Brown was given his mother's guitar at age 8, and one of his stepfather's patients was enlisted to teach him classical guitar. He completed two years of lessons, but soon after developed a love for bluegrass music while playing with his father and brother on weekend visits. In his mid-teens, Brown spent almost a year being tutored by a vocal coach from his church in Cumming.
While still in high school, with James Taylor as his inspiration, Brown began playing solo gigs in local venues, performing country and pop cover songs. Brown attended the University of West Georgia, where he became a member of the Zeta Kappa chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity. He was also a camp counselor at
Camp Mikell in Toccoa, Georgia, and Camp Glisson, a United Methodist summer camp and retreat center located in Dahlonega, Georgia. By the age of 19, he began touring the Southeast of the U.S. with a drummer and his dog, Pete, laying the foundation of what became the Zac Brown Band nine years later.
In 2002, Brown was traveling with a heavy tour schedule of approximately 200 dates a year. The initial Zac Brown Band lineup consisted of Brown, on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, backed by drummer Marcus Petruska and a bass guitarist. In 2003, Brown started his own label, called Home Grown—it was later renamed "Southern Ground".
In 2004, Brown opened a music club and restaurant with his father in the Lake Oconee area of Georgia, called "Zac's Place" where the fare was southern-style cooking. A developer bought the restaurant and, in turn, the Zac Brown Band bought a tour bus and began touring full-time, playing rock and country clubs, as well as folk and jam band festivals. The release of the Zac Brown Band's first independent album, Home Grown, occurred during the same year.
Also in 2004, Brown added violinist/fiddler and tenor vocalist Jimmy De Martini to the lineup. According to an interview with De Martini, he explained that Wyatt Durrette, Brown's frequent songwriting collaborator, was working as a bartender at Sidelines Sports Bar in Kennesaw, Georgia, at the time, where the Zac Brown Band frequently performed. Durette suggested De Martini to Brown, who was wanting a "lead instrument" in his band, as well as a harmony singer. After doing several performances with the band at the club, Brown asked De Martini to become a permanent member, to which De Martini gladly obliged.
Brown met John Driskell Hopkins in 1998 when Hopkins was hosting an open mic night at CJ's Landing in Buckhead, Georgia. Hopkins later recorded Home Grown in his music studio, Brighter Shade Studios. The two remained friends, and in 2005, Hopkins stepped in as bass guitarist while helping the group finish what became their number-one single "Toes". "Toes" was the second single from the band's major-label debut, The Foundation, which was partially recorded in Hopkins' studio. You Get What You Give was also partially recorded in Brighter Shade Studios.
Coy Bowles transferred to Atlanta's Georgia State University to study music. He subsequently became involved in Atlanta's various music scenes, and eventually formed Coy Bowles and the Fellowship in 2004. Two years later, Bowles decided to reconnect with Brown. Through mutual friends, he learned that the Zac Brown Band was scheduled to perform in Atlanta one evening. Bowles and Brown spent the afternoon prior to the performance reacquainting with each other, which ended with Brown inviting Bowles to sit in with his band at that night's performance. To return the favor, Bowles invited the band to attend his own gig with the Fellowship a couple of months later, which in turn resulted in Brown and his band sitting in at that gig.
This turn of events continued for eight months until Bowles concluded that it was too overwhelming to balance his time with Brown's band and his own band, in addition to other activities; he therefore made a decision to put the Fellowship on an indefinite hiatus, and became a permanent member of the Zac Brown Band.
In 2008, the Zac Brown Band signed to Live Nation Artists Records, in association with Brown's own Home Grown label, after Chris Fryar became an addition to the band. An Alabama native, Fryar attended the University of North Texas and the Mississippi University for Women, and made a name for himself in the Birmingham music scene. According to Fryar, a mutual friend recommended him to Brown, who was in need of a new drummer for the band. Fryar, who in turn had just finished a stint with a previous band, subsequently auditioned and shortly afterward became the Zac Brown Band's newest member.
In 2014, with the addition of bass guitarist Matt Mangano to the line-up, Hopkins expanded from his own role as bass guitarist to add other instruments in his arsenal such as standard six-string guitar, seven-string guitar, baritone guitar, ukulele, double bass, and banjo.
The Zac Brown Band's debut single, "Chicken Fried", was originally recorded in 2003 and included on the Home Grown album, but later re-recorded and released to country radio in 2008. This song was also recorded by The Lost Trailers, whose 2006 recording was released as a single but withdrawn after Brown decided that he wanted to release it himself. Brown also co-wrote "Simple Life", a song recorded by The Lost Trailers on their 2006 self-titled album.
In the third episode of HBO's music documentary series Sonic Highways, Brown was a featured interviewee and explained why Lost Trailer's version of "Chicken Fried" was pulled from the radio. Brown stated that after 6 years of touring that he was broke and sleeping in his tour van. In 2005 the Lost Trailers contacted Brown and expressed interest in recording "Chicken Fried". Brown stated he agreed under the condition that the song would only be an album cut and not a single as he still had hopes of releasing the song as a radio single himself.
Both parties agreed and the Lost Trailers recorded the song. Some months later the Lost Trailers landed a deal with Sony Nashville, and when they submitted the tracks for their album, they included "Chicken Fried". Joe Galante, then the Chairman of Sony Music Nashville, heard the tracks and chose "Chicken Fried" as the single that the label wanted to promote.
Brown described hearing his song on the radio: "The first time I hear 'Chicken Fried' on the radio and it wasn't us singing it. It was a nightmare." Brown then called his lawyer to have the song pulled from the radio immediately. Brown's lawyer warned him that because of Galante's power in the Nashville music scene that pulling the song could essentially have him blackballed in Nashville. Brown was insistent that his agreement with the Lost Trailers was violated, so his lawyer issued a cease and desist letter and the single was pulled from the radio.
A few months later The Zac Brown Band was booked to perform at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville and producer Keith Stegall came to watch their performance. Stegall and Brown had drinks later that night and Brown recalled Stegall stating, "I just had to meet the kid that told Joe Galante to fuck off!" Brown credits this incident and his meeting and collaboration with Stegall as the beginning of his success in the music business.
In October 2008, Atlantic Records acquired distribution of "Chicken Fried" after Live Nation Artists closed. The band's album The Foundation was released under Atlantic Records' newly re-established country division in association with the Home Grown/Bigger Picture label on November 18 of that year. "Chicken Fried" reached No. 1 on the country charts that same month, making them the first country band to reach No. 1 with a debut single since Heartland did so in 2006 with "I Loved Her First".
In July 2012, Zac Brown Band debuted their new CD, Uncaged, which was well received. Billboard considered the album to be the best country album of 2012 as of its release.
On January 7, 2013, Zac Brown Band performed the National Anthem at the 2013 BCS National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. Just two weeks later on January 20, 2013, the band performed the National Anthem during the NFC Championship Game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers at the CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
The Zac Brown Band announced on January 12, 2015, that it had finalized a four-way strategic partnership involving the Southern Ground Artists record label, Big Machine Label Group, Republic Records, and John Varvatos Records for the release of its fourth studio album. The terms of the deal state that the Zac Brown Band will work with Big Machine Label Group for marketing and distribution, while Southern Ground Artists will work on radio promotion, Republic will provide support in the area of non-country radio formats and international promotion, and Varvatos will oversee branding and styling. Brown stated in a press release:
Southern Ground Artists together with John Varvatos Records, Big Machine Label Group, and Republic Records is the dream team for Zac Brown Band’s evolution ... We’re excited to reach new music fans worldwide.
Inclusion of Clay Cook
In January 2009, two months after "Chicken Fried" went to No. 1, Atlanta native Clay Cook joined the Zac Brown Band as its multi-instrumentalist and high tenor vocalist. Cook had previously collaborated with John Mayer and Shawn Mullins, and was also a member of the Marshall Tucker Band for two years prior to joining the Zac Brown Band. According to Cook, he and Brown actually both attended and graduated from high school together, but were never acquainted with each other during that time period.
Cook explains how he first met Brown:
We ran into each other (in) 2003 in a club scene in Atlanta, where, I think, my band opened up for his band...ever since then, we've been friendly...and I think he just thought I was a singer-songwriter for a long time; and then we were on a (music) cruise ship together...and I was playing with the Marshall Tucker Band at the time, and (Brown)'s band (also participated in the cruise)...and he actually got to see me play the guitar...and then he realized, 'I need this guy in my band,' I guess.
Brown himself admitted his strong desire to add Cook to the lineup, for he believed Cook's musicianship would enhance the Zac Brown Band's overall musical style:
I'd been tryin’ to get him in the band for three years, and you know, it's been a journey, but I always knew [he could make us better]. I’m a harmony fanatic. I love big harmonies and things, and we didn't have a high tenor, and Jimmy [De Martini], my fiddle player, sings a lot of the high stuff now, but havin' somebody that can actually sing on top of that, we've added a four-part harmony now that’s searing, and the guy's a monster player, too."
With the new Zac Brown Band lineup completed, the band released its second single, "Whatever It Is", which went to No. 2. In October 2009, a third single, "Toes", became the band's second Number One. The album's fourth single, and third No. 1, was "Highway 20 Ride". "Free" was the album's fifth single and on the week of August 21, 2010, it also peaked at Number One.
Uncaged and The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1
On April 25, 2012, it was announced via the Zac Brown Band's website that percussionist Daniel de los Reyes had joined the band on a permanent basis. De los Reyes had previously performed with the band as a touring musician and participated in the recording of their album Uncaged. De los Reyes has also performed with artists and groups such as Earth, Wind and Fire, Jennifer Lopez and Sting. "Goodbye in Her Eyes" reached Number One on the Country Airplay chart in 2013. The album's third single, "Jump Right In", was released to country radio on February 25, 2013. It peaked at number 2 on the Country Airplay chart in August 2013. The album's fourth single, "Sweet Annie", was released to country radio in August 2013, and rose to number 1 in January, 2014. In December 2013, the band released a digital four-song EP titled The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1, produced by Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters. It was later given a physical release featuring a 45-minute DVD on the album's creation. "All Alright" was released as a single from the EP, charting at number 17 on Country Airplay.
In April 2014, the band announced its summer tour schedule, which included Kacey Musgraves as an opening act, and the addition of Matt Mangano as an eighth member. Mangano previously performed live with Zac Brown Band when they performed "Blackbird" on the "Pass The Jar" live album. Mangano assumed the role of bass guitarist, while original bassist John Driskell Hopkins began adding other instruments including banjo and ukulele.
Jekyll + Hyde is the first album that ZBB recorded when they weren’t on the road.
On January 30, 2017, the band previewed cover art for a new album titled Welcome Home produced by Dave Cobb, was released on May 12, 2017. The first single from the album, "My Old Man", was released on February 3, 2017. Their latest song "Roots" was released on May 3, 2017. The band performed the song on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on March 29, 2017.
In September 2018, It was announced that Zac Brown Band return to their second appearance of CMT Crossroads along with Shawn Mendes that was televised on October 24, 2018.