​Jason Isbell on success after excess

On the heels of his chart-topping new album, "Something More Than Free," the roots rock singer-songwriter Jason Isbell talks about his alcohol abuse and path back to sobriety.

CBS News

A summer song from Jason Isbell is enjoying great success these days -- a whole ALBUM of his songs, to be precise. Quite a reversal of fortune for him, as he tells Anthony Mason:

When 36-year-old singer-songwriter Jason Isbell picks out a guitar ("I like these old '70s Martins") and starts to play, sometimes his shirt sleeve will ride up on his forearm.

"What's the tattoo on your arm?" asked Mason.

"The tattoo is from 'Boots of Spanish Leather,' from the Bob Dylan song: 'Carry yourself back to me unspoiled from across that lonesome ocean,'" replied Isbell. "It's kind of a salvage song, you know? It's about loss, but it's also about taking something away from that."


Words mean everything to the artist USA Today ranked "one of the great American songwriters," and who John Mayer called the best lyricist of his generation.

Last week, Isbell's latest album, "Something More Than Free," debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's rock, country and folk charts.

To hear the title track from Jason Isbell's album, "Something More Than Free," click on the Soundcloud player below.

"That's gotta feel pretty good," said Mason.

"It does. It's really more fulfilling to judge yourself by a different standard. But that being said," Isbell laughed, "it's not everything, but it's a really nice thing!"

Isbell grew up an only child in northern Alabama. His mother, Angela Hill Barnett, remembers Jason first picking up the guitar at about age seven. She says it came naturally to him.

"Everybody started paying attention in the family," she told Mason.

Pretty soon they were paying attention in nearby Muscle Shoals, too, at the legendary Fame Recording Studios. At 21, he was hired to write songs for Fame, where Little Richard, Aretha Franklin and the Allman Brothers had all recorded.

The songwriting job was his first steady income from making music,"other than, you know, $50 in a bar."

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Jason Isbell with correspondent Anthony Mason at Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
CBS News

"So what did it mean to you to come here?"

"Well, it's a really big deal. It was the gateway to everything we wanted to do."

Isbell would soon make his mark with a band called The Drive-By Truckers. He would spend six years with the Georgia rock group, and marry bass player Shonna Tucker.

But by 2007, he'd divorced his wife, been fired by the band, and was drinking heavily. "I started drinking to celebrate," he said. "And then eventually I was still drinking, but I wasn't celebrating any more."