The Eureka Connection

The Eureka Connection

Road to Grammy included stop in the Springs


Mike Fleming grew up in St. Louis, went to college in Columbia, Mo., and has lived most of his adult life in Nashville, Tenn. But coming back to Northwest Arkansas to play at the Faulkner Performing Arts Center is still a lot like coming home. Fleming, now a standup bass player with the Grammy-winning Steeldrivers, performed at the one of the country music shows in Eureka Springs from 1981 to 1988, lived at Holiday Island, and he and his wife had their first daughter at the hospital in Springdale.

“We were kind of living the retired life in our 30s,” he says, and loving it, until a friend convinced him Nashville was the place to be.

“I really didn’t pick up a standup bass a whole lot until I got to Nashville,” Fleming remembers. “I had always been a banjo and electric bass player. But I picked up an upright bass because the more things you can play, the better.”

Fleming and the other original members of the Steeldrivers were making their living as “sidesmen” — musicians for hire — which was good, he says, but “wasn’t as rewarding as when this band started. It was interesting to finally be the ones building the songs from scratch, writing the songs, developing them, recording them — being the artists, not the sidesmen.

“The Grammy part?” he muses of the band’s win for best bluegrass album in 2016 for “The Muscle Shoals Recordings.” “It’s kind of like when hard work and luck collide, sometimes you get some success. You try to put out your best work, but it depends on who your competition is,” he adds of the three previous nominations. “We’re really fortunate that we won, and when that happened, it just seemed in a moment that all the work, being on the road and playing in little honky-tonks and sleeping in hotels was worth it. It’s validation that I’m very humbled by.”

Fleming came a long way musically to end up in bluegrass, he admits.

“I’ll date myself,” he says with a chuckle. “The reason I started wanting to play music was I saw the Beatles on ‘Ed Sullivan’ — I was one of those thousands of kids who did and then wanted to play guitar. I loved playing Bob Dylan, things like that, early on. And then I got into rock ‘n’ roll through my high school years. I kind of fell back into acoustic music in college — you know, Simon and Garfunkel — and then I heard the banjo on movies like ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ and I heard the [Nitty Gritty] Dirt Band album, and I started focusing on bluegrass.”

Switching sounds wasn’t difficult, he says. “I was learning an instrument — learning to play those Earl Scruggs licks — and when you’re playing an instrument with several other people on the same level trying to play, you just become immersed in it.”

The Steeldrivers began performing live in the summer of 2005 — with original members Fleming, fiddler Tammy Rogers, multi-instrumentalist Mike Henderson, banjo player Richard Bailey and singer/guitarist Chris Stapleton — and released their debut album at the beginning of 2008, garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for one of the songs in that set, “Blue Side of the Mountain.” That honor was followed a year later, when they received two more nominations for “Reckless,” their sophomore set — one for Best Bluegrass Album and another for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals courtesy of the song “Where Rainbows Never Die.”

Now, Fleming says, even with new members replacing founders, “it’s very rewarding to hear people sing your songs. We are fortunate that we have a very diverse crowd, and if they’re really wanting to sing, we’re glad to let them. That is the one thing I don’t think a lot of bluegrass bands have is a repertoire of songs people actually sing to. We’re very fortunate.”


The Steeldrivers

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. March 3

WHERE — Faulkner Performing Arts Center at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville

COST — $15-$25

INFO — 575-5387

Categories: Cover Story