Happy Birthday Jason Isbell: Everything to Know About the Country-Rock Star

by Keeli Parkey

Happy birthday, Jason Isbell! The talented singer and songwriter turns 42 years old today (Feb. 1, 2021). Isbell has earned a lot of respect from fans and his fellow musicians during his decades-long career. His accolades include four Grammy Awards.

Jason Isbell was born in Green Hill, Alabama. His parents were very young when he was born. His father, Mike Isbell, was only 19 and his mother, Angela Hill Barnett, was only 17. They eventually divorced. Growing up with young parents later influenced Isbell’s song “Children of Children.”

The musician’s path to a career in music began thanks to his family. An uncle and grandfather taught Isbell to play instruments such as the mandolin. They also exposed him to bluegrass, gospel, and the Grand Ole Opry. Isbell picked up the French horn and trumpet while he was in high school. Being from a musical family would prove to be significant for him.

Jason Isbell Played at Grand Ole Opry When He was 16

As a teenager, Jason Isbell and his friend, Chris Tompkins, joined forces to start a country cover band. They played at the legendary Grand Ole Opry when Isbell was only 16 years old.

Also during his teenage years, Isbell befriended many respected musicians and they decided to teach him their tricks of the trade. One of those musicians was David Hood – the father of Isbell’s Drive-By Truckers bandmate Patterson Hood.

Isbell would join forces with Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley for legendary southern rock group Drive-By Truckers in 2001 when he was 22-years-old. This collaboration reportedly took place after Isbell played an acoustic set with the group at a house party. Isbell filled in for a guitarist who did not attend.

In the years that followed, Jason Isbell became a key member of the band. He wrote numerous songs for the albums “Decoration Day,” “The Dirty South,” and “A Blessing and a Curse.” He left the band in April 2007. Patterson Hood reportedly said Isbell left the band on good terms.

Here’s a clip of Isbell and the Drive-By Truckers performing on the Conan O’Brien Show.

Isbell Goes Solo

After leaving the Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell began his solo career. The first solo album he released was titled “Sirens of the Ditch” and came out in July 2007. In June 2013, Isbell released his fourth album, “Southeastern,” which was a great critical success.

As time went on, Isbell released more successful albums and even performed at the Ryman Auditorium for four consecutive nights of sold-out shows during 2015. That same year, he released the album “Something More than Free.” Its debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s rock, folk, and country charts was the first time Isbell achieved such success over so many genres.

The album, “Reunions,” was released by Isbell during May 2020.

Jason Isbell’s accompanying band, the 400 Unit, has one of the most interesting names in music today. According to reports, the name comes from the psychiatric ward of the Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital. The hospital and unit were located in Florence, Alabama. The psychiatric ward was known as the 400 Unit because it was located in a building set apart from the hospital.

Members of Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit include his wife, Amanda Shires, as well as Sadler Vaden, Jimbo Hart, Derry DeBorja, and Chad Gamble.

Are you a fan of Jason Isbell? Well, you just might be able to see the prolific singer-songwriter live in 2021. According to Isbell’s website, he has live shows planned beginning in April and continuing through November.

Can’t go on the road to see Jason Isbell? Watch him perform below.