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.
By 1997, friend and former Pecos band mate of John’s, Jimmy Godwin, was added to the group’s roster, which lead to Hickory Hill's fifth recording, "Good Times Again". Released in March, 1998, it 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, 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 its 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 its will to persevere, which was tested not long after when Jimmy Godwin unexpectedly passed. Jimmy was an outstanding musician, songwriter, and longtime friend of the band. He 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.
In the spring of 2002, original member Ronny Singley made a decision to retire from traveling with the group prior to sessions beginning for the band’s eighth recording. Long time friend Mike Tucker was called in to contribute the first mandolin tracks for the project and another friend of the band, a talented west Texas musician, Wes Perry, was recruited to add mandolin to the remaining tracks. It turned out Wes was willing and able to 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. Another friend of the band, Milo Deering, would contribute fiddle and dobro parts. “Freedom” would release in the summer of 2002. It contained more of the heartfelt original material that had 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.
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 contributed his compositions “Old Red” and “Fly Like A Dove”.
Toward the end of 2009, after thirty years with the band, 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 joined them on banjo, guitar and vocals But 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, 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 add in on mandolin and guitar. This allowed Wes to play mostly banjo with an occasional trade off with Michael on mandolin. In the summer of 2012, old friend Milo Deering, who had contributed to the “Freedom” project, and was now known as one of Dallas' most accomplished instrumentalists, 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, knowing he would bring a new level of magic to the band.
By the summer of 2014, the group was able to release "The Kings of Texas Folk-Grass". Titled after a moniker coined by long time friend and musician Mike Powell, the project takes full advantage of the addition of virtuosos Michael Morrison and Milo Deering. It featured 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 2016, Wes and Michael both made a decision to step away from Hickory Hill and follow new musical pursuits. So at the beginning of 2017, 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 were willing and able to come out and play a bit. 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, Milo became somewhat unavailable because of touring commitments with Don Henley and Eagles. So they invited longtime musician friend and funny man Richard Bowden, from the former musical comedy act Pinkard and Bowden, to join in as well. Richard had been friends with John since their youth and had been a band mate for years with Richard Bowden with Moon & the Starz. Richard was thrilled at the chance to work with this group, which he had admired for years. And this added a new level of smilin’ to the act.
So Hickory Hill’s resulting lineup now included John Early, guitar; Bob Stegall, bass; Don Eaves, banjo and guitar; Ronny Singley, mandolin; Milo Deering, fiddle and dobro; and Richard Bowden, B-Bender guitar. John would still handle most of the lead vocals, but Don, Ronny and Richard would take occasional leads and all including Milo and Bob would contribute harmonies.
By the middle of 2018, the group was enjoying this generation of the band well enough to begin a new recording. They began the initial tracks but things got pretty busy, especially for Milo, so it wasn’t until spring of 2019 that work really began. “Forty years and counting…” was the result. Released on August 10, 2019 at a special show at Dosey Doe – The Big Barn, the album celebrates the fortieth anniversary of Hickory Hill. Tracks chosen for the project include a few older songs updated to their current arrangements along with some new original compositions and cover tunes. It’s a great reflection of where the band has been and where it’s going.
Years ago, the Bluegrass Newsletter stated, "Selectivity and tasteful arrangement are characteristic of Hickory Hill's repertoire." Variety remains an important ingredient in Hickory Hill's performances. The band continues to emphasize 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 once 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." And as Bob Claypool of the Houston Chronicle once said "...The next time Hickory Hill is in your town, go see them, you'll love them."