Zac Brown Band became stars in the late 2000s on the strength of the number one country hits "Chicken Fried" and "Toes," songs that seemed like throwbacks to the country-rock of the '70s. For a while, ZBB continued in that vein, scoring another breezy, beachy hit with "Knee Deep" and underscoring their '70s singer/songwriter heritage with the warm, burnished ballad "Colder Weather," but soon the group proved themselves to be a restless jam band, as eager to crank up the amps as they were to ride a supple groove. This sense of musical adventure led Zac Brown Band to cut both a 2014 EP with Foo Fighters rocker Dave Grohl and to dive deep into pop music on 2019's The Owl, yet these creative instincts also helped the group cultivate a loyal following who were happy to roll with these changes.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Zac Brown grew up in the Lake Lanier region in the north Georgia mountains. Raised in a blended family — he lived with his mother and his stepfather, who was a dentist — Brown was drawn to music at an early age, learning to play his mother's guitar when he was eight. His taste was omnivorous, spanning pop, country, bluegrass, and rock, influences that manifested in his original material. Brown started playing these songs, along with selected covers, at coffee houses while he was a teenager. While he attended the University of West Georgia, he played concerts with growing frequency.
By 2002, Brown formed the initial version of the Zac Brown Band, who played regularly throughout the south. He founded his own label, Southern Ground (it was originally called Home Grown) in 2003, and his entrepreneurial endeavors didn't stop there. The following year, he and his father opened Zac's Place, a Lake Oconee restaurant that featured local music. It earned the attention of a developer, who bought the establishment; Brown channeled his proceeds into a tour bus and financing his first album, Home Grown, which appeared in 2004.
The Zac Brown Band continued to take shape over the course of 2004, with fiddle player/vocalist Jimmy De Martini joining a lineup that also featured drummer Marcus Petruska. Another member arrived in John Driskell Hopkins, a multi-instrumentalist who produced Home Grown; he joined the group as their bassist. Coy Bowles, a guitarist/pianist, became a permanent member of the Zac Brown Band in 2006, and not long afterward, the group signed to Live Nation Artists Records.
The Foundation, the major-label debut by Zac Brown Band, arrived in 2008. Live Nation Artists Records faltered not long after the release of The Foundation, but Atlantic picked up the band and their support helped its first single, the sun-kissed "Chicken Fried," reach number one on Country Airplay, a feat matched by three other singles from the record: "Whatever It Is," "Toes," "Highway 20 Ride," and "Free." Additionally, "Whatever It Is" reached two on Country Airplay.
Shortly after the release of The Foundation, Petruska was replaced by Chris Fryar; multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook became a member not long afterward. This lineup recorded You Get What You Give, a 2010 album that debuted at number one on Billboard's Top 200 and contained duets with two of Brown's idols: Alan Jackson sang on "As She's Walking Away" and Jimmy Buffett on "Knee Deep," both number one country hits. "Colder Weather" and the loose-limbed "Keep Me in Mind" also reached number one, with "No Hurry" peaking at number two.
Adding percussionist Daniel de los Reyes as a full-time member, Zac Brown Band began to expand their horizons in 2012 with Uncaged, playing music that couldn't strictly be classified as country. As the album entered the Billboard charts at number one, the group still scored number one Country Airplay hits in "Goodbye in Her Eyes" and "Sweet Annie," with "Jump Right In" going to two, but the album found ZBB exploring rock-oriented territory. The group underscored their rock debut by recording an EP with Dave Grohl, the former Nirvana drummer who later led the Foo Fighters. Aptly titled The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1, the EP appeared in 2014, reaching 25 on the Billboard Top 200. By the time it was released, Zac Brown Band had added bassist Matt Mangano, leaving John Driskell Hopkins to play a variety of instruments.
Brown continued his musical explorations in 2016 by forming a new dance-pop band called Sir Rosevelt. By the time the Sir Rosevelt album appeared in December 2017, the Zac Brown Band had returned to their laid-back roots on 2017's Welcome Home, an album produced by Dave Cobb. Released on Elektra, its first single, "My Old Man," went to 14 on Country Airplay, with "Roots" peaking at 36.
Moving to BMG, the Zac Brown Band released The Owl in September 2019. Recorded with a variety of splashy big-budget producers, The Owl debuted at two upon its September 20, 2019 release. A week after The Owl appeared, Zac Brown surprised his fans with the release of The Controversy, his debut solo album; it was recorded with many of the same producers as The Owl. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine