The Steeldrivers, a Nashville-based bluegrass band, is as Music City as it gets. Originally co-founded by Chris Stapleton (yes, that Chris Stapleton) and Mike Henderson, the current lineup is comprised of Richard Bailey (banjo), Tammy Rogers (fiddle), Mike Fleming (bass) and Brent Truitt (mandolin). The band came together after Stapleton and Henderson, now both solo artists, wrote several bluegrass songs that Bailey, Fleming, and Rogers helped bring to life. The five piece, under the name The Steeldrivers, played a handful of shows in 2005 and were quickly signed to Rounder Records. After Stapleton and Henderson stepped back, Truitt joined the group.
With so much instrumental and lyrical talent, it didn’t take long for the band to find success in Nashville and beyond. They received their first Grammy nomination in 2009 for their track “Blue Side of the Mountain” (Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal) and two more in 2011 for their album Reckless (Best Bluegrass Album) and their song “Where Rainbows Never Die” (Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal). In 2015, The Muscle Shoals Recordings landed them their first win (Best Bluegrass Album), which many fans and peers felt was long overdue. This led to a fresh stream of listeners and attention, which the band responded to with their fifth studio album, arguably their best work yet, Bad For You. It was met with wide critical acclaim but was released in February of 2020, mere weeks before the pandemic took hold and shut down the music industry.
An 11-track album, Bad For You oscillates between moments of slow, finger-picking blues and edgy bluegrass, begs to be heard live, so Covid-19’s then-indefinite cessation of live music hit the band and their devoted following of “Steelheads” hard. But now they are back on a full US tour, with stops at Nashville’s iconic Grand Ole Opry, as well as its Ryman Auditorium, and of course, Roots N Blues Festival.
For those unfamiliar with The Steeldrivers’ sound, you can expect traditional bluegrass with a rock’n’roll flair. Lyrically, the band covers a range of topics. Classic country themes and imagery are plentiful, with stories of heartbreak and loneliness, whiskey and crime, making regular appearances throughout Bad For You, as well as their earlier work. Their discography also features a number of homages to big moments in American history, such as the Civil War (“River Runs Red”) and 9/11 (“Falling Man”).
Despite sometimes straddling heavier themes, The Steeldrivers’ music makes for a good time, with finger-picked banjo notes, full-bodied fiddling, and catchy verses coming together to create a sound that’s sure to make a bluegrass fan out of anybody. In fact, Kelvin Damrell, Bad For You’s lead singer (no longer in The Steeldrivers lineup), says in the band’s official biography, “The only bluegrass I’d heard was couch pickin’ at my grandparents’ house, and I wasn’t into it, to be completely honest. I was a rocker. Cinderella was my favorite band before I met these guys. Everybody in the band were virtuosos. And I’d never seen that side of bluegrass. I thought it was just that old foot stomping traditional stuff, so I was surprised to hear this. And I knew I had a lot of work to do to keep up.”
Fiddler Tammy Rogers tells us, “We feel like our music is there to entertain and hopefully take people’s minds off, maybe, what’s going on in the world or what struggles they’re having personally.” Synthesizing the warmth, friendliness, and grit of the city from which the band hails into its sound—we say they successfully do just that. To hear a long-awaited live performance of tracks from Bad For You, and their previous albums, come see The Steeldrivers play Roots N Blues Festival on Sunday, October 9th in Columbia, Missouri. Get your passes here: https://rootsnbluesfestival.frontgatetickets.com/