Of all the great jam sessions during IBMA’s World of Bluegrass this week, the hottest of all took place Friday night when Clay Hess gathered with some friends to celebrate the release of his solo project, Rain.
And what friends they were. Among those joining the guitarist were Ron Block on banjo, Adam Steffey on mandolin, Randy Kohrs on resonator guitar, Christian Ward on fiddle and Aaron Ramsey on bass. Clay’s boss, Sierra Hull, hopped on stage for a couple of songs, along with several other guests. And his son, Brennan, also sang and picked with him on one tune.
“I had to get all these guys to play with me so people would show up,” Clay said at the start of the set. The strategy worked. All the seats in music manager Jason Grubb’s showcase room were filled, so some folks sat on the floor and still more stood along the walls. But, truth be told, many of them probably would have turned out even if he wasn’t accompanied by what Steffey called Clay’s “minions.”
Clay said Rain was five years in the making. The collection – five originals, a couple of Flatt and Scruggs tunes and a handful of other good songs — was worth waiting for, in part because the all-star pickers joined him in the studio. But mostly it’s because of Clay’s understated but effective vocals, mastery of his instrument and his skill as a songwriter.
Rain should go a long way toward lifting Clay Hess from the shadows and will put his name on the lips of many fans in the coming months. The big-name players already know that Clay is one of the best pickers in bluegrass. And he’s a nice guy to boot. That’s why some of the best in the business were willing to turn out late at night, late in a long, tiring week, to support him.
Now it’s time for everybody else to find out.