Mike Henderson passes 

Mike Henderson, best recognized in bluegrass circles as a co-founder of The SteelDrivers, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on Friday, September 22, 2023. He was 70 years of age. 

Michael James Henderson was born on July 14, 1953, and raised in Independence, Missouri. 

Although Henderson’s career embraced blues, roots rock, and country music, his first love was bluegrass, which he began playing when he was 18. 

While at college, he met Mike Fleming (banjo) and they played though college and ‘on afterwards until about 1981,’ barely making a living in the band that they were in. 

Tired of starving, Henderson ‘got into’ rock’n’roll and blues – a genre with which he was already familiar as his mother was a big fan of B.B. King and John Lee Hooker – and went to Nashville where he became a staff songwriter for EMI. 

His songs have been recorded by Adele, Chris Stapleton, The Dixie Chicks, Kenny Rogers, Daryl Worley, Patty Loveless, Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Gary Allan, Solomon Burke, Marty Stuart, and Randy Travis, among others.

Henderson had one major-label solo album, his debut, Country Music Made Me Do It, on the RCA label in 1994 before going independent. That same year, Henderson formed a label, Dead Reckoning Records, along with Kevin Welch, Kieran Kane, Harry Stinson, and a fellow future SteelDriver, Tammy Rogers.

In 1996, he formed the blues band, Mike Henderson & the Bluebloods, and released three albums in the next few years.  

Mike Henderson – When I Get Drunk 

Later… with Jools Holland (BBC TV), circa 1996. 

During 2001 Henderson toured with Mark Knopfler on his Sailing to Philadelphia tour. 

Henderson was at least as well-regarded as a player as he was as a songwriter. Knopfler recently said, “Mike was an extraordinary talent, as at home with bluegrass and old-time fiddle music as he was with the blues. He was a superb blues harp player too.”

Having originally gotten together in the previous summer, in 2006 Henderson formed the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed bluegrass band, The SteelDrivers, during the following year.

That line-up featured his frequent co-writer, Chris Stapleton (guitar and vocals), and former Dead Reckoner, Rogers (fiddle and vocals); Fleming (now playing bass and adding vocals); and Richard Bailey (banjo).

Their first two albums on Rounder Records resulted in three Grammy nominations, an IBMA award – 2009’s New Artist of the Year – plus an appearance in the Robert Duvall film, Get Low (East Virginia Blues and Whiskey Before Breakfast). 

Of the songs on those two CDs, only four were not from the Henderson/Stapleton catalogue. Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey; If It Hadn’t Been For Love; Blue Side Of The Mountain; Midnight Train To Memphis; If You Can’t Be Good, Be Gone; The Reckless Side Of Me; Where Rainbows Never Die; You Put The Hurt On Me; Midnight On The Mountain; Guitars, Whiskey, Guns And Knives; and Angel Of The Night is just a sample of their stellar contributions. 

Also, they wrote two of the songs – Henderson penned another – on the third album although they had both left the band by then.

Of his 2017 album, From A Room: Volume 1, Stapleton remarked, “I didn’t include any songs I’d written with him on [my debut] Traveller, so it was really important to me … to cut songs from some of the guys who helped me learn how to write songs — and Mike is one of those guys.”  

The SteelDrivers

Joe Val Bluegrass Festival – complete set, February 16, 2008.

The SteelDrivers – Grand Ole Opry live TV debut – May 3, 2008.

Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey 

The SteelDrivers – If It Hadn’t Been For Love 

The SteelDrivers – live 

SteelDrivers – If It Hadn’t Been For Love  

at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, Oak Hill, New York, July 15, 2011

Henderson left the band in December 2011. 

Although not a prolific lead recording artist after leaving the SteelDrivers, his Mike Henderson Band issued If You Think It’s Hot Here on EllerSoul Records in 2015.

However, he recorded – playing mandolin, guitar, slide guitar, and harmonica – with a long list of artists that includes the Dixie Chicks, Lucinda Williams, Sting, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Mark Knopfler, John Hiatt, Bo Diddley, Albert King, Tim McGraw, Lucinda Williams, Hank Williams Jr., Faith Hill, Guy Clark, Bob Seger, Patty Loveless, Blake Shelton, Joy Lynn White, Kelly Willis and Martina McBride.

Also, he co-produced several of John Oates’ blues-based solo efforts.

As he had done since the 1980s, Henderson continued to perform with his blues bands every Monday night at Nashville’s storied Bluebird Cafe.

Mike Henderson at the Bluebird Café; September 19, 2022

Mike Henderson Band at the Bluebird Café; May 22, 2023

With Chris Stapleton, Henderson won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song with Broken Halos (2018); and two Country Music Association Awards, both for Song of the Year, with Broken Halos in 2018, and for Starting Over (in 2021).

R.I.P. Mike Henderson 

A Discography 

Mike Henderson

  • Country Music Made Me Do It (RCA 07863 66324-2, 1993)
  • Edge Of Night (Dead Reckoning DR 0004 2, 1996)

Mike Henderson & The Bluebloods

  • First Blood (Dead Reckoning DR 0006, 1996)
  • Thicker Than Water (Dead Reckoning DEAR 0012, 1998)

The SteelDrivers

  • Live From The Station Inn (Direct From Nashville Tennessee Recorded Live 11/8/2006) (self-release, sold by the band at shows, 2006) 
  • The SteelDrivers (Rounder Records 11661-0598-2, January 15, 2008) 
  • Reckless (Rounder Records 11661-0624-2, September 7, 2010)

Mike Henderson Band

  • If You Think It’s Hot Here (EllerSoul ER1501-019, January 20, 2015)

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.