Clay Hess is a Grammy award winner who first burst upon the national 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 began playing guitar at age nine after hearing Tony Rice's landmark recording, "Manzanita." From there, Clay's life was changed because all he did was play his old cheap "guitar. Before too long, Clay got his first "real" guitar when his dad bought him a new Martin D18 for his birthday. Clay continued to hone his skills and develop his own style, winning guitar contests along the way, including the Ohio State Guitar Championship in 1995. 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. 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.
Eventually Clay left Dollywood to return home to Ohio. He was working in construction and had nearly quit playing altogether when Ricky Skaggs called in 1999 and asked him to fill the guitar slot for Kentucky Thunder. Clay thought the call was a joke and hung up the phone. Ricky called a second time and convinced Clay that the offer was real. Clay was thrilled at the opportunity to play rhythm and lead guitar with these stellar musicians. Clay spent the next three years performing with Kentucky Thunder. While Clay was part of the band, the International Bluegrass Music Association awarded Kentucky Thunder their Instrumental Band of the Year Award for both 1999 and 2000. Clay recorded on three projects with Skaggs, and was awarded a Grammy for his participation on the project "Soldier of the Cross."
After leaving Skaggs' band, Clay toured with The Mark Newton Band playing mandolin and then guitar before joining Mountain Heart. Shortly, he left to join one of the hottest young bands around, Sierra Hull and Highway 111.
Though Clay largely considers himself a bluegrass player, his influences range outside of bluegrass and include players such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Charlie Parker and Leon Rhodes. The CF Martin guitar company has recently began production of the Clay Hess D-18 signature model guitar.