When Zac Brown was 18, he set out on the road in a van with his dog Pete, a drummer and a PA system.

When Zac Brown was 18, he set out on the road in a van with his dog Pete, a drummer and a PA system. He played at clubs all over the Southeast, carefully assembling the hardworking pieces of what would become the Zac Brown Band. It's this same band now whose single "Chicken Fried" hit a new peak of No. 11 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart this week.

The Zac Brown Band stands out on the chart for several reasons. Unlike clean-cut country acts that resemble J. Crew models, they're a scruffy-looking bunch. They write their own songs – Brown along with writing partner Wyatt Durrette (who met Brown while tending bar at Marietta, Ga.'s Dixie Tavern, and now goes on the road with the band).

They've played Bonnaroo and opened for ZZ Top, B.B. King, Willie Nelson and the Allman Brothers, but also for Sugarland and Alan Jackson. They're about to go out on tour with Los Lonely Boys this week.

Zac Brown Band was the first country act signed to Live Nation, but is working on a new label deal as of press time for the release of "The Foundation." The album, produced by Keith Stegall and John Kelton, is a polished, accessible set full of soul and freewheeling tales, plus a cover of Ray LaMontagne's "Jolene."

"I love a great country song sand I'm authentically Southern," says Brown, 30, whose single is an ode to the simple pleasures of cold beer, a favorite pair of jeans and, yes, fried chicken. "And I think a lot of what country music is, [are] stories that are told by country people. We're able to do a jam band kind of thing, reggae, bluegrass... but there is a big part of us that is mainstream country." That versatility -- as well as precise musicianship and attention to songcraft -- bodes well for the Zac Brown Band both on tour and on radio.

The Zac Brown Band -- whose current lineup consists of Brown, John Hopkins on bass, Jimmy De Martini on fiddle, Coy Bowles on guitar and organ and drummer Chris Fryar -- will be busy touring, with dates booked in the South and Midwest into next year.

"One of the reasons our following keeps up ¬we're always practicing and rehearsing and writing and arranging our songs," says Brown. Even after 12 years, he's still focused on playing live in front of people, seeking "every chance to win them over."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print