Lincoln Hensley: Changes
by Shelby C. Berry
A few years ago, The Bluegrass Standard interviewed Lincoln Hensley (check out the 2019 feature to discover Lincoln’s musical beginnings) when he was a student at East Tennessee State University and a member of a new band. Since then—a lot has changed, the music industry, the world … and Lincoln.
Without the opportunity to tour and play music due to COVID-19, Lincoln had to approach his career differently.
“COVID really shocked the music industry,” said Lincoln. “Most people turned to social media for ways to play their music. In the beginning, I joined my former director at the ETSU bluegrass program Dan Boner and another musician to do a Tone Tuesday on social media.”
Their recorded videos were very successful. “Our first one got 17,000 views, so we kept it up. Under the guidance of the amazing Sonny Osborne of The Osborne Brothers, he encouraged us to sing songs and other things that haven’t been done much in 60 or 70 years. It has really filled our creative void in this time.”
Then something amazing happened.
Lincoln joined his mentor and friend, Sonny Osborne, in creating their banjo company—KRAKO Banjos, an opportunity Lincoln never thought he’d have.
Join The Bluegrass Standard for this up close and personal interview with Lincoln.
Bluegrass Standard: In the crazy COVID world we’ve lived in for over a year, how have your performances and your time spent changed?
Lincoln Hensley: I’ve done a few shows. I’ve played at The Station Inn in Nashville, Tennessee a few times, but it is limited seating only. Hopefully, things will start opening quickly with the vaccines now. First, at The Station Inn, there was no audience at all. We played to a lot of empty chairs. Honestly, I didn’t like it too much. It was very difficult.
BS: What’s life like since your graduation from ETSU?
LH: I’ve been playing with the Price Sisters for almost 3 years. I love playing music on the road. You get to see what your music does to a listener live and see how it affects them. It’s great to have a job to see how your music affects people’s emotions. And, of course, I’ve been making banjos. I got to start a banjo company with Sonny Osborne called KRAKO Banjo. We’ve sold a lot of them, and we even sold three since yesterday actually! It’s a lot of fun. The only bad this is that it gives me really bad BAS or Banjo Acquisition Syndrome. At least it’s a lot cheaper on me! I get to play a new one for a few days before we give it to the new owner.
BS: What currently inspires you musically?
LH: To start my career, it was Earl Scruggs. I heard him play, and it lit a fire under me. He created the whole thing of bluegrass music in my opinion – the way I want to play. I quickly became interested in Sonny Osborne’s style of playing as well. He is a very musically minded genius. He’s earned that title. Even though he doesn’t play anymore, he still teaches me a few times a month, and he has done that for 3 or 4 years. It’s an honor to learn from that guy! I think the world of him and Bobby.
BS: If you weren’t playing music, what would you do?
LH: In high school, I wanted to be an auto body technician. I even placed in a competition. I always loved old cars, but I got a full ride to ETSU for banjo playing and my life changed. I thought I’d give it a try. I haven’t sanded a car since then. I’ve always been very mechanically minded. My dad and grandad both worked on cars. My grandfather on my mom’s side was an old-time fiddle player though, and he could play it all. Everyone says I get my musical talent from him.
BS: When we last talked, you hoped to record your banjo album. Were you able to?
LH: I actually did finish it! It is sealed and ready to print. I was about to release it when COVID hit, but I didn’t. I wouldn’t have had any shows to sell it at. Sonny produced it for me which was a major deal! His mind is incredible. He brought a lot out of me in the studio I didn’t know I could do myself.
BS: What is the biggest challenge representing yourself as a young musician while staying true to traditional bluegrass music?
LH: It’s hard to play the music in a traditional way without falling into the copycat category. Earl Scruggs was brilliant. Sonny has helped me be creative on my own. He listened to other genres of music other than bluegrass like big country session players. He would use things from them, and no one had ever heard that on the banjo. He has helped me figure out that process. I hardly listen to any new bluegrass, because I don’t want to unintentionally bring it into my playing. I really only listen to Sonny and Earl. All my other musical inspiration comes from other genres – Ray Charles, Pearl Travis, and Hank Thompson.
BS: Do you hope to play the Grand Ole Opry again?
LH: Yes, I wish I was there every Saturday! That was an amazing experience to play with Bobby Osborne. I would love to play with him again and play on my own someday. It was a dream come true! I want to play the Ryman Auditorium next, though.
BS: What is the ultimate dream for your music?
LH: Success is measured in a lot of ways. Some think it’s money, some think it’s fans. I just want to be able to touch people with my music. I want them to feel good or sad depending on the song. My goal would be for my music to inspire people to play the banjo or listen to another song.
BS: What’s next?
LH: The next big thing is getting that record out. I hope people haven’t forgotten about it! I’m looking forward to it. Some of my favorite musicians are on there with me. It’s all about timing and getting the most people to see it, so we are waiting for the right time. But you can check out the banjos we’ve been building! There’s already a year-long waiting list. It’s such a real treat to do that with Sonny. It put a tear in my eye the first time I saw one of the banjos.
You can follow Lincoln Hensley, his music, and his banjo business on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.