“He should have never left the Drive By Truckers. Dumbest thing he ever did!”
This is one of many accusations from Clyde Isbell, the rarely talked-about identical twin brother of Americana star Jason Isbell, and co-frontman of a local Allman Brothers cover band in Alabama. Saving Country Music tracked down Clyde in a trailer park outside of Muscle Shoals to ask him about his brother’s recent success, and attempt to determine why the lives of the once close siblings have forked in such separate directions. Clyde is currently barred from leaving the state due to probationary stipulations, and Jason just walked away with a couple of Grammy Awards two weeks ago for his latest record Something More Than Free.
“All those awards shows are rigged anyway. We know that,” says Clyde, taking a pull directly off a bottle of Jack Daniels as we sit and chat on a stained couch with sunken cushions. Unlike Jason, whose been evidencing a more svelte, clean cut look recently with shorter hair an a sinewy build, the puffy and greasy Clyde appears to have not shaved or showered for days. Only the penetrating eyes are left to give the two 37-year-olds away as siblings. I notice an eviction notice peeking out from under a litter of Budget Gourmet trays, with the sides of the cardboard stained in a ring by the browning of their original microwavable contents, and their bottoms licked clean by a red-nosed pit that lounges with a menacing scowl in the corner among a pile of dirty laundry. Cigarette butts pepper the floor, and Budweiser cans are strewn about. A calendar from 2009 featuring pictures of windmills is tacked crookedly into the fake wood panel walls.
“Jason stole all my licks, and most of my songs,” Clyde accuses. “I taught him everything he knows.”
Even mentioning his brother’s name appears to immediately evoke a shot of anger in Clyde. “He should have never let Dierks Bentley off the hook for stealing ‘In A Razor Town,'” he says. Clyde points to that moment in January 2012 when Jason publicly accused Dierks Bentley of lifting parts of “In A Razor Town” for his hit “Home” as the moment things went south between the two. “Hell I was the one who wrote most of that song anyway,” Clyde says.
Things got especially bad for Clyde when he was caught impersonating Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford at a sports card convention and charging patrons $25 for autographs. Clyde was charged with fraud, as well as drunk and disorderly conduct and for punching a police officer during the incident.
“Sibling envy can regularly manifest itself into delusional recollections and narcissistic rage,” explains psychoanalyst Christopher Frankenfurter. “It appears Clyde Isbell has some unresolved issues due to the gap in success between him and his brother.”
But that’s not how Clyde Isbell sees it. “He’s a faker,” Clyde says. “You can’t sing it unless you’ve lived it. Pretty wife, cute kid, a bunch of meaningless trophies, there’s no soul in that. Being a destitute and lonely singer playing to empty bars and blaming everyone else for your problems, that’s what real musicians do.”
Matthew Stafford couldn’t be reached for comment.