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Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell

Early lifeIsbell was born on the Alabama/Tennessee line in Green Hill, Alabama, the son of interior designer mother, Kathy Isbell, and house painter, Mike Isbell.Isbell's parents divorced, and he has half-siblings who are much younger than him.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.Almost all of Isbell's family, except his parents, were musicians, and his father was an avid music listener. 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."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.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.Isbell said his last name is originally Spanish.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." 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.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. They even played at Grand Ole Opry when he was 16. In high school Isbell played trumpet and French horn.Isbell attended University of Memphis, studying English and Creative Writing. Isbell was in a fraternity there, but did not graduate - he is short one class: "Human Fitness and Wellness."CareerIsbell turned in demos and got a publishing deal with Muscle Shoals, Alabama recording studio, FAME Studios, the oldest area studio in an area rich with rhythm and blues history, from the age of 21 until he joined the Drive-by Truckers.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." 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.Isbell said when he was 16, 17, 18 years old he used to go see David Hood and others go play and finally got up the nerve to tell them he played and they'd have him sit in with them, eventually getting to be good friends with them.Drive-by TruckersAfter 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.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. 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.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.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 workJason Isbell released his first solo album, Sirens of the Ditch, on July 10, 2007.Emergence of the 400 UnitIsbell's current band, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, is primarily made up of Muscle Shoals, Alabama-area musicians. The lineup is currently:Sadler Vaden, guitar - also of Drivin' N Cryin'Jimbo Hart, bassDerry DeBorja, keyboards - formerly of Son VoltChad Gamble, drums - brother of Al GambleThe 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."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. Isbell's music video for the song “Traveling Alone,” features the Jackson House, a historic home in Moulton, Alabama.


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