About Hickory Hill
Celebrating their 40th anniversary in September, 2019, Hickory Hill has proven to be one of Texas' most popular and enduring acoustic groups. Through the years, the band has won considerable recognition, winning third place in the "Best New Band" contest at the Bluegrass Festival of the United States in Louisville, KY in 1981, and being nominated by SPBGMA as "Entertaining Bluegrass Band of the Year" in 1985 and "Bluegrass Band of the Year, Contemporary" in 1986. In 1993, Hickory Hill was named "Band Of The Year" by the Arts and Entertainment Committee of East Texas, and in 1996 was selected for a showcase performance at the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual World of Bluegrass in Owensboro, Kentucky. Hickory Hill was the host band of the Overton Bluegrass Music Festival from the festival's inception in 1989.
Hickory Hill's first four albums, "Coyote Night" (1982), "Special Historical Edition" (1983), "It's About Time" (1985), and "Reminiscin'" (1990) received both critical acclaim and widespread acceptance from fans. In reviewing It's About Time, Ted Miller of the Bluegrass Newsletter said "...If all the albums produced sounded like this, bluegrass would be at the top of the record charts." In 1994, Hickory Hill signed with Turquoise Records of Whitesburg, Kentucky, to release a compilation of its first four albums. The resulting CD, entitled "The First Fifteen Years", received significant national and international attention and airplay. A Bluegrass, Canada reviewer described The First Fifteen Years as "...chock full of creative lyrics and instrumental high points." A review of the album in Dirty Linen said "Hickory Hill is a cross between Poco gone grass and a Dirt Band that bathes, with a splash of Bill Monroe..."
Before the band could record another release, original founding member and very popular front man, Rolan Foster was lost prematurely when he passed to cancer in 1996. It was a difficult loss for the band and it created a large empty space in the band's performances which John Early was forced to step up and fill as he dealt with the loss of his longtime friend and musical partner.
Hickory Hill's fifth recording, "Good Times Again", released in March, 1998, features original songs written by Jimmy Godwin, John Early, and Don Eaves. Two of the selections from Good Times Again, "Cadillac" and "Pecos Wind", which were released on Prime Cuts of Bluegrass, have received favorable reviews and frequent airplay by DJ's from coast to coast, as well as in Germany, France, The Netherlands, Australia, Estonia, and other international markets.
In January, 2000 Hickory Hill released it's first all-gospel recording entitled "Thank You Lord". This long awaited and requested project featured more original songs by Jimmy Godwin ("Lost and Found", "Red Roses", and "The Rock") and John Early ("Sharecropper's Prayer"). The CD stands as a testament to the faith that strengthens the band and it's will to persevere.
Jimmy Godwin, an outstanding musician, songwriter, and longtime friend of the band, was a member of Hickory Hill from 1997 until his untimely passing in 2000. Jimmy composed many of Hickory Hill's most popular songs, including "The James Boys and Me", "Cadillac", "Pecos Wind", "Simple Love Song", "Lost and Found", and many more.
Original member, Ronny Singley, retired from traveling with the group in the spring of 2002, and long time friend Mike Tucker then stepped in to contribute mandolin on many occasions.
"Freedom" , the band's eighth recording released in the summer of 2002, contains more of the heartfelt original material that has become the band's trademark. Two of the last songs Jimmy Godwin shared with the group are featured along with four contributions penned by John Early. A talented west Texas musician, Wes Perry, was recruited to add mandolin to some of the tracks and not long after would give the band a full time mandolin player once again. And it didn't hurt to know that he was also an accomplished banjoist and a fine singer.
Hickory Hill’s ninth release came in 2006. "Old School" was the realization of a long held desire to record a traditional bluegrass CD. As on their previous recordings, they included some original material. For this project, Wes Perry contributes his compositions “Old Red” and “Fly Like A Dove”.
Toward the end of 2009, original member and banjoist-guitarist-vocalist Don Eaves decided to retire from performing, so temporarily, Wes switched back and forth between mandolin and banjo until they were fortunate enough to recruit Jake Jenkins. Jake had spent a number of years working with The Karl Shifflett and Big Country Show. Jake was an extraordinary talent who they felt fortunate to have join them on banjo, guitar and vocals Then, devastatingly, only a year and a half later, he was lost at only forty years of age, to a tragic airplane accident. It was a difficult loss.
By the summer of 2011, now missing both of their former banjoists, Wes had returned to switching between mandolin and banjo to fill the vacancy. Fortunately, a young, award winning flat picker friend named Michael Morrison agreed to step in to fill the mandolin spot to allow Wes to play banjo full time. In the summer of 2012, an old friend, and one of Dallas' most accomplished and best known instrumentalists, Milo Deering, asked to join into a regular role. One of the most sought after musicians in the Dallas area, the rest of the band was thrilled by his interest in being a part of the Hickory Hill family. A good friend for a number of years, he brought a new level of magic to their music.
The band's most recent release completed in the summer of 2014. "The Kings of Texas Folk-Grass", named after the moniker coined by long time friend and musician Mike Powell, takes full advantage of the addition of virtuosos Michael Morrison and Milo Deering. It features some incredible arrangements of an eclectic collection of cover tunes special to the band members. There are lead vocal contributions from John, Wes and Michael. The project was recorded at Milo's Dallas studio, Acoustic Kitchen.
At the end of 2015, Wes and Michael both made a decision to step away from Hickory Hill and follow new musical pursuits. This left an obvious empty space. So at the beginning of 2016, exploring some options for moving on, John, Bob and Milo were in touch with original members Don Eaves and Ronny Singley. It turned out that both of them thought it might be fun to come out and play a bit. So they got together, went over some of their favorites and learned some of the new tunes and readied themselves for some shows. By the middle of the year, with Milo somewhat unavailable because of other touring commitments, they invited longtime musician friend and funny man Richard Bowden to join in as well.
So Hickory Hill now includes John Early, guitar; Bob Stegall, bass; Don Eaves, banjo and guitar; Ronny Singley, mandolin; Milo Deering, fiddle and dobro; and Richard Bowden, guitar. John sings most of the lead vocals, with Don, Ronny, Milo and Richard adding harmony vocals and occasional leads.
According to the Bluegrass Newsletter, "Selectivity and tasteful arrangement are characteristic of Hickory Hill's repertoire." Variety is an important ingredient in Hickory Hill's performances. The band emphasizes original material, seldom heard "gems", or songs adapted from other styles of music. Original and classic gospel songs are some of the band's favorites. Hickory Hill has always been known for its warm personality and stage presence. Lee Kelly of the Longview Morning Journal wrote "...Together, they forge a sound like a drink of cold spring water, guaranteed to clear your head and wash away the taste of ashes." Bob Claypool of the Houston Chronicle said "...The next time Hickory Hill is in your town, go see them, you'll love them." They hope you will.