​Alabama Shakes: Fearless and free

Introducing Alabama Shakes. Jan Crawford does the honors:

When she sings, it's like she commands you to listen. Her voice so powerful, you can feel it -- the joy, the desperation, the yearning.

You ain't alone, so why you lonely?
There you go on the dark end of the street.
Are you scared to tell somebody how you feel about somebody?
Are you scared what somebody's gonna think?

Brittany Howard is 26 years old. She and her band, Alabama Shakes -- all friends from her small Alabama hometown -- are adored by critics, revered by fans.

It all began at the end of a dirt road in rural Athens, Alabama, where Howard grew up fearless and free.

Growing up, Brittany Howard knew no limits - and now fronts the band at the top of the Billboard charts. CBS News

"I used to go out in this yard," she said of her childhood, "and it had a bunch of cars in it, like now. And me and my dog would go run around the woods. And I'd play in the creek."

Her father, K.J. Howard, fixed up and sold used cars. He told Crawford that his daughter was always willing to push the limits: "Yeah, 'cause whatever hurt and you could break your arm doing, that was her thing. Treehouses, stuff like that. Mixing chemicals. That's her stuff, you know? Motorbikes. She was driving at eight."

"Whether it's on a go kart or whether you're performing, you just go all-out," said Crawford.

"Yeah, I gotta keep myself entertained," said Brittany. "There's too many hours in the day."

But the carefree hours of early childhood wouldn't last.

Her older sister, Jaime, died when Brittany was nine, from a rare cancer of the eye. "Look how we match," she said, of a picture of the two.

"I was also born with retinoblastoma. But they caught mine in time 'cause it was years later. And I was fine. But it's left me, like, blind in one eye."

Soon after Jamie died, Brittany's parents split up. To help her through a dark time, Brittany turned to music. "So I just dug this guitar out of the closet, my sister's guitar. Started teaching myself how to play. I took it to my music teacher at school, she tuned it for me. And then I just took it home and wrote my own songs.

"The neighbors hated it!"

CBS News

Writing songs was an outlet. Music became her obsession, and in high school, connected her with bass player Zac Cockrell.

"I think I was probably a junior," Cockrells aid. "And we had a class together. It was a sociology class."

"Me and Zac would get together every day after school," said Brittany. "After a while, my dad kicked us out and he put us in a single-wide trailer."

Then came other friends: drummer Steve Johnson and guitarist Heath Fogg. They played whenever, wherever they could notably in nearby Decatur, Ala., at the Brick Deli & Tavern.

Alabama Shakes (Steve Johnson, Heath Fogg, Brittany Howard and Zac Cockrell) with Jan Crawford at the at the Brick Deli & Tavern in Decatrur, Ala. CBS News

They played their first set there, as The Shakes, thirty minutes long. "That was the beginning," Brittany said.