By MARINA WATERS
It’s been a world full of bluegrass, country music, and rock ’n’ roll since Trey Hensley’s start as a Telford kid wanting to pick like his guitar heroes at Slagle’s Pasture Bluegrass Festival. But now, multiple Grand Ole Opry shows and a Grammy-nominated album later, it’s a “World Full Of Blues” for Hensley and his duo partner.
The duo released their third studio album, “World Full Of Blues”, on Oct. 4. Though both have had their own solo careers and stints in other bands, Hensley and Rob Ickes have been working together since 2015, just a few years after Ickes discovered Hensley’s vocal and guitar talents.
“Rob called and said he was a fan of my music and if there was ever anything he could do to help, to let him know,” Hensley recalled. “I told him me and my wife were contemplating moving to Nashville and he said if we do to give him a shout and we’ll get together and pick some. So when me and my wife moved to Nashville, Rob and I started picking together. Everything just sort of jelled musically and it just felt like this is what I want to be doing. We’ve just been going ever since. It was a total new thing for both of us, but it’s really been great.”
Hensley got his start as a kid from Telford, hungry to perform like the bluegrass and country greats throughout East Tennessee. He was also invited on stage two country music and bluegrass greats, Marty Stuart and Earl Scruggs, at the Grand Ole Opry when he was 11 years old.
“I’m just very thankful to be from that area because after I decided I wanted to play, there were so many pickers that I was able to learn from and pick with,” Hensley said. “I spent a lot of nights out in Rheatown on Saturday nights picking at the big jam sessions. East Tennessee, especially Jonesborough, is such a hot bed for bluegrass and country music. It kind of always has been. I spent a lot of time with my granddad who was just way into bluegrass and country and a lot of it had to do with the area that he lived in being Jonesborough.”
Bluegrass plays a big part on the album, which also includes a great deal of country, blues and rock elements. Much like Hensley’s resume, which includes a rock trio, a bluegrass band, a country band and eight solo albums, “World Full Of Blues” is a testament to every sort of music Hensley and Ickes both love.
“It does go in a lot of different directions,” Hensley said. “When I’m writing a song, it usually comes out as a country song. I’m a big fan of country music. ‘I’m Here But I’m Lonely’ is really in my wheelhouse because that’s the kind of stuff that I write. But I think it’s all connected in some kind of way. I think we’re kind of the mold and the material just goes in around that. The music definitely can be all over the map, but we try to make it jell together as well as possible.”
Part of the cohesion of the album also comes from the way in which it was recorded.
Hensley and Ickes made a point to record this album live rather than have parts of the song recorded separately and pieced together later.
“We did all this stuff live in the studio, which is another thing that was a big must for us going into this,” Hensley said. “Our first two records were all done live and we wanted to make sure this one was done live because a lot of Nashville stuff is not live at all. They just kind of build a record with a guitar part here and a drum part here. We just wanted to make sure it was all a bunch of people in one room playing music.
“When I think about my favorite records, that’s kind of what makes them my favorite records. It’s just cool to hear it. There’s not necessarily an emotion, but there’s just an energy throughout the record that you can definitely tell it was done live.”
The duo also enlisted some help on the album in county singer-songwriter Vince Gill who lends his voice on “Brown-Eyed Women”.
“That was amazing,” Hensley said of working with Gill. “Vince was on our last record and I want Vince on anything he’ll sing or play on (laughs). We sat in with the Time Jumpers in Nashville a few months before we started recording this record and just mentioned to him again that we were getting ready to start on a new record and would love to have him on it. So we sent him several songs that we had recorded and he really liked ‘Brown Eyed Women.’ He didn’t know it was a Grateful Dead song. He absolutely killed it, as he does. He’s one of my favorite guitar players and singers ever, so just getting to be around him is too cool.”
Hensley and Ickes also checked off a bucket list item in working with blues legend, Taj Mahal.
“That third verse (of ‘World Full of Blues’) always seemed like we needed someone else singing it. So Rob and I made a dream list of 10 artists we would like to have sing on this record. It didn’t necessarily have to be a reality, but if you could pick anyone in the world, who would you have on here. At the top of both of our lists was Taj Mahal. We said, ‘Well, we might as well try and see if he’ll do it.’ We sent in the track and he loved it. He flew from Hawaii to Nashville and sang and played on it. Working with him in the studio, that’s just something I’ll never forget.”
Hensley and Ickes will be joining Taj Mahal on tour starting in January, but not before the duo continues its healthy list of tour dates, including a stop at the Grand Ole Opry, the historical music venue where Hensley made his opry debut while playing along with Marty Stuart and Earl Scruggs.
“I played there a hand full of times since then, but really this past year or so has been when I’ve played there the most,” Hensley said. “It’s always great to come back. That, by far, is the coolest place to play from sheer history of the building. We’re always ready to be back at the Opry.”
No matter if they’re in San Fransisco, Oklahoma, or in the guitar frontman’s home state of Tennessee, Hensley realizes its his East Tennessee roots that keep him picking up a guitar — just like when his musical journey first started all those years ago at the feet of local bluegrass legends.
“If I wasn’t from where I’m from, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing,” Hensley said. “Growing up, there was a great festival out in Elizabethton called Slagle’s Pasture. That festival was why I started playing. My parents took me out there and I saw Jimmy Martin and Charlie Waller.
“I’m just very thankful to be from that area. I feel like Jonesborough and Telford and all those areas just really have been a big part of why I do what I do. It’s for sure why I love music, because I grew up in it just from being in that area.”