shires Isbell on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2015-11-17.
- Spevak, Jeff (19 May 2015). "Jason Isbell: The craft of sadness at Water Street". Democrat & Chronicle. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- Isbell, Jason (1 September 2015). "jasonisbell on Istagram: "Today"". Instagram. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jason Isbell.|
- JasonIsbell.com (official site)