Guitar & Vocals

Clay Hess is from Athens, Ohio. His first introduction to many was as the lead guitarist for Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, winning a Grammy Award during his tenure there.  After departing Skaggs, Hess toured and recorded with several of the top bands in the genre.  With the help of long time friend and musical comrade Randy Kohrs, Clay recorded his critically acclaimed solo album, RAIN, with the title track going to #1 on the Bluegrass Today chart. The success of the project directly led to the formation of The Clay Hess Band in 2012.   

 "Growing up in a musical family, it wasn't hard to find an instrument laying around to plunk on". Pair that with having a desire to learn, a passion for music, and a wealth of people to learn from and you get a musician.  "Having a family of talented players and singers is an advantage if you can keep your ears open and your mouth shut. I should have done more of both." Today with The Clay Hess Band you can hear the result of all the jam sessions, bar gigs, bluegrass festivals, and hours learning from relatives/musicians/recordings.  Known for his syncopated sense of timing, Hess always tries to keep you guessing what is coming next .



John Wheat started playing banjo at 12 years old after hearing an old Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs album that his dad had bought in 1958. From there, it wasn’t long until he started playing mandolin, guitar, and electric guitar. He went on to enjoy a long career of professional music, being blessed to play with some of his heroes, including playing banjo on Mark Newton’s Hillbilly Hemingway album. Not long after the completion of this album, John was excepted into IU School of Medicine, where he embarked on a career as a physician, which understandably cut back on his ability to play professionally. After a long hiatus, John is thrilled to be able to play again with some of his friends and heroes.


Bass & Vocal

When a person is surrounded by music and musicians from birth, it is a near certainty that music will be a large part of that person's life.  Brennan Hess is a case in point.  Growing up in Adams County, Ohio, Brennan grew up in a musical family. His mom, uncles, cousins, grandfathers, and grandmothers all played music, so it seems only logical that he would do the same, and he has. He plays guitar, bass, sings all the parts, and does some engineering at 7flat studio with me. He is a tremendous asset to the band and everything else he is involved in.


Mandolin / Vocals

Darrell was a young boy when he fell in love with music, singing with his grandpa. At 11 years old, he was given a guitar for his birthday, and the journey began. After learning a few simple chords, he stood before the congregation with his grandpa, singing his heart out. As time passed, he progressed into the mandolin, and the banjo soon followed. As the years went on, he stayed on the farm working with his dad and grandpa, raising cattle, helping put the crops in, and learning the construction trade while going to every bluegrass festival his grandparents could get him to.
In 2002, he married his high school sweetheart and started a family. 

As time went on, he found himself in a cattle pasture with his dad and grandpa, talking about how to turn a rough, ugly 40-acre patch into a successful bluegrass festival of their own. The Back 40 Bluegrass Festival has been up and running since 2008. 

Darrell looks forward to the next chapter of his musical journey and is extremely excited to work with this group of guys to keep traditional bluegrass music alive and thriving. 

Jim Thistle II


Jim Thistle II, who moved to Nashville, TN, in 1994, has established himself both an active studio musician and live performer. His persistence and hard work have provided him opportunities to work with the Dixie Chicks, Kenny Chesney, Susan Ashton, Eddy Arnold, and the Grand Ole’ Opry among others.

Growing up in Brazil, Indiana, Jim studied percussion from his father, a band director. In junior high and high school, Jim played in various school bands and in local and country and rock groups. At fourteen he decided to concentrate on drum set, studying at Indiana State University. He went on to study with Kenny Aronoff, one of this generation’s most influential drummers. Jim’s education and experience have provided him with a well-versed background in percussion.

Jim provides a positive attitude and solid foundation for any artist he is supporting. He feels very fortunate to have the opportunity to motivate others to achieve their goals through private lessons and education clinics in cooperation with Sonor drums. Jim’s commitment to knowledge and hard work continually propels him to success. In his own words, “I live to perform and perfect my craft. I cannot put the sticks down!”