Specializing in a unique mix of what might be called bluegrass soul, the SteelDrivers became one of the biggest names in progressive bluegrass after making their debut in 2005. While there's a strong traditional streak in the SteelDrivers' sound, they bring a passion to their delivery that adds a distinctive flavor, and they're not afraid of adding a forceful grit to the music that adds undertones of blues, soul, and rock. 2010's Reckless, their second album, was a particularly accomplished release that featured future country star Chris Stapleton on lead vocals and guitar, while 2015's Grammy-winning The Muscle Shoals Recordings showcased their second lead singer, Gary Nichols.
The SteelDrivers began as a group of veteran Nashville session players looking to form a group of their own. The first lineup included Richard Bailey on banjo, Mike Fleming on bass, Mike Henderson on mandolin, Tammy Rogers on fiddle, and Chris Stapleton on guitar and lead vocals. Stapleton's bluesy, hoarse, Tom Waits-like singing really set the SteelDrivers apart in the often-generic contemporary bluegrass genre, where a high lonesome tenor lead vocal is typically heard. Stapleton's passionate croaking gave the SteelDrivers an authentic, aged, and rootsy feel. The band quickly became a favorite on the bluegrass festival circuit and released a debut album, simply called The SteelDrivers and consisting of all-original compositions, on Rounder Records early in 2008. A second Rounder release, Reckless, appeared in 2010.
Before recording their next album, the SteelDrivers went through some major lineup shifts, with Stapleton and Henderson both leaving, the former going on to become a Grammy-winning solo country star. They were replaced by Gary Nichols and Brent Truitt, respectively, and their next album, 2013's Hammer Down, couldn't help but sound different. Nichols proved to be a fine replacement, though, and the band kept rolling along. The SteelDrivers dug deeper into their soulful side on 2015's The Muscle Shoals Recordings, recorded in the Alabama town where some of the biggest and best R&B hits of the '60s and '70s were cut. The album also featured singer and songwriter Jason Isbell on two songs and went on to win a Grammy award for Best Bluegrass Recording.
In 2017, before the band could complete their next album, they were once again in search of a lead vocalist when Gary Nichols decided to leave the group. Opting for a different sound, the band approached Kelvin Damrell, a singer who primarily worked in rock & roll, to take over the vocal spot. (Tammy Rogers spotted him when her daughter played her an on-line video of Damrell covering a Chris Stapleton tune.) Damrell proved to be a good fit, and in February 2020, the SteelDrivers brought out their first full-length release with him at the vocal mike, Bad for You.
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