This article originally appeared in the Kentucky Kernel.
Most bands would crumble when a front man the caliber of Chris Stapleton departs for a solo venture. However, bluegrass veterans The Steeldrivers have thrived in Stapleton and founding guitarist Mike Henderson’s absence.
Following Stapleton and Henderson’s departures in 2010 and 2011, the band welcomed Gary Nichols and Brent Truitt to fill the voids. According to fiddler Tammy Rogers, the band has always encouraged one another to play to their individual strengths and styles rather than trying to emulate someone else.
“The individuality of each member is still present,” Rogers said. “Everyone is allowed to be themselves and bring their identity and unique individuality into the band to help it shine.”
The individuality of each of the five members of The Steeldrivers, now comprised of Richard Bailey on banjo, Mike Fleming on bass, Truitt on mandolin, Rogers on fiddle and Nichols on guitar, shined through on their most recent album, 2015’s ‘The Muscle Shoals Recordings’, which walked away with the award for best bluegrass album at the 2016 Grammys. Meanwhile, Stapleton walked away from the same Grammy awards with top honors for best country album and best solo country performance for his record ‘Traveller’.
After the success of ‘The Muscle Shoals Recordings’, The Steeldrivers have spent much of the last two years focused on touring, until now. On Jan. 19 the group gathered in their hometown of Nashville for their first pre-production meeting for their fifth studio album, which Rogers expects to hit shelves in early 2018. For the group’s first studio sessions, which will take place this weekend, they’ll be joined by engineer David Ferguson, who’s worked with U2, Johnny Cash and John Prine in the past. Most recently, Ferguson worked with Jackson, Kentucky’s Sturgill Simpson on his Grammy-nominated album ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth’.
Unlike other bands and artists who crank out a new batch of music yearly, The Steeldrivers pride themselves on taking their time to produce entirely original music. Per Rogers, “The Muscle Shoals Recordings” was the first record by the group where all outside elements of the band – management and publicity, were in sync, leading to the record being the band’s most successful to date.
While The Steeldrivers come equipped with their own signature blend of blues-infused bluegrass, each of their records also has a sound uniquely its own.
“I like to think of each record as its own thing, and for the first few we worked with the same recorder/engineer,” Rogers said. “Going to Muscle Shoals, we did that for a reason, to give that record its own identity. I was worried that if we went back to Muscle Shoals it’d be viewed as a ‘Muscle Shoal Recordings part 2’.”
The Steeldrivers will play at Manchester Music Hall on Feb. 3 with local support from The Wooks and Eric Bolander. Tickets are $20-50 with limited quantities remaining.
IF YOU GO
What: The Steeldrivers, The Wooks and Eric Bolander
When: Friday, Feb. 3 at 7 p.m.
Where: Manchester Music Hall