Clay Hess is a Grammy award winner who first burst upon the nationalBluegrass music scene as the red-hot flat-picking guitarist with RickySkaggs & Kentucky Thunder, with whom he toured for three years. With his amazing speed and tasty sense of syncopation, Hess has established himself as one of the top flat-pickers in the business.
Clay began playing guitar at age nine after hearing Tony Rice’s landmark recording, “Manzanita.” From there, Clay’s life was changed because all he did was play his old cheap guitar. Before too long, Clay got his first “real” guitar when his dad bought him a new Martin D18 for his birthday. Clay continued to hone his skills and develop his own style, winning guitar contests along the way, including the Ohio State Guitar Championship in 1995. When he was 19, Clay landed a gig at Dollywood playing guitar with the band True Blue. Fellow musicians began noticing Clay’s talents as a country and bluegrass guitarist, one of them was multi-Grammy Award winning country bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs.
Eventually Clay left Dollywood to return home to Ohio. While working in construction, he had nearly quit playing altogether when Skaggs called in 1999 and asked him to fill the guitar slot for Kentucky Thunder. Clay thought the call was a joke and hung up the phone. Ricky called a second time and convinced Clay that the ofer was real. Clay spent the next three years performing with Kentucky Thunder. While he was part of the band, the International Bluegrass Music Association awarded Kentucky Thunder their Instrumental Band of the Year Award for both 1999 and 2000. Clay recorded on three projects with Skaggs and was awarded a Grammy for his participation on the project “Soldier of the Cross.”
After leaving Skaggs’ band, Clay toured with some of Bluegrass and Acoustic music’s elite, including The Mark Newton Band, Mountain Heart and Sierra Hull. Hess largely considers himself a Bluegrass player, although his influences range outside of the genre and include luminaries such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Charlie Parker and Leon Rhodes. The legendary CF Martin guitar company even produced a Clay Hess D-18 signature model guitar.
In 2011, Clay co-produced his solo recording, Rain with Grammy award winning producer and fellow ace musician, Randy Kohrs. The album showcased Clay’s scorching guitar, his exceptional writing, a stellar band and his ridiculously solid and unique vocal talent. Rain won over fans and critics alike and saw chart success at Bluegrass radio, both terrestrial and satellite reaching the #1 spot. The Clay Hess Band is poised to grow their already existing fan base with a great lineup of touring musicians alongside Hess, including Missouri native Irl Hees on bass and vocals, Virginian Zach Gilmer on banjo. Clay’s son, Brennan, on rhythm guitar, and North Carolina native Nick Keen on mandolin and vocals.
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