SteelDrivers Interview: Mike Fleming On Chris Stapleton, The GRAMMYs & His 40+ Year Marriage

SteelDrivers Interview: Mike Fleming On Chris Stapleton, The GRAMMYs & His 40+ Year Marriage

As most of you know, GRAMMY award winning group, the SteelDrivers, was the jump off spot for Chris Stapleton. I recently got to talk to SteelDrivers’ bass player, Mike Fleming, about their new lead singer, Kelvin Damrell, a Kentucky native, just like Stapleton, their recent GRAMMY win and Fleming’s successful 40+ year marriage. Check out my SteelDrivers interview below to learn all about this tremendously talented bluegrass band.

SteelDrivers Interview: Mike Fleming On Chris Stapleton, The GRAMMYs & His 40+ Year Marriage

EPR: So, I hear you have a new lead singer. Would you like to tell me a little more about that?

Mike Fleming: Well, I will. His name is Kelvin Damrell and he is from Berea, Kentucky. Another Kentuckian.

EPR: Who else in your group is from Kentucky?

Mike Fleming: None of the rest of us are but Stapleton was from Kentucky. You know, from that lead singer pool I guess. Yeah, and he’s a young man, let’s put it that way. We were fortunate enough that when we started the process of trying to find another singer we tried various ways of looking and, actually, Tammy King, our fiddle player’s daughter, Delana, actually was on the internet looking around and she found a video of Kelvin singing a SteelDrivers song, kind of like a rock band style. I think it was maybe, “Midnight Train To Memphis.” And that kind of caught our attention because it’s a hard song to sing and he really did it justice. We thought, “Well, let’s have the young man down and let’s all sit around in a circle and see what happens.” And it was really, really good. He really impressed us.

EPR: Youtube has really just opened up so much opportunity for people who might not otherwise have that.

Mike Fleming: For sure. Any of that kind of social media, it’s just great. It benefits all of us musicians that aren’t on the top tier. Let’s put it that way. So, Kelvin is a good musician. He’s got a really big, big voice. So we are excited.

EPR: So what do you think about Chris Stapleton’s career since leaving the SteelDrivers?

Mike Fleming: I think all of us knew that somewhere along the line he was going to break out. He’s always had the tools and it just kind of seems like it takes the right combination, a good producer, the mood of the industry, whatever. He’s always had great songs and he’s been a great singer. It just took that time, the right time. I remember when I first came to town, I remember Vince Gill was singing at the Bluebird and he had had, I think, one record deal and nothing went anywhere. And everybody was like, “Something’s got to give because this guy has too much talent.” And it did, finally. You know, that seemed about the same thing that was going to happen to Chris. And it did. And probably in a bigger way than I actually thought it would. The man’s got a mighty voice and it’s great. We’re happy for his success and we keep in touch and after the 2016 GRAMMYs, he was playing in Nashville the next few nights, and he had us come on stage and we all played some songs together.

EPR: Are you excited to get back in the studio to do the follow up to your GRAMMY award winning album.

Mike Fleming: That was exciting. That’s for sure. You know. Those things are never expected and it’s been a very humbling experience actually, to be fortunate enough to win one of those. It’s like when hard work and luck collide, sometimes you get success. And we were fortunate enough to get it, but we will take it. We’ve been nominated 3 times before and have always been the bridesmaid so this time we were able to bring home the hardware. It was very exciting, very exciting.

EPR: After you won, after being previously nominated 3 times, did you have a moment of, “Is this real?”

Mike Fleming: Oh gosh, yes! I’ll just tell you, we are in the afternoon portion and so are a lot of awards. And Jason Isbell has co-produced 2 songs on our Muscle Shoals CD. He was up for Americana Album of the Year. And so, we saw him there and we were all sitting together. And his category came up and he won. And we were all like, “Yay!” We were in a little pocket there of people and he went up and got his. Well, the next category was Bluegrass Album of the Year and then we won! We came out of the same little pocket.

EPR: So that was apparently the place to sit.

Mike Fleming: I know! So, that kind of stuff, it’s just unbelievable. And for a while you’re just wanting to phone your parents and [other] people and you’re just walking on a cloud. It’s amazing.

EPR: So, if I’m ever nominated for any kind of award for anything and you are at the same place, I want to sit with you, ok?

Mike Fleming: Sounds good! You got it!

EPR: How many years has SteelDrivers been together?

Mike Fleming: If you say the SteelDrivers first started when they released their first record, this would be 10 years. We actually first got together, I think, in 2005, in the fall, when we first just started getting together for fun, to actually put together a bluegrass band to make some extra money in town. So, after hearing all these original songs that Mike Henderson and Chris had written, we started working on more and more of those. When we finally thought we had fine tuned enough we played Nashville and people liked it. They really liked it. But the intent was never to go for a record deal or anything.

SteelDrivers Interview: Mike Fleming On Chris Stapleton, The GRAMMYs & His 40+ Year Marriage

EPR: But that obviously worked out for you. So, who were some of your personal musical influences that made you want to become a musician?

Mike Fleming: Oh my gosh, well I’ll date myself. It’s so funny. I read this article, or watched an interview, with Tom Petty, and he said the same thing, “I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and I knew I wanted a guitar and I knew I wanted to do that.” So, that dates me, but that was my earliest influence. You know, Bob Dylan, of course, during that time, and as years went on, more and more artists from Simon and Garfunkel and John Prine. And then I finally kind of moved into bluegrass in my college era and started to get a love for that. So those are some of the ones that stand out for sure.

EPR: What do you do when you have time off?

Mike Fleming: Well, I get to go out to dinner or a movie or something with my wife of 41 years, which is kind of nice. Most everybody in the band has significant others so we get to do what we normally don’t get to do when we are on the road. We play quite a bit but then around the holidays we try to take some time off so we can spend a good chunk of it with our families.

EPR: Did I hear you correctly? Did you say that you have been married to your wife for 41 years?

Mike Fleming: I did!

EPR: Congratulations! That is awesome!

Mike Fleming: Well, thank you! Yeah, I think it’s kind of a record. It’s not a record, but sometimes we both go, “Holy crap! Can you believe it?” I have been very fortunate, very fortunate, indeed.

EPR: Where did you come up with the name SteelDrivers?

Mike Fleming: Well, there are all kinds of ideas about that. I’d say part of it would be that we all play steel strings on our instruments and also John Henry was a steel drivin’ man, which is an old song. And we kind of blend those together with the way we kind of approach our music which is not subtle music. We play hard. We play uneasy listening. And we play with grit and so, putting the steel and the drive together, kind of made sense.

You can see the SteelDrivers locally, tomorrow night at the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, NC. Check out the rest of their tour dates here.

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About Dawn McAlexander

Dawn has been a music lover her entire life. She went to college in Boone, NC, an area that is rich in music and culture. She also worked as a radio deejay for 8 years and grew up in Southeastern, Va, a melting pot of different musical styles and traditions. She has been to more concerts than she can count in every genre you can imagine. She resides in North Carolina with her furbabies and her massive collection of Disney memorabilia.


  1. I love reading stories behind the artists. Thanks for this fun interview!

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