“People always like it if you write a song about them,” says Jason Isbell. “Especially if nobody’s written a song about them before; it doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative.” Fortunately, the song he wrote about his father, “Outfit,” was full of warmth. “He loved it,” Isbell remembers. “I came across with some humor, and I think that impressed Dad, because he likes to laugh.”
Isbell wrote the song back in 2001, when he was a member of the Drive-By Truckers. “I guess probably the conception of the thing was the last conversation I had with him before I left to go on that first tour with the Truckers,” he recalls. “ I would say I captured my dad’s tone pretty well. Most of those things [in the lyrics] are things that he told me either in jest or in all seriousness – my dad’s the kind of guy you can’t really tell if he’s being serious or not sometimes. I remember him specifying that he wanted me to have a good time…he wasn’t gonna tell me, ‘Just don’t do any drugs, don’t drink, don’t have any fun,’ because he was sort of a kid of the ‘70s, and I think he knew a lot about going to big rock & roll shows and getting fucked up with his buddies. When we had that initial conversation it probably occurred to met that that’d be a good idea for a song.”
It turned out to be a damn good idea — since leaving the Truckers in ’07, Isbell has released more albums with his current group, the 400 Unit, than he did with his old band, but “Outfit” remains among his most-requested tunes. Not only did it seem an obvious choice for inclusion on his new record, Live In Alabama — which mixes some of Isbell’s older material with his more recent repertoire — it ended up giving a name to his latest tour. “One particular night,” he explains, “there was one guy in the crowd, he was three quarters of the way back. I could hear him yelling, ‘Play “Outfit!”’ He eventually wiggled his way up right in front of me … he got really frustrated and he wouldn’t even wait until a song was over, every time I took a breath he would yell right in my face, ‘Play “Outfit!”’ I was about to play something else, and I look down and he’s about to cry. He said, ‘Man, stop fuckin’ around and play “Outfit!”’ We figured we’d call this tour the Stop Fucking Around and Play ‘Outfit’ Tour for that guy.” This live video of the “Outfit” performance captured for the live album ought to make it clear exactly why the song inspires such monomania.
Live in Alabama is out November 20 on Lightning Rod Records.