Zac Brown Band leader: "Talent alone gets you nowhere"

NASHVILLE -- The Zac Brown Band wants their music to make you feel something. The eight-piece band began in Atlanta rooted in country -- but no more.

Their cross-genre appeal, and multi-platinum success, has evolved into one of American music's most identifiable sounds, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

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Zac Brown

CBS News

"I think it's some good therapy for us to just see our history kind of laid out," Zac Brown told Strassmann.

In Nashville, Brown and the band took us along for their first look at a new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum that catalogs their 12-year rise in music: retired instruments and stage clothes to original lyric sheets and personal photos from band members like bassist John Hopkins.

"The headstocks have my daughters names in them," Hopkins said. "We travel a lot and it's nice to get on stage every night and have a reminder of your family."

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Violinist and vocalist Jimmy De Martini (right) shows CBS News' Mark Strassmann one of his old violins on display

CBS News

"This is the violin that got us through our early years when we

were still loading our own gear in, and it's probably got a bunch of dried liquor on it," violinist and vocalist Jimmy De Martini said.

"Everybody in my band is a lion and everyone's mastered their own domain. ... And we have a platform and we have built it painstakingly and punched ourselves in the face every way we could to get where we are," Brown said.

In this milestone moment, Brown, now 37, sees years of proving the doubters wrong.

"There is really no magic in it. It's just at that moment trying to be a little more patient, a little more determined and never giving up," Brown said.

Brown's first paying gig at a Georgia coffee house paid $35. He was 14. By 19, he was touring. In 2004, then 24, he opened a Georgia restaurant called Zac's Place -- then sold it, bought a tour bus, and began building his band -- and brand.

"Luckily there were some saviors. People that believed in us enough. ... They took a chance on a snot-nosed kid who could have run away with the money and blown it," Brown said.

"And now that snot nose kid has an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum," Strassmann said.

"Yeah, it's amazing. ... Talent alone gets you nowhere. You really have to have the grit and you gotta have a love for people," Brown said.

In 2008, "Chicken Fried," the band's feel-good debut single, became their break-out hit. It has sold almost five million copies, the first of their 14 No. 1 songs on the country charts.

In 2010, the band won Best New Artist, their first of three Grammys. Even marquee bands need ego boosts.

Zac Brown Band holds awards for best new artist backstage at the Grammy Awards on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010, in Los Angeles.

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

"We just couldn't seem to get the love from the Nashville awards shows. ... So Grammys really gave us validation and so that's why they're such a big deal for us," Brown said.

At Fenway Park in Boston last August, the band sold out three consecutive nights, a record there. Paul McCartney only sold out two.

"I never get used to going out and seeing 20, 30,000 people that are there to see us play. It's kind of surreal," Brown said.

As an entertainer, Brown tries to bring people together. What has been surreal to him all summer is how America has been tearing itself apart.

"After Baton Rouge and after Dallas, do you feel as though Americans need your kind of entertainment or entertainment in general more than ever?" Strassmann asked.

"I think music transcends heartache, and music transcends misery," Brown said.

"It's really just about taking care of each other, being my brothers keeper, trying to be tolerant and trying to be civil," Brown said.

"You could look out at your audience and there could be fans standing next to each other who don't agree about anything but become united by music," Strassmann said.

"Bob Marley said 'the one good thing about music is when it hits you, you feel no pain.' And that's true. Being able to create things that make people feel good is an honor," Brown said.

The challenge of defining this band's sound today may be a good thing. This summer has proved America needs more of getting past labels.