Clay Hess is a Grammy award winner who first burst upon the bluegrass music scene as the red-hot flat-picking guitarist with Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, with whom he toured for three years. With his awesome speed and tasty sense of syncopation, Hess has established himself as one of the top flat-pickers in the business.
Clay Hess comes from a family of musicians. Clay’s dad taught him how to play guitar when he was 10. His father, brother and uncles played in a country and bluegrass band and were Clay’s earliest musical influences. Clay has fond memories of tagging along to watch them play in local clubs, listening to their music and absorbing the ambiance. Clay dreamed that one day he would be up there and they would come see him play. It was soon apparent that Clay had the talent to carry on the family tradition.
As a teenager, Clay studied the innovative style of legendary acoustic bluegrass guitarist, Tony Rice, while continuing to hone his skills and develop his own style. When he was 19, a friend told him about an open audition at Dollywood. Clay landed the gig, playing guitar with the band, True Blue. In 1995, Clay won the Ohio State Guitar Championship and the following year, Clay was the recipient of the Bob Evans Farm Guitar Championship. Fellow musicians were noticing Clay’s talents as a country and bluegrass guitarist. One of them was multi-Grammy Award winning country/bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs.
Ricky had heard Clay’s work and in January of 1999, he asked Clay to join his band, Kentucky Thunder. Clay was thrilled at the opportunity to play rhythm and lead guitar with these stellar musicians. In 1999, Kentucky Thunder garnered the IBMA (International Bluegrass Musicians Association) “Instrumental Group of the Year” award and continues to receive accolades. Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder won the Grammy Award for “Best Bluegrass Album of the Year” in both 1999 and 2000.