When he lived in Charleston, Sadler Vaden was part of the barroom-rock trio Leslie, a band that enjoyed about a half dozen years of regional success. That was before Drivin' N' Cryin' came knocking in 2011, prompting him to relocate to Nashville. Then in 2013, former Drive-By Truckers member Jason Isbell asked Vaden to join forces with his crew. "Back then, it felt like I needed to take the gig, kind of not knowing what was around the corner with it all," Vaden says.
Turns out, all of Vaden's band-switching was meant to be. "The experience has been wonderful," he says. "Everybody's lives have been changed within two years, and it's been pretty cool to be able to step back and watch it in real time. I don't know if Jason has — because he's so busy, and he's the man, he's the artist — but I feel like I've been able to, and the other band members have been able to kind of step back and really take it all in."
Isbell has now become part of the Americana vernacular, a rise Vaden remembers with awe. "It's been a pretty amazing little journey," he says. "You go from touring in a van, dogging it out just like any other band — which is all I've ever known — to slowly selling out the Ryman. And then you're doing Austin City Limits, and then you're playing Letterman and Conan and the Lincoln Center, and you're opening for Willie Nelson. You've got a bus, you got a crew, and you're goin' to Australia, you're goin' to Sweden."
Though Isbell is his priority, Vaden's not totally out of the picture when it comes to Drivin' N' Cryin'. Those bridges were never burned. "I'm happy to fill in when I can," he says. "I mean, those guys were a heavy influence on me and then playing and becoming super-close friends with them — it feels good to have the door open. And those guys wanted me to do what was best career-wise. I only received support from them on that end."
But being the guitarist for other bands doesn't mean Vaden has stopped making his own music. In 2012, he released the seven-song collection Radio Road, and he's currently busy recording a new record at the Bakery Studio in Nashville. Vaden's unsure of the release date but hopes for something to surface late summer or in September. He's just glad he's found the time to keep creating. "It's hard, you know, but I do manage to write some on the road, but a lot of it happens when I get home and have those decompression days where I don't really wanna go do anything," he says. "I just wanna sit at the house, and then that's usually when I'm not really thinking about it or pushing it or anything. I just start picking up a guitar. But if I know I have a song half-done, lyrically, the road is a good place for that because you have a good amount of time during the day, and you just kind of find an empty dressing room somewhere and try to finish the assignment you've given yourself."
One of the songs you may find on the record is "End of the Road," an old Leslie song off 2011's Lord, Have Mercy. "I'm redoing that one, because it's a song that I wrote for my parents," he says. "And since we disbanded, I don't feel like it ever got the life that it deserved."
At the Pour House show this week, Vaden will play a mini solo set of old and new material. But he'll also reunite with Shrimp Records friends for a rather joyous occasion. You see, Vaden will get married in Charleston just two days later. "It's like a public bachelor party for me," he says. "It's not my official bachelor party, but that was kind of the spark for the show. We thought, 'Well, why don't we all just play a show? That's what we all do best, and we never get to do that with me [in Nashville] and everything.'"
And much like one's own bachelor party, Vaden has nothing to do with the organization of the show. "I'm letting them plan it," he says. "But I think me and all those folks who used to do the Holy City Heartbreakers, where we just did Tom Petty stuff, will do a mini set of that, and then there'll be a big family band set. Maybe Cary and Mike [Shovels & Rope] will play a song or two, and we'll probably do some Dylan and Beatles, lots of fun stuff like that. And Josh Kaler and Michael Flynn from Slow Runner will be there too, so maybe they'll break out a new song."
The Shrimp Records Family Band includes members of Shovels & Rope, Punks&Snakes, Mechanical River, and Slow Runner.