If you go
What: Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley in concert
Where: The Wagon Shed, 109 N. Second St., New Freedom
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 9
For more information, visit wagonshedconcerts.com .
In the fall of 2012, Blue Highway was in the studio working on "The Game," a recording that marked the bluegrass/country band's 20th year, and was thinking about bringing in a guest vocalist for one song, "My Last Day in the Mine," a lament about a coal miner's last day underground.
They had someone in mind, a well-known bluegrass singer, but as they were working on the song, they needed someone to lay down a scratch vocal as a reference, a track that would be scraped and replaced when the guest was available. The engineer at the studio recommended Trey Hensley. The band didn't know him, but they thought, hey, it's just a scratch track.
Hensley came in the studio and sang the song, which he had never heard before, in one take.
The band was floored. He was a young guy — all of 22 years old — but his voice was soulful and captured the weariness of the song's narrator, a miner leaving the only job he's ever known.
When the record was released, it was Hensley's vocal on the track.
"It was that good," said Blue Highway's masterful Dobro player Rob Ickes. "It was perfect."
Ickes was so impressed with Hensley that he told him, "If I can help you with anything, let me know."
About a year later, Hensley was moving to Nashville and called Ickes. Ickes took him around to picking parlors and clubs and introduced him around town. Nashville, though, is a tough town, and producers and record labels are reluctant to take a chance on new talent.
It didn't matter that Hensley had an impressive pedigree even before recording with Blue Highway. At age 11, at the invitation of country music legend Marty Stuart, he performed at the Grand Ole Opry. He had shared stages with Johnny and June Cash, Charlie Daniels, Ricky Skaggs, The Oak Ridge Boys and others. Stuart has called him "the real deal," the highest praise from a man who knows.
Ickes, a veteran of the Nashville scene and a first-call Dobro player, told Hensley that they should make a record together, put both their names on it and get it out there.
The result is "Before the Sun Goes Down," a collection of country and bluegrass classics and one Hensley original. Reviews of the record have been stellar. One review said Hensley's voice is evocative of early George Jones or Merle Haggard. His guitar playing is astonishing; Ickes said he is among the hottest guitar players in Nashville. The picking on the record is jaw-dropping amazing, particularly a duet Ickes and Hensley perform of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Pride and Joy."
Ickes and Hensley will bring their collaboration to the Wagon Shed in New Freedom Saturday, May 9, providing a chance for concert-goers to see one of the great Dobro players of all time alongside an up-and-coming talent, one who has worked at it the old-fashioned way, not by appearing on a TV game show.
"I've been in this business a long time," said Ickes, who has been named Dobro player of the year 15 times by the International Bluegrass Music Association. "Every time we play, he just blows my mind. I haven't heard anyone like him, ever. He is a major, major cat."
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