As The SteelDrivers prepare for their highly anticipated performance at Newberry Opera House on Saturday, October 14, let’s take a closer look at their remarkable career and their continued impact on the music scene. The SteelDrivers were formed in Nashville, Tennessee by a group of seasoned musicians who shared a deep love for traditional Bluegrass music. The original lineup included Chris Stapleton (vocals and guitar), Mike Henderson (mandolin), Tammy Rogers (fiddle), Richard Bailey (banjo), and Mike Fleming (bass). Their self-titled debut album, released in 2008, quickly gained critical acclaim and introduced the band’s unique sound to a wider audience.
“Mike Henderson, our original mandolin player, is really the guy responsible for getting the band together,” says Tammy Rogers. “He is the one who knew everyone and made the calls to get everybody together at his house for an informal night of playing some Bluegrass tunes! I had no idea at the time that he and Chris Stapleton, our original lead singer, and guitarist had been writing together for four to five years at that point and had already amassed an incredible catalog of great songs.”
According to Rogers, all the individual elements from each band member along with the songs that Henderson and Stapelton had been writing created the sound and direction of The SteelDrivers. Tammy states, “We all just played the way we played and sang the way we sang! It’s a unique sound because no one was trying to copy any other players or singers.”
Drawing from their collective experiences and influences, the band members fuse intricate melodies and poignant lyrics into a harmonious whole. Their approach often begins with a spark of inspiration, whether it’s a personal story, a shared emotion, or a vivid image.
“I usually just try to sit down and write the best song I can write with my co-writer, and then I see if it’s something the band would be interested in performing,” Tammy Rogers explains. “I really value their opinion and that way they have a vested interest in what we do as a group. In the case of “I Choose You,” I was definitely thinking of my husband when I wrote that song but also of other long-term couples and how they stay together.”
Guided by their mutual respect for tradition and innovation, they combine their instrumental skills with storytelling, allowing their songs to unfold naturally. Each member contributes a unique perspective, lending depth and richness to the narrative. Through jam sessions and heartfelt discussions, The SteelDrivers’ songwriting process evolves, resulting in compositions that resonate with audiences by capturing both the essence of Bluegrass roots and the contemporary spirit of musical exploration.
The SteelDrivers’ self-titled debut album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Bluegrass Album category in 2009. Although they didn’t win, the nomination solidified their position as one of the most exciting acts in Bluegrass music.
“Winning a Grammy made a huge difference in our career!” Tammy expresses passionately. “It was a huge accomplishment but also carried so much recognition and validation within the music business. I know it helped get us booked in places that we wouldn’t have been able to play before winning.”
However, shortly after the release of their second album, “Reckless,” Chris Stapleton departed from the band to pursue a solo career. This departure marked a significant change for the SteelDrivers, but they persevered and continued to create exceptional music.
“It’s hard to keep a band together!” Tammy asserts. “Most bands do have personnel changes through the years, so we are no different from lots of groups. I think it can sometimes bring some new energy to a band and fresh ideas.”
Following Chris Stapleton’s departure, The SteelDrivers underwent a period of reinvention and the band recruited Gary Nichols as their new lead vocalist. Nichols brought a fresh voice and a renewed energy to the band, allowing them to explore new sonic territories while staying true to their Bluegrass roots. Their third album, “Hammer Down,” released in 2013, showcased the band’s ability to evolve and experiment without losing their signature sound.
The band’s journey in the music industry has been one of resilience, reinvention, and unwavering passion for their craft. From their humble beginnings to their Grammy®-nominated debut and lineup changes, the band has consistently pushed the boundaries of Bluegrass music and captivated audiences with their soulful tunes. As they prepare to perform at Newberry Opera House, fans can anticipate an unforgettable evening filled with the SteelDrivers’ unique blend of traditional Bluegrass and contemporary artistry.
The SteelDrivers are thrilled to be performing at the Opera House. They look forward to inspiring their audience. When asked what she hopes listeners take away from the band’s music, Tammy Rogers says, “I hope listeners really get the lyrics, but also the passion that we all try to bring to our instruments…. lots of great solos!”