The world of music was plunged into mourning on a somber Friday when news broke of the passing of Mike Henderson, a revered figure in bluegrass music and a prolific songwriter. Henderson, a founding member of the iconic bluegrass band the SteelDrivers, as well as a cherished collaborator of Chris Stapleton, left behind a legacy that will forever resonate in the hearts of music enthusiasts. He departed this world at the age of 69, leaving behind an indelible mark on the music industry.
Henderson’s former bandmates in the SteelDrivers conveyed the heartbreaking news through a poignant Facebook post. “All the SteelDrivers, past and present, are in shock today as we have lost our original architect,” they wrote. This heartfelt tribute from his colleagues underscored the profound impact that Mike Henderson had on the bluegrass genre and the musicians he worked with.
A native of Missouri, Mike Henderson possessed extraordinary talent as a mandolin player. In 2006, he embarked on a remarkable journey by forming the SteelDrivers, a bluegrass band that would go on to achieve great acclaim. The original lineup included Chris Stapleton as the vocalist, Tammy Rogers on fiddle, bassist Mike Fleming, and banjoist Richard Bailey. Together, they created an electrifying sound that resonated with audiences far and wide.
The SteelDrivers released their self-titled debut album in 2008, marking the beginning of a musical revolution. Their distinctive blend of bluegrass, country, and folk captivated listeners, and their sheer talent earned them the title of 2009’s New Artist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association. Their sophomore album, “Reckless,” in 2010, received a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album, solidifying their status as a force to be reckoned with in the industry.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Mike Henderson’s career was his collaboration with Chris Stapleton. The two musicians formed a dynamic duo, with Henderson’s songwriting prowess perfectly complementing Stapleton’s exceptional vocal abilities. Their partnership resulted in several chart-topping hits that left an indelible mark on the country music scene.
One of their most notable collaborations was the Grammy-winning song “Broken Halos.” This poignant track not only won the Grammy for Best Country Song but also became Chris Stapleton’s first Number One country hit in 2017. The song’s heartfelt lyrics and soul-stirring melody struck a chord with listeners, showcasing the magic that happened when Henderson and Stapleton joined forces.
The pair continued to create magic with their cowrite “Starting Over,” the title track to Stapleton’s 2020 album. This album, which explored themes of love, loss, and redemption, was met with widespread critical acclaim. Henderson’s songwriting played a crucial role in crafting the album’s emotional depth and resonance.
In addition to their chart-toppers, Henderson and Stapleton also co-wrote other fan-favorite songs, including “Death Row” and “Midnight Train to Memphis.” The latter was originally recorded by the SteelDrivers, further highlighting Henderson’s influence on their musical journey.
Henderson’s musical journey extended beyond his time with the SteelDrivers and Chris Stapleton. Prior to forming the band, he released a series of solo albums that showcased his songwriting prowess and versatility. His 1994 album, “Country Music Made Me Do It,” was a testament to his ability to craft compelling stories through his music. In 2015, he released “If You Think It’s Hot in Here,” continuing to captivate audiences with his unique blend of bluegrass and country.
Mike Henderson’s dedication to his craft was unwavering, and he continued to perform his music every Monday night at Nashville’s historic Bluebird Cafe. His presence in the music scene was not just a source of inspiration but a testament to his enduring passion for creating and sharing his art.
Chris Stapleton, reflecting on his profound connection with Mike Henderson in a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, spoke about their unique bond and the impact it had on his songwriting. The duo had a standing writing appointment on Tuesday nights, during which they penned the hit song “Broken Halos.” Stapleton emphasized the significance of including songs co-written with Henderson on his debut album, “Traveller,” as a tribute to the friend who had played a pivotal role in shaping his songwriting skills. Stapleton aptly summed up their creative partnership, saying, “I didn’t include any songs I’d written with him on ‘Traveller,’ so it was really important to me… to cut songs from some of the guys who helped me learn how to write songs — and Mike is one of those guys.”
Mike Henderson’s passing leaves a void in the world of bluegrass and country music that can never be filled. His contributions to the genre and his enduring legacy as a songwriter and musician will continue to resonate with generations of music lovers. As we remember and celebrate his life and work, we are reminded of the enduring power of music to touch our souls and connect us to the artists who create it. Mike Henderson’s music will live on, a testament to his talent, passion, and unwavering commitment to the art form he loved.