If you are a Jason Isbell fan, then you are definitely familiar with his solo records, as well as his music with his band The 400 Unit. However, you might be less familiar with the music of the Drive-By Truckers, the band that Jason began his career with.
The Athens, Georgia, based band began as a southern rock and alt-country outfit, but have become a genre-bending staple not only in the South, but across the country. The band’s origins date back to when two northern Alabama natives, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, met as roommates at the University of North Alabama, but the Drive-By Truckers didn’t actually form until 1996 in Athens. Since then, DBT has released over a dozen albums and four live albums.
Despite a number of lineup changes throughout the years, the band’s constant touring and eclectic music has garnered them a cult following. While this following expands all across the world, their content frequently revolves around the members’ experiences growing up in the South, events that have happened in the region, and even old myths and legends they have heard about the South.
DBT’s 2001 double album Southern Rock Opera, for example, covers all kinds of subject matter related to the South through sophisticated songwriting, but reimagined through the lens of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the impact the legendary band had on the region up to their tragic plane crash in 1977. Following the release of this album, Jason Isbell began touring with the band and remained a member until 2007, contributing songwriting, guitar, and vocals to the albums Decoration Day, The Dirty South, and A Blessing and a Curse.
Out of DBT’s extensive catalog, these three albums are three of the best, and just about any Isbell fan would agree. Considering the albums’ popularity on Spotify and other streaming platforms, it would be hard for anyone to argue the band’s success with Isbell in the lineup.
With all that said, here are a couple of old videos of Drive-By Truckers playing with a young Jason Isbell.
“Outfit” – Decoration Day (2003)
Performed at the Plan 9 25th Anniversary Concert and benefit for the Harvey Family Memorial Endowment.
Jason Isbell wrote “Outfit” and sang lead vocals for the song on DBT’s 2003 album Decoration Day. The second most streamed song by the band on Spotify, “Outfit” is one of the greatest songs Isbell has written, and is based on all kinds of advice he received from his father growing up.
He has continued to play it in live shows ever since his departure from the band.
This live performance of the song is actually from a pretty legendary DBT show at the iconic Plan 9 Records in Richmond, Virginia for the record store’s 25th Anniversary on July 13, 2006.
Furthermore, the concert was also a fundraiser for Bryan Harvey, his wife Kathryn, and his daughters Stella and Ruby who were all murdered on New Year’s Day in 2006, during a horrific crime spree by two criminals who took the lives of three others that week.
Harvey was 1/2 of Richmond based folk rock band House of Freaks along with Johnny Hott during the 1980s and early 90s, and played in a number of other bands throughout his career. House of Freaks’ music covered very similar topics to DBT, relating to experiences in the South and social issues they had come across in the region. On DBT’s 2008 album Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, the song “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” was written by Patterson Hood as a reaction to the tragedy and dedicated to the family.
Along with Athens, GA, DBT also has roots in Richmond, as it was one of the first major cities in which they gained a strong following, making them the perfect band for the event. Richmond based artist Wes Freed has done the artwork for most of the band’s album covers, and Patterson Hood has connections to owners and managers of Plan 9 and Deep Grooves record stores in town.
A description of the event and the entire setlist for the show is included in the video’s description, and other videos from the event can be found on YouTube. The backstory to the video makes Jason Isbell’s performance of a classic song even more powerful as the crowd sings it back to him.
“Decoration Day” – Decoration Day (2003)
Performed at the Georgia Theatre in Athens, GA on September 6, 2003.
Another song written and sung by Isbell for the Decoration Day album, the title track is one of the best DBT songs they’ve recorded. It’s also the first song Isbell wrote for the band, and it is supposedly a true story about two southern families who have a long standing feud.
And look at that hair 24 year old Isbell was rocking in the band’s hometown show. Obviously, the sound and picture quality isn’t quite as good as we have it today, but it’s pretty cool to dig into the vault every once in a while.
Jason Isbell wrote a number of other songs for DBT during his stint with the band, including hits like “Goddamn Lonely Love,” “The Day John Henry Died,” “Danko/Manuel,” “Never Gonna Change,” Easy on Yourself,” and “Daylight.”
He also contributed lead vocals and guitar, and backup vocals, guitar, and piano for the band.
And speaking of filmed with a potato…. here’s “Goddamn Lonely Love” from 2003.