Ickes and Hensley on Elton John’s “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun”

Recently I have been reacquainting myself with Elton John’s 1970 concept album Tumbleweed Connection. In that album, John and and Bernie Taupin delved into country and Americana themes. Although the album included the single “Country Comfort,” many of the songs on Tumbleweed Connection are not among the singer’s most well-known.  

I always enjoy going back to lesser-known songs by music icons.  It helps you re-discover their talent in a new way, separate from the songs that you already know and take for granted.

Tumbleweed Connection opens with the nearly 5-minute long “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun.”  The song creates the Western setting of much of the album by chronicling the tale of a fugitive who is finally caught (“Now they’ve found me / At last they’ve found me.”).  Instead of being proud of his reputation, the singer laments, “I’m tired of hearing / There goes a well-known gun.”

The duo Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley recently dusted off “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun” and gave it a Bluegrass twist on their album, The Country Blues.  Like Elton John, they use the track to open the record.

Ickes and Hensley had worked separately as session musicians for a number of Nashville’s big names while making other recordings before teaming up. Ickes first discovered Hensley’s vocal talent when he heard Hensley’s scratch vocal for an album that Ickes’s band Blue Highway was making. The band had planned to use a guest vocal but liked Hensley’s voice so much they used him for the released version of the song.

After that, Hensley moved to Nashville and has been working with the older Ickes. In 2015, the two released Before the Sun Goes Down, which was nominated for the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy.

Their recent album The Country Blues features covers like the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” as well as an original track. If you are a fan of bluegrass music, check it out.

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