Introducing Gary Nichols – the newest Steeldriver

The Steeldrivers have added Gary Nichols as their new guitarist and vocalist, filling the spot vacated by founding member Chris Stapleton. The following statement was issued by the band on Friday afternoon.

The SteelDrivers are very happy to announce that multi-talented Muscle Shoals session pro, songwriter and guitar picker Gary Nichols is joining the band. He brings a seasoned soulful voice to the mix, and rehearsals have been going very smoothly.

The first night we met Gary he had driven up to Nashville to audition and had been asked to learn four of our songs. He sat down, had a shot of brown, and launched into Blue Side of the Mountain. Around the room, eyebrows raised and sly glances were exchanged. By the time the harmonies blended for the first chorus, we all knew he had the gig. He then ripped off the other three songs with ease, sang a couple more of ours that had caught his ear and proceeded to teach us a couple of his. After he left, the vote was unanimous.

Folks, we are thrilled to have Gary with us and it feels like we are picking up right where we left off. Gary is a guy who brings it from down deep and you’ll feel it just like we did when you hear him.

So all is well- the torch has been passed, the music lives on, and we’ll see you out there!

Here’s a video peek at what you can expect with Nichols in the mix.

Stapleton’s final effort with the group will be their next Rounder album, which has already been completed. Yesterday, mandolinist Mike Henderson circulated a lengthy tribute to Chris, the first founding Steeldriver to leave the group.

Several years ago, as the itch to be a part of bluegrass other than the Sunday night jam at the Station Inn began to gnaw at me, I started imagining different combinations of players and singers. All of them had one thing in common: Chris Stapleton, a singing, songwriting rocker from Paintsville, Kentucky.

Chris and I had been writing songs, working in the studio, and developing a mutual admiration society for about five years. The idea for the band was simple: learn enough material to get through a show, get a regular weekly gig (so we wouldn’t need to rehearse), and leave it at that. Chris was the first call and he readily agreed. As Tammy, Mike and Richard (all first choices) fell into line, we gathered one night to see if it was going to work. As we discussed and played standards and tunes most of us knew, Chris kept amazing us all (me most of all) with songs he and I had written for the Nashville publishing mill. He has an uncanny knack for getting inside a song and letting it come out in ways where even the banjo sounds like it belongs. As our families and friends heard the rehearsal discs, the covers and standards soon faded out of sight. We had enough original material to get through a gig and the vocal blend, though not traditional, seemed to have a life of its own. Chris’ soulful, southern rasp, Tammy’s high pure tenor, and Mike Fleming’s understated baritone fit together like gears of a well oiled machine. Richard and I, thrilled at limited vocal duties, exchanged a knowing look: they sing great- so we concentrated on staying out of the way. It should have been mission accomplished for an aspiring hobby band. After a few “secret” warm up gigs at the Franklin VFW, we were ready for the Nashville public, and Richard asked famed bluegrass fiddler Blaine Sprouse to check out our first real show. Blaine, without saying a word, went home and called Ken Irwin of Rounder records and pretty soon we had a record deal, booking agent, Opry spots, radio shows, festival dates and more time on the road than we had ever envisioned. The road cut into everyone’s professional and personal lives but it was fun and exciting to be out in front of newaudiences. Our first CD got an unexpected Grammy nomination and the fans were great, it kept us going.

In our off-time, everyone tended to their families and other pursuits: Tammy as a session player and professor of music at Belmont University; Richard as session pro and banjo master at large doing dates with Roland White, Jim Lauderdale and others; Mike Fleming, tennis coach and manager of an international music wholesale firm; and me writing songs, playing sessions and fixing guitars at Glaser Instruments. Chris’ songs were showing up in the top 20, top 10 and twice at number one. He married his longtime sweetheart, Morgane, bought a house, started a family, and kept jamming with the Jompson Brothers, a rock project that was taking shape around the same time as the SteelDrivers.

As I write these words, our second CD for Rounder is ready to turn in; we’ve been featured in a movie that’s about ready to be released called Get Low with Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray; we were recently honored to be the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Emerging Artist of the Year” and we got to play at Bonnaroo!

For those of you who haven’t already heard, the SteelDrivers are saying a “lonesome goodbye” to Chris Stapleton. His contributions to the band are too numerous to list but we’ll all miss his fun loving attitude, cheerful work ethic, and all-out musical performances. If a guy was ever born to rock, it’s Chris. I urge all fans of the SteelDrivers to keep your ears open for Chris’ new projects as we wish our friend and brother all the best.

Thank you Chris.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.