20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers

Published July 2, 2021

In part 37 of our continuing Q&A series,

Trey Hensley —guitarist, singer-songwriter, father, husband—

joins us to talk about his friendship with Marty Stuart, playing the Grand Ole Opry at 11 years old, performing with Taj Mahal, and so much more.

Trey is part of the Grammy-nominated duo with Rob Ickes. Their new EP with Tommy Emmanuel titled Accomplice Series Vol. I with Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley is out now. This amazing trio performed at the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum June 26 and continue to play live together.

Welcome, Trey, and thank you for joining us.

~NoteWorthy Music

Trey Hensley
Photos courtesy of Trey Hensley

20:20 with Trey Hensley

NWM 1: Please introduce yourself, briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
Trey: I’m a father, husband, and guitarist. I also sing and write songs, but I consider myself a guitarist who also happens to sing and write. As a person, I try my best to be kind, considerate, and compassionate.

Trey Hensley with Marty Stuart at the Grand Ole Opry
Trey Hensley with Marty Stuart and Earl Scruggs at the Grand Ole Opry

NWM 2: You made your Grand Ole Opry debut at the age of 11, thanks to an invite from Marty Stuart with Earl Scruggs.

Please share how this came about, what that experience was like at 11, and how you feel looking back on it now.
Trey: I started playing guitar when I was 10, and shortly after my first guitar lesson, I had the opportunity to meet Marty Stuart at a show he was playing near my hometown. Marty has always been one of my favorite artists, so I was thrilled to get the chance to meet him. I had a felt guitar case at the time that I wanted Marty to sign for me that night. My dad (who arranged this opportunity to get me backstage) had put my guitar in the case and asked Marty if I could play him a song. Marty kindly obliged, so I played Marty an old Carter Family song that I had learned from Flatt and Scruggs … ‘Jimmy Brown the Newsboy.’

[Marty Stuart] has been such a wonderful influence and so supportive of my music. I could never thank him enough for that experience.

When I finished playing, he asked me to join him on stage at his concert that night.

After the show was over, he asked me to play the Opry with him. As a surprise to me, he invited Earl Scruggs to play along with us that night. Earl was my first guitar hero, and Marty recognized that right away through my playing. It was a huge honor, and that experience forever changed my life. I still see and talk to Marty often, and he has been such a wonderful influence and so supportive of my music. I could never thank him enough for that experience. … He will always be one of my biggest musical heroes, and I’m proud to call him a friend.

NWM 3: Name three things that make you smile.
Trey: My family, music, and the first cup of coffee in the morning.

NWM 4: You are part of a Grammy-nominated duo with upcoming NoteWorthy Music guest Rob Ickes—15-time International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Resophonic Guitar Player of the Year—with whom you have released three highly acclaimed albums and are currently working on a fourth.

Please tell us about this collaboration, how it started and evolved, how it has influenced you as a musician, and what it means to you personally.
Trey: I first met Rob around 2002 or 2003 when I was 12 or 13 years old, and he was playing in the Earl Scruggs and Friends band. Earl had asked me to sit in with the band on a show in Knoxville, Tennessee, at the Tennessee Theatre … and I guess that was the first time I got to pick with Rob.

We got to pick together a few times through the years, but when my wife and I moved to Nashville in 2013, Rob and I really got to pick a lot together. We played a few shows at the world famous Station Inn here in Nashville, and then we started working on our Grammy nominated album Before the Sun Goes Down a few months after I made it to town.

Working with Rob is an incredible thing. … He’s such a profoundly proficient musician. He’s one of the most accomplished musicians to ever play a note of music, and it’s really inspiring to work with someone of his caliber. And he’s a great dude to travel with. This duo has just really been an amazing part of my life, and I’m very thankful to be a part of it!

Trey Hensley and Rob Ickes | Photo by Mike Duncan
Trey Hensley and Rob Ickes | Photo by Mike Duncan

NWM 5: What is a favorite of the songs you have written? Please tell us a little bit about it.
Trey: Ahhhh … that’s tough. There’s a song that we haven’t recorded yet that comes to mind. … But of the songs that we have recorded, I’d probably say ‘I’m Here but I’m Lonely’ from our most recent album. I wrote that song with my friends Larry Shell and Buddy Cannon, and I’m just a huge fan of sad country songs. This one checks that box for sure.

NWM 6: Who might we be surprised to find on your playlist?
Trey: When I discuss my influences and favorite records, people are seemingly always shocked at the variety of music that I enjoy and listen to. I am a huge fan of heavy music … tons of metal and rock bands. I got into heavier music in high school and a lot of that music plays a big part in my guitar style. I’m also a big fan of hip-hop (specifically early hip-hop and 90s hip-hop). … My favorite artists in that style being A Tribe Called Quest and the Wu-Tang Clan), blues, jazz of all kinds … and of course bluegrass and country.

I have some pretty obscure and weird music on my playlist on most days.

Johnny Cash and Trey Hensley
Johnny Cash and Trey Hensley

NWM 7: Acoustic Guitar magazine called you ‘Nashville’s hottest young player,’ and you earned your first IBMA Guitar Player of the Year nomination in 2020. You have appeared on stage with legends such as Johnny Cash, Peter Frampton, and Old Crow Medicine Show, and have recorded with icons Taj Mahal, Vince Gill, and Tommy Emmanuel (recently a guest of NoteWorthy Music).

Among all of your noteworthy accomplishments and experiences, what stands out as a particularly memorable or rewarding moment of your career so far?
Trey: So many moments stand out, for sure. Definitely my first time on the Opry with Marty and Earl. Playing with John [Cash] and June [Carter Cash] was a huge highlight. Working with Taj in the studio and on tour was a mind-blowingly cool experience. Recording an EP with my favorite guitar player (and good buddy) Tommy Emmanuel was just a dream come true. Hanging and recording with Vince Gill is a lifetime highlight also.

Playing with John [Cash] and June [Carter Cash] was a huge highlight.

There are too many to pick one. haha! I will say, getting to meet a President was a really cool experience. I got to play for The President’s Dinner in 2008 (when I was 17 … too young to vote) and got to meet the President [George W. Bush] that night. I had played a few events for the Vice President and First Lady before that, and those were incredible moments also. I was a cool kid at my high school for a brief, yet shining, moment.

NWM 8: What song/album could you play on repeat?
Trey: I always keep a copy of Tom Petty’s Highway Companion nearby.

Trey Hensley and Rob Ickes at Guitar Town 2018 | Photo by Jason Henke
Trey Hensley and Rob Ickes at Guitar Town 2018 | Photo by Jason Henke

NWM 9: The music of your duo with Rob Ickes defies genre, blending bluegrass, country, blues, rock, jamgrass, and stringband music together in a unique alchemy.

Tell us about your creative process and melding these sounds so seamlessly.
Trey: I think we mostly just play a new song together a few times, whether it’s a cover or an original, and we know pretty much immediately whether it’ll work or not. We are both influenced by a huge variety of music, so we have a lot of options when writing new material or choosing cover songs. I think that blend and the genre hopping works for us because at any given time on the road we’ll go from listening to Merle Haggard to Miles Davis to Muddy Waters. We approach picking our material as naturally as possible.

I do take my coffee-making skills pretty seriously …

NWM 10: If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
Trey: Louis Armstrong.

NWM 11: What are your special interests beyond music?
Trey: Hanging with family is mostly what I do when I’m not playing. I do take my coffee-making skills pretty seriously, if that counts as a special interest. haha! I’m also a big movie fan. Specifically horror movies and also westerns. I am also a sneakerhead.

NWM 12: Your duo’s new EP with Tommy Emmanuel titled Accomplice Series Vol. I with Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley was recently announced and [was] released on May 7.

Tell us about this new album, how the music differs from your other records, and working with Tommy.
Trey: We recorded this album in the same way that Rob and I work on our albums: totally live in the studio. Obviously, Tommy is a musical genius and such a master at his craft, and it was so inspiring working with him. We all just sat together in the same room and played all the tracks completely live, feeding off that energy.

I’m so proud of this EP, and it will definitely go down as one of the highlights of my musical life.

This record is different from mine and Rob’s records, mainly because of having a third instrumental voice in the mix (who just happens to be one of the world’s greatest musicians) and no singing at all.

I’m so proud of this EP, and it will definitely go down as one of the highlights of my musical life.

Trey Hensley, Tommy Emmanuel, and Rob Ickes | Photo by Brian Penix
Trey Hensley, Tommy Emmanuel, and Rob Ickes | Photo by Brian Penix

NWM 13: What is something that has surprised you in your life or career? Tell us a bit about it.
Trey: How amazing being a dad is. I mean, people say that to expecting parents a lot … but you never fully experience it until it happens. I knew it was going to be great, but it definitely exceeds expectations.

Career-wise, I was definitely surprised to be nominated as [IBMA] Guitar Player of the Year last year. That was something I’d dreamed of my whole musical career, but never thought it could happen. I love all four of the other nominees and their music, and it was just a tremendous honor … and I’m still not sure how I ended up on the list.

It’s ok to have influences, but when you are playing music you should always sound like yourself.

NWM 14: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that you actually follow?
Trey: It’s ok to have influences, but when you are playing music you should always sound like yourself. Someone told me that a long time ago when I was wearing my influences on my sleeve a little too much. It changed my life, and I’m very thankful for that tip.

NWM 15: Your duo performed ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’ with Taj Mahal on the virtual IBMA Awards in 2020 with Taj in California, and you, Rob, Stuart Duncan, Mike Bub, and John Alvey playing from the Ryman stage. The studio version of that song was included on the record Songs From Quarantine Vol. 1, which was released by Rodney Crowell with performances by Rodney, Keith Urban, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, Ry Cooder, Jeff Tweedy, and many others.

Please share about that unique IBMA performance and having your song included on such a special and historic album.
Trey: Working with Taj is always a dream come true. He’s one of my all-time favorite artists and to call him a friend is unbelievable. Recording that song was so much fun. … We recorded it first thing in the morning of a recording session, and it was totally sporadic and all completely live, which makes for the best recordings [in my opinion]. To be included on such a special album was incredible! And to have Taj join us on the IBMA Award show was a lifetime highlight for me. It’s something I’ll never forget. Ever.

Stuart Duncan, Trey Hensley, and Rob Ickes at the Grand Ole Opry June 5, 2021
Stuart Duncan, Trey Hensley, and Rob Ickes at the Grand Ole Opry June 5, 2021

NWM 16: What is a core tenet by which you live your life or approach your music?
Trey: Honesty and integrity. For life and music.

NWM 17: Apart from live music, what are you most looking forward to when things return to ‘normal’?
Trey: So many things. Handshakes and high fives are at the top of my list.

NWM 18: What is a unique trait or quality that sets you apart from the crowd?
Trey: As a guitar player, it’s always weird explaining that my fingers are double-jointed. It both hinders and helps … depending on what lick I’m going for at the moment.

Honesty and integrity. For life and music.

NWM 19: What is one thing you would want our readers to know about you which we might not know to ask?
Trey: ‘Mama Tried’ is the greatest song ever written.

Ohh and you can like both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Also, everyone should own a copy of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

One more thing, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a great movie. I don’t care what anyone says. I know the overwhelming majority of people don’t like it … and it is a corny and over-the-top 80s movie … but if it wasn’t included in the Halloween franchise, it would be considered a classic. That’s a hill I’ll die on.

NWM 20: What’s next for Trey Hensley?
Trey: Rob and I are working on a new record! I’m hoping to be working on a solo record in the near future, also. Mine and Rob’s touring schedule will hopefully be back up and running soon … so we are looking forward to hitting the road and playing for all the kind folks all over the world!

Here’s to a happy (and healthy) future!

Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley – “Deeper Than A Dirt Road” (Featuring Stuart Duncan, Mike Bub, and John Alvey)
Live at the Grand Ole Opry – June 5, 2021

Trey Hensley

Trey Hensley

“Hensley plays flattop with the voracity of a hangry junkyard dog. He’s also a gifted singer who can bend notes and wrangle words like the late George Jones and Merle Haggard…” – Andy Ellis (Premier Guitar)

Keeping true to the roots of country music is not only a lovely sentiment of nostalgia, but a necessity for the growth of an artist … and staying true to the roots just comes naturally for Trey Hensley. After picking up a guitar at the age of 10, he quickly took the bluegrass world by storm—even performing on the Grand Ole Opry when he was 11 when he was brought onstage by Marty Stuart to play with Marty and Earl Scruggs.

Having grown up in eastern Tennessee—one of the cradles of traditional music—Hensley doesn’t seem to have ever doubted what he was meant to do. He was making music—and albums—with famous artists before his voice changed. Through the years, Hensley has had the opportunity to perform with the likes of Marty Stuart, Earl Scruggs, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Charlie Daniels, Steve Wariner, The Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, Blue Highway, J. D. Crowe, and many others.

To learn more and buy stuff visit https://www.robandtrey.com/

You may enjoy our 20:20 with Rob Ickes

And also our previous 20:20 with Tommy Emmanuel

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