5 Things You Need to Know About Jason Isbell

Photo by David McClister

Since releasing Something More Than Free last month, Jason Isbell seems to have been everywhere: Rolling Stone, Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, NPR and CBS News. His album topped Billboard’s Country, Rock and Folk charts. Grady Smith in the Guardian proclaimed Isbell’s success signals a change in country music.

While it seems like that he has come out of nowhere, that is far from the truth. Something is his fifth album, and his last one Southeastern earned him Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year honors at 2014’s Americana Music Awards.

Here are some more things to know about Jason Isbell.

He Was Once A Drive-By Trucker

In 2002, a 22-year-old Isbell joined the well-respected alt. country-rock band the Drive-By Truckers after one of their guitarists failed to show up for a gig. He contributed a number of songs to the band, including the title track to their next album, Decoration Day. His then-wife, Shonna Tucker, became the Truckers’ bassist in 2003. Although their marriage broke up, they both stayed in the band until Isbell departed in 2007.

His Current Wife Is A Pretty Good Musician Herself

Isbell married Amanda Shires in 2013 and are expecting their first child later this year. Shires was something of a fiddle prodigy and joined the Texas Playboys when she was just 15. She has done five solo albums with the most recent being 2013’s Down Fell The Doves.

photo by Jason Farrell
photo by Jason Farrell

Ryan Adams Helped Save His Life

During his time with the Drive By Truckers, Isbell developed a bad alcohol and drug problem, which didn’t get better after he left the band. In 2012, he was hitting rock bottom after his drunken tweets about Dierks Bentley started an Internet row. Ryan Adams, who had recently gotten sober himself, helped Shires to convince Isbell to go into rehab. Isbell had toured with Adams before and, after cleaning up, he went on an alcohol-free tour with Adams.

The Meaning Behind His Band’s Name: 400 Unit

Isbell was born and raised in northern Alabama near the city of Florence, the area where the fabled Muscle Shoals and F.A.M.E. studios are located. The term 400 Unit, however, comes from the nickname for the psychiatric ward of the Florence hospital, which he thought fit as a band name.

He Was Once Asked To Audition For The Voice

It isn’t unusual for singers with professional experience to be asked to compete on the NBC show. Cassadee Pope and Meghan Linsey are two who come to mind. But Isbell’s invite came in 2014 after he was named Artist of the Year by the Americana Music Association. Isbell took it in good humor, however, stating in a tweet that he would audition with a vocal and French Horn version of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Oh Comely.”


Next: Jason Isbell Got a Huge Surprise When He Sat Down for an Interview at the Newport Folk Festival 

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5 Things You Need to Know About Jason Isbell