Randy Steele is an award winning banjo pickin’ singer/songwriter from Chattanooga, Tennessee. A career firefighter who picked up the banjo to decompress and pass the time at the fire station, Randy’s creative music ranges from character based narratives to deeply personal & revelatory. Emotionally powerful, Steele can wake you up with a hard-drivin’ song, draw you in with deep lyrics, & have you laughing (or crying) with a compelling confession. Randy’s high-energy bluegrass band, High Cold Wind, brings out the best in his charisma and superb storytelling. They independently released a new 5-song self-titled EP August 25.
“For a while now I’ve been wanting to do more bluegrass. I love bluegrass. It is a great example of simplicity and complexity combined,” says Randy. “Every time I hear the simple 1 & 3 low thump of an upright bass contrasted by the 2 & 4 hard chop of a mandolin, I am immediately reminded of a thousand great evenings playing with friends. Memories of a million banjo breaks on standards, just trying to find where the banjo fits, come flooding back to me each time. Usually I had a smile on my face and maybe a little whiskey on my breath. I wanted to convey that feeling with this group of songs. The subject matter for the most part is southern living, particularly based around my youth growing up in a Pentecostal Church.”
Steele’s songwriting is often storytelling in nature, Randy says, “As of late though, the songs that are more personal are tending to be the ones that mean more thus they end up on the recordings.”
A good old heartache song about growth, the first single “There’s a Part of Me,” was released in March and premiered by Americana UK. Jonathan Aird writes, “It’s a song that sounds as traditional as heck, but take a careful listen to the lyrics and you’ll find very modern sensibilities and concerns being thought about. Not too many Bluegrass songs include scenes like: ‘I remember that Christmas / When you got a neck tattoo / And your momma cried and / Spent the holidays holed up inside her room / She said that you can’t be buried / With your family anymore.’”
Bluegrass Today praised the song’s music video as “a clever music video that mixes animation and live action on this story of heartbreak and recovery.” Nicholas Edward Williams of American Songcatcher says of it, “ You couldn’t name enough bluegrass songs on one hand that cover that much ground emotionally. Then add the depth of the looming chorus, that Steele’s heart ‘heals a little every day, that I spend away from you.’ It’s the kind of break up song that we all wish were true to our own lives.”
“Bright banjo tones and Randy’s smiling vocals and a poppy click track set the tone for this tale of woe,” wrote Americana Highways in their premiere of “A Golden Smile.” The song, which landed him as a finalist in this year’s Kerrville Folk Festival’s Grassy Hill New Folk Competition and a semi-finalist in American Songwriter’s Song of the year 2022, is based on Randy’s remembrance of his own self doubt and fear when he first started dating his wife; they have been married for 22 years.
Exploring many emotions and vantage points, “Eight Thirty Eighteen,” was named for the date it was written as a direct response to current events. Randy says, “Nothing really special happened on this day, I was just frustrated. I almost changed the title because I really feel like it’s still relevant today. This whole song was written as an exercise to kind of ‘blow out the pipes,’ to ease my internal pressure from the constant barrage of negative political advertising. Love and sadness get a lot of attention in songwriting in general and I wanted to throw a touch of anger into my own mix. It’s an emotion we all feel and it’s a hard subject, so why not broach it with super fast, major keyed, knee slappin’ bluegrass?”
The High Cold Wind EP includes a couple of fun and fast paced tales: “Nashville Drinking Song” talks about leaving the big city and moving back to the country, while “It Happened” is about life in the country—maybe getting struck by lightning… or robbing some banks and lying to the police.
Joining Steele in High Cold Wind is Fiddlin’ Faye Petree, regional fiddle legend of the North Carolina and Georgia music scene; flat pick wizard and member of Americana favorites Strung Like a Horse, Tyler Martelli, on acoustic guitar; multiple state, multiple instrumental contest champion and well known teacher John Boulware on mandolin; and Justin Hupp holding it down on the upright bass.
MORE ABOUT RANDY STEELE — HISTORY
Growing up in Bradley County Tennessee near both the North Georgia and North Carolina borders, Randy was surrounded by music from an early age. His Papaw being a lifelong Pentecostal preacher and pastor, and his Mom spent her youth traveling from church to church singing as part of the Henson Family. “She taught me how to practice correctly and that has been one of the greatest gifts. It has proven useful time and time again within music and just in life in general.”
In his teens in the mid-90s, Steele discovered the budding Jamband scene while tagging along with his uncle Paul Henson who toured and recorded with the Aquarium Rescue Unit. Randy went on to tour some with a band and studied Jazz Guitar at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville for a bit, then he stopped playing music for a while and became a firefighter with the Chattanooga Fire Department and got married and settled down. He says, “I still wrote songs constantly but I figured my music days were mostly behind me.”
As a career firefighter, Randy says, “I needed something to help me decompress at the firehouse, and then I found the banjo…” To pass the time, Randy began practicing Scruggs style banjo and, a few years later in 2008, began performing as the frontman for Slim Pickins Bluegrass Band. They went on to spend a month living in Belgium and played shows all over Europe, eventually though between jobs and family obligations, the band settled into playing a few select shows in the Chattanooga area each year.
He started branching out solo with the release of his 2016 album, Songs from the Suck, which was recorded at the legendary FAME studios in Muscle Shoals Alabama, and he began to do some light touring solo and with a trio. In 2018 he released an EP, Moccasin Bender, and won an Independent Music Award for Bluegrass ‘Song of the Year’ for “Mobile Soon” (and was nominated for Bluegrass Album of the Year), as well as being selected as a finalist in the Newsong Music LEAF Songwriting Competition.
Steele then spent 2019 hard on the road clocking in 90 shows in 17 states in 47 cities before being forced off the road by the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic. In 2019 Captain Randy Steele was also named Fire Department Officer of the Year and was awarded a Medal of Valor, as he was recognized for his outstanding efforts at emergencies in 2018.
He says, “My 2020 was looking pretty good when the pandemic struck and kind of rearranged everything. Though the touring ceased and the live shows stopped, writing and recording continued. I got out of the pandemic with 75% of an original album recorded with Darrell Scott producing and playing guitar. That recording is scheduled to be released in 2024 and has some really great songs on it. I kind of have my feet in two different rivers. One is in the bluegrass and banjo world, the other is in the songwriting world.” 2021 started off with a successful spring tour in South Carolina and a summer full of full band and solo shows.
“As it all went back to gigs and regular life though, I really wanted to get back into some traditional bluegrass. I had been touring as a trio and decided to try to start a bluegrass band based on that touring outfit, and thus High Cold Wind was born.”
In his various musical formats over the years (solo, with High Cold Wind, and with Slims Pickins Bluegrass) Randy has played with and opened for a number of incredible performers including Sam Bush, Darrell Scott, Steep Canyon Rangers, Kitchen Dwellers, Infamous Stringdusters, Nick Lutsko, IIIrd Tyme Out, Little River Band, Jack Pearson, Malcolm Holcomb, Roger Alan Wade, Nicholas Edward Williams, Lew Card and The Deer, and more.
Find out more at www.randysteelemusic.com & www.highcoldwind.com, facebook.com/randysteelemusic, instagram.com/randysteelemusic, twitter.com/steelesteele, youtube.com/@randysteelemusic, and hear more from his catalog on Spotify.
Firefighter by Profession / Songwriter & Banjo Picker by Nature,
Randy Steele Independently Released a 5-Song EP with High Cold Wind Aug 25, 2023
There are many voices in bluegrass that run the same veins, hitting that distinct turn of phrase, following the edges laid out before them. Then, there are exceptions, who cut a new terrace in the old mountain called the high and lonesome sound, and Randy Steele has been up there digging his plot for over a decade. Not only that, lyrically, he doesn’t follow the bluegrass norms be it thematically, topically or in his phrasing.” —Nicholas Edward Williams of American Songcatcher
“Randy Steele offers a musical journey and masterful storytelling through his original banjo music, melding the best elements of Bluegrass and Country music. He can be heard here and across the oceans as long-time frontman with Slim Pickins or with his concurrent career as an emerging solo artist.”