“The secular and the sacred have always gone hand in hand in Bluegrass music,” says Tammy Rogers of The SteelDrivers. “If you go back and historically look at the early Bill Monroe records or the early Flatt & Scruggs, they always featured gospel music. So, to me, they are like first cousins.” While past albums have been sprinkled with a few gospel songs, the group felt it was time to do a full gospel album. Tougher Than Nails was released in early September via Gaither Music Group.
Almost all the band members grew up playing bluegrass in that Southern Christian heritage. “We were out playing festivals and shows on Friday and Saturday nights, but we got our butts up and went to church on Sunday mornings,” Tammy says that she grew up in those churches and has three or four versions of the Baptist hymnal. When talking with the guys in the band, Tammy says they got excited about it because it’s in their DNA, too – it’s the music they grew up with.
“We realized that our most requested song is a Gospel song, ‘Where Rainbows Never Die,’” says Tammy. “It’s a spiritual song about going to heaven. It’s really a beautiful song and very poetic.”
The new album features six originals. “They let us choose the songs we thought most fit our style,” Tammy says. “I really love how it turned out and am proud of it.”
To choose which hymns they would record for Tougher Than Nails, each member weighed in on their favorites. A list was sent around and everyone in the band put their heads together. Several songs were in common, so they began picking them and working on arrangements. The band was diligent in interpreting the classics in a way that was true to The SteelDrivers’ sound. “It was a real team effort.”
The band co-produced the record together. Their creative energy can be felt in each track. Two singles from the LP have also been released, “Have a Little Talk with Jesus,” an old standard, and a song Tammy wrote with Leslie Satcher, “Somewhere Down the Road,” which is the lead-off track on the album. Also to be released is a third single, “Magdalene.” Tammy says that the songs fit seamlessly into their sets. “That was the only way the project could be a success. We had to put our stamp on it.” The band has a distinctive sound, with excellent musicianship, compelling songwriting and stellar vocals. Formed in 2005, The SteelDrivers’ self-titled album was the first of two albums released on Rounder Records with former lead vocalist Chris Stapleton. Two more albums on Rounder Records followed. Gary Nicoles took Stapleton’s place in 2010. The band received the GRAMMY for Best Bluegrass Album for The Muscle Shoals Recordings in 2015. Nicoles also sang lead on the album Hammer Down. Kelvin Damrell assumed the lead vocal duties in 2018 and is featured on the 2020 release Bad for You. Matt Dame joined the band as lead vocalist in 2021 and now completes The SteelDrivers’ lineup.
“The band is all Mike Henderson’s fault,” says Tammy. “He was the mastermind. Mike and I had been writing together, and we worked together in the 1990s in a band called Dead Reckoners. Mike Flemming and Mike Henderson were college roommates and played together very informally. They played once a month or so at the Station Inn in Nashville. With a voice like Chris Stapleton’s in the band, people took notice.” The name of the band came to Henderson in a dream. “He said he thought it was hard-driving music, and we use metal strings.”
Tammy says being the only girl in the band has never been an issue. “I wouldn’t know anything different. They are like my brothers. I always have four big guys who have my back. We have a real respect for each other.”
The band tours 60 to 70 days a year and appears frequently on the Grand Ole Opry. “We have been fortunate – we have built an incredible fan base. We are excited for fans to hear Tougher Than Nails. If I can play a gospel song to a crowd that maybe isn’t all believers, I don’t have to stand up there and preach and hit them over the head with the message. I can just put that music out there, and it may hit somebody who really needs to hear it. What a great opportunity to have that platform.”