Randy Steele, a member of Chattanooga, TN Local 820 and a bluegrass singer-songwriter, has been nominated for two Independent Music Awards – one for Best Bluegrass Album of the Year and one for Best Bluegrass Song of the Year for “Mobile Soon.”

Steele was no stranger to music growing up, as his mother is a talented singer and they often sang and played music in their church. He played the guitar in high school and was in a band in college, but Steele had stopped playing music for a while when he picked up the banjo again as a career fire fighter with the Chattanooga Fire Department. “In the firehouse, I needed something to help me decompress and I found that by playing again,” he says.​

Steele formed a band called the Slim Pickins Bluegrass Band, going back to his roots with songwriting. In the past two years, Slim Pickins established an impressive following and even toured in Europe for a month in 2016. Steele says the band played in Belgium and Holland where the crowds weren’t quite sure what to make of the bluegrass style, but would request the American classic “Country Road” every time – so the band made sure they learned the song.

Steele soon embarked on a solo album, enlisting the help of his band and other musician friends, to experiment with a less traditional bluegrass style – mixing in drums and slide guitar. His album, Songs From the Suck, tells stories of living in Tennessee where Suck Creek forms “the Suck” on the Tennessee River – boasting treacherous waters and a dark history.

The purpose of making music for Steele is two-fold. He enjoys it but he also needs it. “I work in a busy fire station. When you’re out there running calls and in the action, you’re okay, but back when things calm down – when it’s quiet – you need an outlet for some of that stress and frustration that might build up. You’ve got to have something.”

The success of his hobby-turned-solo venture was a pleasant surprise to Steele, who was not expecting it to take off as it has. Being nominated for an Independent Music Award, both for an album and a song, is no small feat in the music industry.

Steele and his wife, Kristy, will travel to New York City’s Lincoln Center at the end of March to attend the ceremony. Neither has been to New York before. His children, 12-year-old Anne and eight-year-old Charlie will begrudgingly stay behind, but remain optimistic about their dad’s musical career and the possible adventures it may entail.

Hear Steele’s new album here: