Eli Young Band's brand of gritty country rock first took hold in Texas, where Mike Eli and James Young first met up as freshmen at the University of North Texas. Constant touring and a decent amount of radio airplay helped build a fan base for the group, but it was a chance encounter with producer Frank Liddell while opening for rising star Miranda Lambert in 2003 that gave the group their big break. Liddell's label, Carnival Recording, released Eli Young's debut, Level, in 2005. Airplay of "That's the Way" and "When It Rains" helped pack shows in the Southeast, and the group went on tour opening for the likes of Jack Ingram, Pat Green and Cross Canadian Ragweed. Live at the Jolly Fox was recorded in 2006, and shortly after, Eli Young Band signed on with Republic Records. A new version of "When It Rains" was released, and the video exposed the band to an even wider audience. Their Republic/Universal debut, Jet Black and Jealous, was released in 2008 and reached the Top 5 in the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. In 2009, the band further solidified their standing with a debut at the Grand Ole Opry.