Jason Isbell Talks Sobriety


Singer and songwriter Jason Isbell was probably best known for his time with the Drive-By Truckers, an alternative country band out of Georgia.

And Isbell had the country chops to go with the job – he’s an Alabama boy, a son of the South, and he grew up in a family of musicians.

But, like other country stars, he struggled with alcohol abuse, and in a recent interview, he talked about what it was like as a drunk and how he came to be a different, sober person.

The interview is available on NPR’s All Things Considered and well worth a listen.

Alcohol abuse has a long history with country music, and it’s blended into the culture. Isbell told how he’d have a few drinks before going on stage, and there would be bottles of Jack Daniels passed around during the performance. When asked, he estimated he drank a fifth during the show, timing it so that he would reach the “too drunk to continue” just as the performance finished up.

Jason credits his new wife (his second), Amanda Shires, for helping him quit. They were married in February of this year.

"I would usually drunkenly tell her that I needed to go to rehab," he says. "I only got to do that twice, I think. The second time she said, 'You're telling the wrong person.'"

His current band is named Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. The name comes from a hospital ward in a Florence, Alabama, hospital. It was the psychiatric ward and now, renamed the Behavior Health Center, treats addiction and alcohol abuse.

According to the interview, his latest album, “Southern,” uses all of the emotional pain alcoholism and recovery have brought out in him, lending a solid sense of agony and rebirth to the songs. Even now, Jason worries that his loved ones will see the man he used to be, who he imagines as a ghost walking beside him, instead of the man he has become with sobriety.

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