By Michelle Nikolai
Tammy Rogers has graced many a stage with her exquisite fiddling and vocals, backing up such country superstars as Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood. Then there’s her rootsier side: In the mid’90s, she was signed to the alt-country Dead Reckoning label and released three albums of her own songs to critical acclaim. Her songs have been recorded by artists including Terri Clark (“A Little Gasoline”).
Recently she’s come full circle, landing her first Grammy nomination with a soulful new bluegrass band, The SteelDrivers. One of the most eclectic groups in recent years, The SteelDrivers’ genre-bending debut album sounds like Ray Charles meets Kentucky Thunder. Rogers’ precise, lonesome fiddle and bluesy background vocals are a testament to her formative years in Irving, Texas, playing bluegrass festivals with her family’s band, Pickin’ Tymes, while taking classical violin lessons in school. Along the way, the talented multi-instrumentalist picked up mandolin, guitar, viola and various other stringed instruments.
After a storied career as a session player and sideman supporting artists including Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, and Reba McIntire (she’s done four tours with Reba), she finds herself back at the beginning. Bandmate Mike Henderson (mandolin) called her one evening and asked if she’d like to play a little bluegrass with a group of guys at his house. One thing led to another, and before she knew it, they were playing around Nashville and drawing enthusiastic crowds to their shows.
“The whole thing happened in a really organic way,” Rogers explains of the band’s origins. “We got together and it was just so fun and inspiring. All the right things were there that would make me want to get in to a band.”
The SteelDrivers’ self-titled album peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Bluegrass Albums chart, and topped out at No. 4 on the Americana Airplay Chart. Their current Grammy Award nomination is in the category Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for their original song, “Blue Side of the Mountain.”
In addition to playing with the band, Rogers teaches fiddle and mandolin at Belmont University in Nashville, and she’s got a couple of instrumental project ideas rolling around in her head. If that weren’t enough, she’s working on a Masters degree in instrumental pedagogy.
When it comes to The SteelDrivers, she enjoys the diversity of musical influences her band members bring to the group.
“I’ve said it before – if it was just a very traditional bluegrass band, I would probably be bored!” she laughs.