Steeldrivers song hits American Idol

It’s not often that we find bluegrass content on Fox’s American Idol program. But last night’s (3/26/14) episode found contestant C.J. Harris singing an understated, acoustic version of If It Hadn’t Been Love, written by Chris Stapleton and Mike Henderson of The Steeldrivers, who had originally recorded the song on their debut album in 2009.

Understated, I should say, by American Idol standards where arrangements and vocal performances tend towards the histrionic and overblown.

The song had actually made an appearance earlier on the show, during a segment where audition tapes from non-selected contestants are aired. Ben Briley from around Knoxville had recorded himself singing this number and submitted it to the show.

Though Harris and even AI producers may have first been exposed to If It Hadn’t Been Love from Adele’s cover of the song in 2011, the segment on last night’s show was announced as a Steeldrivers song, with a graphic showing the same.

Here’s a look at The Steeldrivers’ version on Bluegrass Underground


…and Harris’ on American Idol.


We caught up with Steeldrivers bass player Mike Fleming earlier today, who said that the band was tuned in for last night’s show.

“We had a heads up that this was going to occur, but we weren’t supposed to tell anyone.

We all thought that C.J. did a great job on the song, but were disappointed when Idol judge Jennifer Lopez remarked after his performance that she wished she were more familiar with the song.”

Steeldrivers management is probably hunting down her people today to get some of their music headed her way!

Both Stapleton and Henderson have left the band, but Mike told us that they still include If It Hadn’t Been For Love on their live shows.

“We’ve actually stretched it out instrumentally on the stage show, letting everybody have a crack at it. It’s very interesting to me how much people love this song.”

Let’s hope we see even more covers of bluegrass artists on TV.

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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.