The real Sadler Vaden Mentors Jason Isbell, Kevn Kinney help Summerville native sing about painful youth on new album

Vaden will perform the new music off his self-titled solo record at the Pour House this week with help from his friends in the Charleston music scene.

Summerville native Sadler Vaden racked up quite a few milestones in the past year.

He got married, and lucky for us, the guitarist celebrated his bachelor party at the Pour House with an all-star cast of musicians, including Jason Isbell, Kevn Kinney and Shovels & Rope. It was easily one of my favorite concerts of 2015.

He recorded for the first time as a member of the 400 Unit on Isbell’s 2015 record “Something More Than Free,” which won a Grammy Award for the Best Americana Album and spawned the Grammy Award-winning single “24 Frames.”

Plus, he finished recording what he says is his best solo record yet. Oh yeah, and he just turned 30.

Vaden said he hadn’t really reflected on just how much he’s accomplished in such a short amount of time.

“I guess, yeah, it does feel good,” he said. “I’m satisfied, but I’m not, either. I want to keep going. I want to do more. And that’s kind of why I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten, because I’m like that.”

Vaden was born in Myrtle Beach, where he learned to play guitar from his father. He spent his teens in Summerville and started leading bands in high school. He’s perhaps best known in town as the leader of Leslie, a rock band he formed at 18 years old. He dropped out his junior year to focus on touring and making music full-time.

At 25, he moved to Nashville and left Leslie behind, but Vaden credits the band for the success he’s had since.

He joined Atlanta rock band Drivin’ N Cryin’ for a stint after Leslie opened for the group. Leslie also had opened for Isbell’s solo shows when he was still in the Drive By Truckers.

Once Isbell went solo full-time and was in the market for a new guitarist in 2014, he offered the job to Vaden.

“I owe it to that band (Leslie) for everything, all the opportunities I’ve had,” he said.

Since then, Vaden has been all over the world playing guitar in the 400 Unit alongside Isbell, who’s now one of the most celebrated singer-songwriters in Americana and roots music. On tour, Vaden has shared the stage with folk legend John Prine as well as longtime Charleston friends Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, also known as Shovels & Rope.

Along the way, Vaden wrote some of his own songs and found time to record a 10-track, self-titled album in Nashville with Grammy Award-winning producer and sound engineer Paul Ebersold, who co-produced with Vaden. He also called in some help from guitarist Audley Freed, who’s best known for playing with the Black Crowes.

“I don’t mind doing all the guitar parts, but ... it’s just kind of boring and it’s nice to get somebody in there that’s going to approach things differently than you are, and find what’s right for the song,” Vaden said.

While he put out one other solo album called “Radio Road” in 2012, Vaden feels like the latest record is a better introduction of who he is as a musician, and more significantly, a songwriter.

“The songs are really personal and they definitely tell a story of what I’ve been through and who I am,” he said.

The track “End of the Road,” for instance, was repurposed from an old Leslie record that was released right before the band broke up.

“It’s a song about my parents passing away and kind of how you deal and cope with that,” he said. “I didn’t feel that the song had reached enough people, so I wanted to re-record it.”

He said working on the whole album was therapeutic, a vehicle to discuss the struggles he’s faced in his youth.

Another song, “Land of No Refuge,” touches on his mom battling cancer, his dad struggling with alcoholism, and what it was like to live on food stamps.

“People who don’t know who I am can get a sense of who I am through the music. And also, so I can move on from some of that stuff that’s happened,” Vaden explained. “Not to say I won’t draw any inspiration from it ever again but, you know, I was pretty much encouraged to tell my story and ... I want people to come see me and just know who I am.”

Plus, he had some pretty incredible songwriters mentor him over the past few years to help him articulate those experiences.

“I definitely learned a lot about songwriting from Kevn Kinney and Jason. In my mind, as far as really anything, those two guys are just some of the best that’s ever been and they’re completely different writers stylistically,” he said. “Whether or not they meant to mentor me, they really did, and I really look up to them.”

Vaden’s new album is not technically released yet, but he’s celebrating the completion with a show Saturday night at the Pour House with the Shrimp Records Family Band, the name given to his group of musical friends in Charleston. It includes Shovels & Rope, Joel Hamilton, Owen Beverly, Bill Carson, Jonathan Gray, Jack Burg and Andy Dixon.

The show starts at 9 p.m. with an opening set by INDIANOLA, followed by Vaden’s solo set and then a third set by the Shrimp Records Family Band. His new CD will be available for purchase at the show.

Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. For more information, visit

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.