Steel Driver, Grammy Winner
Mizzou alumnus-founded band SteelDriver wins a Grammy
When Mike Fleming, BA ’73, saw The Beatles for the first time as a kid, he fell in love with the guitar. So he bought one and quickly discovered he had a talent — and drive. “When I started, I just couldn’t stop,” Fleming says. “It was just in the blood.”
Fleming attended Mizzou on a tennis scholarship. He joined Beta Theta Pi fraternity and studied social work, as did his wife, Lois (Hall) Fleming, BA ’74. After graduating, he played banjo and bass with Columbia’s Mid-Missouri Hell Band.
In 1989, Fleming moved to Nashville to make music a full-time career. He was working day jobs and touring with country musicians when his old bandmate Mike Henderson called, looking to put a new group together. Fleming jumped at the chance.
Taking inspiration from country blues musician Furry Lewis’s song about the steel-driving folk hero John Henry, the band chose a name. They reworked a cache of rejected music Henderson and Grammy winner Chris Stapleton had written for other artists. Then in 2008, as the SteelDrivers, Fleming, Stapleton, Henderson, Tammy Rogers and Richard Bailey released a self-titled album with Rounder Records. It was nominated for a Grammy, as was Reckless in 2010.
The third time was the charm. With new members Gary Nichols and Brent Truitt, the SteelDrivers released their next album, The Muscle Shoals Recordings, in 2015. On Feb. 15, 2016, it won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album of the Year.
“Within a matter of a few seconds, all the playing in bars, road traveling and time away from family seemed worth the effort,” Fleming says. “It’s validation. It was a pretty magical day, one of the best days of my life besides the birth of my children.”
The SteelDrivers’ 40-city tour kicked off in June and runs through December. Missourians can see them Oct. 28 at the Sheldon in St. Louis.
Touring is hard work. Most days, the band puts in eight hours before even taking the stage.
“The most rewarding part of the day is performing,” Fleming says. “If you’re sick or weary, you know once you step on that stage … BOOM, it’s show time.”