Dave Pomeroy! What an exciting and great pleasure it was to interview Dave. Dave is a highly respectable individual within the Nashville music community. He has recorded and performed with many artists, including the great Don Williams, and being able to take the bass past all boundaries imaginable, it’s no wonder that Dave is in high demand!
TC) How did you get started playing bass?
DP) I grew up in a military family, and was born overseas in Naples, Italy. When I was about four years old we moved to England. I remember watching television with my older brother and sister, and by 1962, suddenly the Beatles were everywhere on the “telly,” as the Brits called it. It was before they had come over to the states to play the Ed Sullivan show, which started the British Invasion. I was fascinated with them, although I didn’t know why. I think that lit a little spark that manifested itself a few years later after we moved back to the states in the summer of 1964 when I was eight. I took some piano lessons, and I played clarinet in the school band, but I hadn’t found my calling yet.
When I was 10, the school started a string orchestra and they invited anyone who was interested to go try out. I got it in my head somehow that I wanted to play cello but when I got there and started talking to the woman that was going to run the orchestra, she said, “We don’t have anybody to play the bass, you have big hands, so would you want to play the bass?” There was a string bass sitting over in the corner and she pointed to it and I thought “Wow, that’s cool. Yeah, I want to play that!” I guess I had some aptitude for it. I started playing it in the fifth grade, and in sixth grade they started a countywide youth orchestra, which I auditioned for and I got first chair, mostly bowing a lot of whole notes, but it was something I enjoyed and it was fun.
A couple years later, I finally figured out the bass guitar was a smaller and louder cousin of the string bass, which was a revelation, and realized that was really what I wanted to be doing. I mowed yards all summer and bought a Kingston electric for $42. I had a falling out with the junior high string teacher, and I think I used that as a reason to tell my parents that I wanted to trade the string bass in and get an electric bass. We went to a music store, and I got a cherry red Gibson EB2DC, the two pickup model, which I still have today. I started playing in bands through my high school years in Virginia and Pennsylvania and then I went to college for two years at UVA. My sophomore year I got into a folk/rock trio that was working quite a bit, and I lost interest in my studies because making music was what I really want to do with my life, and was much more fun!
My dad was stationed overseas in Belgium at NATO headquarters at that time, so I had a chance to go to Europe. I dropped out of college and showed up in Belgium and told my parents I wanted to go to London and play music, which shocked them but they could see I was determined to try. Soon after, I went to London, got there on a Wednesday, answered an ad in a music paper, got an audition the next day, got the gig, rehearsed, and played my first show within five days of being there. The next Monday, I went down to the immigration department and applied for a work permit, and stayed there for a year playing in various bands, including one that went to Denmark and played six hours a night, 28 nights in a row. When it was time to come back to the states, I knew I wanted to go to a major music center, and not go back to a regional scene. The singer in the band I worked with at UVA, Mary Bomar, had moved to Nashville, so I went there first to try my luck, and that’s how I ended up in Music City. 38 years later, this is my home and I love this town.
TC) Since being in Nashville, you have played and recorded with many different artists, can you tell us about that?
DP) When I got here my first job was with Sleepy LaBeef, a very interesting character originally from Arkansas, who was, at the time, working out of Boston and just passing through town, which I didn’t figure out until later. I traveled the Northeast working with him in honky tonks and bars. It was not a glamorous or lucrative gig, but it was a valuable experience and I learned a lot from him. He is a very unique singer and versatile guitarist, and an expert in what they now call Americana or Roots music. Whether it’s country, blues, rockabilly, or any kind of roots driven guitar music, he literally knows thousands of songs, and one of his nicknames is The Human Jukebox. Every set is one long medley! We never rehearsed, he would just play song after song, and I would have to follow and learn. I wasn’t really that familiar with country, and blues to me was bands like Cream and The Allman Brothers. He hipped me to the real authentic blues artists like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, gospel pioneers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, along with Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson and all these other country and rockabilly artists. Sleepy would just rattle these songs off one after another and you had to be on your toes at all times. It was great training for Nashville, but after nine months on the road went by, I was itching to get back there. The singer I had moved to Nashville to work with had gone back to Virginia to visit her folks, had a car wreck, and she really didn’t want to go back to Nashville, so I left Sleepy and spent a few months doing some gigs with her in Virginia and saving some money, and moved back to Nashville again back for good in October ‘78.
This time, I stayed off the road and got day jobs like selling fire alarms and encyclopedias door-to-door. I finally started meeting a few musicians and songwriters and jamming with them. One day, I was doing an impromptu recording session down in a guy’s basement and the drummer, who I had never met before, was named Freddy Fletcher. At the end of the session, he said he liked the way I played and asked me if I would like to play with Guy Clark. Guy was one of the preeminent Texas singer/songwriters in the tradition of Townes Van Zandt. He was living in Nashville and had a deal with Warner Brothers at the time, so I started playing with him, which was a real step up. It was also my first education in the musical minimalism that happens when songs are so well written that the lyrics demand your respect. You don’t want to play a bunch of busy stuff and get in the way of the story being told, and it’s certainly not the right time for that bass solo that you were sure was going to set the world on fire! Guy was patient with me while I learned to lay back and listen, and was always very encouraging. We are still friends to this day. The band was Guy, Freddy, me, and Eddie Shaver, who sadly is no longer with us, who was 16 at the time and already playing great guitar. Around that same time Guy started sharing his band with Billy Joe Shaver, Eddie’s dad and another great Texas songwriter. With Billy Joe’s band, there were a couple more guys added and I alternated playing with Guy and Billy Joe for close to a year.
Along the way, I had made friends with some of the guys in Don Williams’s band, including drummer Pat McInerney and Dave Williamson, Don’s bass player. He called me one day to tell me he was thinking of quitting, because he wanted to be a full time songwriter and get off the road. He asked me if I would be interested, and I jumped at the chance. Don was a big star, but I didn’t really know his music, so I immediately had to go searching and buy some of his records. I was out with Billy Joe on a pretty rough tour riding around the country in a van, and when the gig with Don came open. I was on the phone begging my buddies from Don’s band to wait another week or two ‘til I got back, and asking Dave to hang on a little longer. I got to Nashville on a Tuesday, rehearsed with the band on Wednesday, met Don and rehearsed with him on Thursday. I spent those four or five days just immersing myself in Don’s music. I had to learn about 24 songs and the harmony vocals too, with no charts allowed on stage, so I had to memorize the tunes. I played my first show with him on Friday to the biggest crowd I had ever played for in my life, who were also the quietest crowd I had ever played for! After the first night Don said, “Feels pretty solid” and that was pretty much all I heard from him the whole weekend. We got back to town after two shows, and he gets out of the bus, goes to his truck to leave and I wasn’t sure where I stood, so I went over to tell him I really enjoyed working with him and that I hoped we can do it again sometime. Don, who is a man of very few words, smiled and said “See you next weekend!” and I was ecstatic. My oldest son Philip had just been born and it was a wonderful time to land a great job like that.
Almost all the things that happened from that point on were related one way or the other to the Don Williams gig. We played everywhere from the Astrodome to the Royal Albert Hall, and it was amazing. After a while, the band started doing shows around town without Don, and called ourselves the Bus Riders, because a lot of times it felt like that was what we did for a living. Danny Flowers was the lead guitar player and main songwriter who had written “Tulsa Time” which was a big hit for Don that Eric Clapton covered as well. Don was very gracious; he would let us play a few songs in the middle of his show. He really liked this funky instrumental tune that our keyboard player, Biff Watson and I wrote together called “Ridin’ Sideways.” Don renamed us The Scratch Band, (as in ‘cooking from scratch’) and got us a record deal with his label, MCA, and much to my amazement, “Ridin’ Sideways” made the album, bass solo and all. We got to play our tune on Austin City Limits and to me, if my career had ended there I would have been fine. The album didn’t really do anything, but it was a great experience regardless.
Gradually I started getting into recording demos and working for other people besides Don. Biff Watson, keyboardist from Don’s band, was also a great guitarist and he I had gotten pretty tight by that time. He had been here longer than I had, and he knew the drill and really helped me a lot. He was patient with me while I learned that you either know how to read a Nashville Number chart or you don’t, and if you are faking it you are going to get busted sooner or later. I learned to read and write number charts and kept improving at finding my own bass parts for original tunes, which typically had no preconceived bass part so I had some freedom. In some ways, I think it was easier for me to do that than to copy something note for note. I still don’t know if it was a lack of discipline or that I just wanted to do my own thing. Next, it was about learning the logistics of tone and sound, and how to lock in with the drummer. For example, if the drummer is going to be really boring and play the same kick drum pattern over and over, I would try to find a way to make it interesting.
I also began to get fascinated with the sonic aspect of recording bass as well, and started exploring different bass sounds. I had been a big fan of a German bassist named Eberhard Weber since first seeing him play in London in the 70s. Eberhard has made many records for ECM as a leader, and he was fronting the band playing a unique electric standup bass like nothing I had ever seen. His bass had a beautiful tone, very trombone like, different than the Jaco fretless bass guitar tone, which is what a lot of people were obsessed with at that time. Jaco was a huge influence on all bass players, including myself, but I was thinking that I don’t want to just copy Jaco’s licks and his sound, because that’s not going to help me find myself. So I was intrigued with Eberhard’s music and especially his tone. Back before there was a Bass Player magazine, Guitar Player would occasionally throw a bone to bass players. Sometime in late 1981, in the “New Product” section there was a picture of an electric upright bass, with a body that looked kind of like an elongated Gibson Thunderbird. It was a five string electric upright, 36″ scale, and was the closest thing I’d ever seen that looked kind of like what Eberhard was playing. I called the builder up, his name was Harry Fleishman, and at the time he was living in Denver. A few months later, we were playing near Denver and Harry brought up one of his basses for me to try. I played it, and loved it. It had that sound I was looking for, so I ordered one and Don (Williams) actually loaned me the money to pay for half of it. I gradually started using it onstage with Don and on a few sessions where I thought it might work. I would occasionally get some weird looks and comments from engineers who had never heard that kind of sound, but gradually it became something I was known for. A few years later, it became a sound people started recognizing, and asking for. Because it looked so different to start and (engineer) Dave Sinko did some mods to it that gave it a bit of a Frankenstein look, I eventually nicknamed it “The Beast.”
Around 1985, I started playing on Don’s records with the top session guys he had been using in the studio for years, including the legendary drummer Kenny Malone. After about two songs, Kenny told me he liked the “end” of my notes, and at first I didn’t know what he meant. What he was referring to was something I had developed subconsciously from playing Don’s music onstage for years. In that half-time, 2/4 feel of Don’s music, I would mute my sustain right as the snare drum hit, leaving room for it to speak in the track. I was concentrating on the downbeats, so I was doing it without even thinking about it. The first single from that album, “Heartbeat in the Darkness” was the first time I heard myself on the radio, and it went to #1. Kenny and I really hit it off, and a couple weeks later we started a band called Tone Patrol with Biff Watson, percussionist Sam Bacco and Larry Chaney on electric guitar that lasted about 10 years, and Kenny to this day is still one of my best friends.
After that, I started getting more and more sessions. Working with Don’s co-producer Garth Fundis in the studio with Keith Whitley, who had an incredible voice, was a real breakthrough for me. I had this feeling that The Beast would fit his voice, and there was definitely a synergy there. I used it on almost everything on the first album we did with Keith, “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” Lo and behold, we had some hits, and The Beast was on the radio! That sound became my hook. Sadly, Keith passed away much too young after the second album we did together, but we had six #1 singles in a row. I started playing on more records and was doing some demos with Emmylou Harris’ husband at the time, Paul Kennerly, and she asked me to play on an album with her called “Bluebird” that is still one of my favorite projects ever. George Massenburg mixed it and the bass tones were amazing, and way up in the mix!
It was a very gradual process from the early to late ‘80s, where I went from playing on a few demos to playing on all kinds of records with people like Alan Jackson, George Jones, Peter Frampton, Adrian Belew, and James McMurtry, it just kind of built up from there and kept going. To be able to do that and also do my own music on the side has been very rewarding, and I have found that each one helps the other, sometimes when you least expect it. I have been blessed and fortunate to work with a lot of great folks and been asked to play on a lot of great songs over the years. It was the influence of Don Williams and Guy Clark that taught me that when it comes to making records it is more about the song than it about hot licks. I think that has been my calling card, playing a lot of different styles and trying to play what is appropriate for that song and style of music. I always try to give 110%, no matter whom I am working for.
I became Don’s bandleader in 1989 and scheduled my increasing amount of sessions around his relatively light touring schedule until I got off the road completely in 1994. Don always encouraged me to do other things, and during my 14 years on the road with him, I wrote songs with him and learned about producing as well, and I will always appreciate all he did for me. The past few years I occasionally subbed for his bass player on tour, and that has been a cool “full circle” kind of thing to do.
TC) You have your own label?
DP) I would like to say I was a visionary ahead of my time, but it was just one of those things that happened. In the mid to late ‘80s, Tone Patrol was writing and playing music that would be considered world music before there was a name for it. There were elements of smooth jazz, funk, and straight ahead jazz as well. We decided to make a live album and we didn’t know who to pitch it to, so we decided to put it out ourselves on cassette, I had a friend who was a graphic artist, we came up with a logo and called the label Earwave Records. Our second album Thin Air was taken from years of live gig recordings and is 100% improvised with guests like Sam Bush and Bill Miller joining in. I’ve kept Earwave going for 25 years now and have put out about a dozen CDs and a couple of DVDs as well, all available at davepomeroy.com.
I’ve made two all bass and vocal solo records, Basses Loaded and Tomorrow Never Knows. I had a lot of fun arranging and playing all the parts myself and making the bass do things that it’s not really intended to do, sonically and conceptually. That was really the birth of the All-Bass Orchestra concept, which really started with the song “The Day the Bass Players Took Over the World”. It was originally written by Emily Kaitz, and Guy Clark heard it and pitched it to me. I worked it up and changed it a little bit, added a second bridge, and I did my own version of it with about twenty bass parts on it. When Emily heard my version, she really liked it and was kind enough to make me co-writer and co-publisher on my version of the song. Years later, I was working with Chet Atkins and he came out to see me play one night and heard that song. He called me the next day and asked for the lyrics. He re-wrote it and recorded it with Tommy Emmanuel and it was the title track of Chet’s final album, The Day the Finger Pickers Took Over the World. We just reissued all of the All-Bass Orchestra stuff we first released on VHS back in the ‘90s, on our most recent DVD The Day the Bass Players Took Over the World. It includes an 18 minute mind-boggling version of “Footprints” by Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey, Oteil Burbridge, and Bill Dickens that was viewed nearly a million times on You Tube before we took it down. It’s nice to have it all out there again in high quality digital format with a bunch of bonus footage including a mini-documentary and some extra tunes, like Duane Eddy playing “Rebel Rouser” with 22 bass players!
My son Seth and I recently made a concert/documentary DVD about Sleepy LaBeef, who is still rockin’ at age 80. It’s called Sleepy LaBeef Rides Again and has done very well. It got picked up by a couple of film festivals, and we have sold quite a few. This is a guy who has worked for sixty years on the road, and to me he just deserves to be appreciated. There is really no one left from his generation who can do what he does. Over the years, Earwave has put out a bunch of different CDs, like Three Ring Circle, with Andy Leftwich on mandolin and Rob Ickes on dobro, who are two incredible musicians. It’s a freewheeling, acoustic power trio where everybody gets to do a lot of different styles with mandolin driving the band rhythmically and way more bass solos than you would normally hear in a bluegrass band! We’ve also released albums by the Jamie Hartford Band, Lorianna Matera, a band called Supercool, featuring the incredible Jeffrey Marshall, who has no arms and plays with his feet, and two records by Paco Shipp, an amazing harmonica player, guitarist, and singer songwriter.
A few years ago when I was playing every Monday night at the 12 South Taproom, with a bunch of great players, I recorded everything for two years. Every night we would do a certain amount of improvisation in a rock/blues/funk format. I compiled the improv pieces and Dave Sinko and I would crossfade one into another to make a long continuous piece of music, like we did on Tone Patrol’s Thin Air album. This one’s called The Taproom Tapes, and there are no actual tunes; it’s just the instrumental improv stuff, and it’s a lot of fun to listen to, some serious jamming, especially if you like guitar solos! There some great players on there like Guthrie Trapp, Pat Bergeson, Mike Durham, and Johnny Neel. I’m just getting started recording another new solo record, but I’ve been a little busy lately, so it may be a while before it’s done. Earwave Music has been a lot of fun over the years, and please check us out online!
TC) You have been really busy with the local AFM 257 here, how did you get into that?
DP) I joined the union not long after I moved to Nashville around ‘78. When I got the job with Don Williams, we did a lot of TV. We did a concert at Giant Stadium and a song got picked up and used for Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40.” It was aired once in December of one year, and January of the next year. I had already got paid for the gig, and then this clip gets used and I get a check for over a thousand dollars, not once but twice, for the same song being aired on TV two different times. That sold me on the concept of intellectual property for sure, before there was a name for it. As I got into doing more sessions, I began to build up my pension contributions and understand how the union worked. It’s about respect for musicians and the work they do, and is really important, especially now.
I got more involved in the 90’s, because Local 257 was notorious for hassling bands over doing club gigs without understanding the fundamental fact of when you are playing original music in a town like Nashville, club owners are not going to pay you to play your own stuff, you have to build your own audience. There wasn’t really a club scale at that time that was realistic; nobody was paying attention to that. I got tired of it because I kept trying to explain what was really going on but they weren’t getting it. Finally I complained about it in a meeting, and they made me the head of the club committee. We met a couple times and wrote a new bylaw that reflected reality that simply said, “When playing original music in a listening room, the band leader can be the employer.” We came up with realistic scales depending on the size of the club. I made sure we filed contracts and that everyone made scale, which fixed the problem.
After I got off the road with Don in 1994 and went full-time into studio work, by 2003 or so, it started to feel as if the union was losing its way. Suddenly, it felt as if we were being punished by our own leaders, because they weren’t handling their money very well and they started taxing the royalty payments we would get from the record labels. This was work we had already paid work dues on, and when they unilaterally decided to take some of our residuals, which was not really their money, it started quite a bit of unrest. It started first in Los Angeles and New York, but there were people in Nashville that were concerned about it too. It was right about that time that I was ready to get more involved. I got elected to the Executive Board of Local 257 in 2001 and in 2005 I became president of the Nashville chapter of the Recording Musicians Association, which is a subdivision of the AFM. At the time, the Nashville RMA chapter had very few members. I got proactive and started talking to people and sending out emails mobilizing musicians to speak up. I got the membership up to close to 200 people by the beginning of 2006. I went to my first AFM convention in 2005 and behind the scenes, we negotiated a deal to eliminate the “tax” that they were putting on our royalties. Unfortunately, right after the convention, the President of the AFM at that time went right back to attacking us, and in 2007, at the next convention, they put the tax back on. I began to see that the politics and attitude of the AFM had to change if we were going to stay relevant and viable.
It gradually became obvious that something had to change not only on the national level, but also on the local level. By late 2008, I was thinking about running for President of Local 257. A friend of mine, drummer, Craig Krampf, asked me at a gig we were doing together if I was going to run. He told me that he might be up for running for Secretary/Treasurer, so Craig and I ran together. We ran a very energetic but positive campaign, trying real hard to not get into the negative stuff too much, and we won. It sent a series of shockwaves through the AFM, and a year later, in New York, a similar thing happened. A working musician from Broadway, Tino Gagliardi, stepped up as I had, and won the Presidency of Local 802. All of the sudden, we had Nashville and New York on the same page. We were able to go to L.A. and talk to those guys about working together to make things better. The AFM President’s strategy for years had been to try and keep us all fighting with each other so that we could never assert ourselves as a group. So for the first time, we realized, we’ve got a lot of votes and a lot of power through being united. We identified someone who was on the AFM Executive Board at that time who we felt had the name recognition to have a chance to defeat the incumbent, but was also would be willing to listen and give us the voice that we were being denied. That person was Ray Hair from Dallas, Texas. We approached Ray, and after some consideration, he decided to run for AFM President, with our full support. At the next convention in 2010, we ran a “Unity Ticket” and we won, voting out the president, vice-president, and four out of five board members, and I was elected to the AFM Executive Board.
Right after we got elected, the accountants and lawyers pulled us into a room and told us we were nearly broke. We had to make some hard decisions and had to let some people go, and do some things to stop the bleeding, and we able to do so. We went from a million dollars in the red to a million dollars in the black in two years. We all got re-elected again in 2013. We have changed a lot of things about the union that were bothering me. I felt like the young musicians weren’t getting the time of day, we weren’t changing with the times, and were kind of stuck in the “that’s the way it’s always been” kind of mentality. My approach to union leadership and especially negotiations is much like being a bass player, where you’ve got one guy dragging and one guy rushing. Like a bass player, I’m sitting right here in the middle and we all have got to get together to a place where it feels good. I have been re-elected twice as Local 257 President, and it looks like I’ll be here for a while. I feel very honored to be part of a major attitude change in our union, because without the AFM, musicians don’t have anybody backing them up. It’s all that more important for us to be unified and be honest with one another.
If you want to know more about what the AFM and Local 257 can do for you, check out www.nashvillemusicians.org.
TC) Can you tell us about the main gear that you use?
DP) I have a lot of instruments, so I guess I am a collector, but I like to use them, not look at them! To me, it is incredibly rewarding to find the perfect tone for a song that fits the sonics of the rest of the band and the singer. My Fleishman electric upright, aka The Beast, originally had two pickups, and over time we added three more, which gives me lots of ways to blend it and fit different situations. I grew up playing Gibson, but when I moved to Nashville Gibsons were frowned upon, so I had to deal with the “can’t you just play a Fender, man?” thing. For me, the G&L’s gave me the best of both worlds. I have a couple fretted and fretless G&L L2000s that I love and have used for a long time. I played the fretless on records like Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” and Trisha Yearwood’s “Walkaway Joe” when The Beast was too big sounding for the track. I’ve got a few Reverends, the older ones that are kind of like a Silvertone meets a Fender. After many years, I finally found a 1963 Fender P-Bass that sounds wonderful and covers that area with no questions asked. I have a great 80s Music Man Sting Ray 5, and a Yamaha TRB-5 and BB450 with the P/J pickup configuration.
I have a Hamer 12 string, just because there is only one way to get that sound, and an eight string Pedulla fretless for the same reason. David Hungate had one that he loaned me when I was making my solo record and I was running out of sounds. You can’t use it on everything, it’s kind of sitar-ish, but I loved it. I wanted to buy it from him, but he didn’t want to sell it so I had Michael Pedulla make me one. I also have some nutty basses like an Italian Eko “mother of toilet seat” short scale bass, a couple of Silvertones, a Tiesco DelRay, and a Gold Tone banjo bass that is a hoot. I also have a BSX 4 string electric upright that sounds really good, and a Jerome Little custom bass with a helix neck that is amazing, and a couple of 6 string bass guitar “tic-tac” style basses, one Jerry Jones and one Music Man, that are tuned E to E like a guitar down an octave. I have quite a few acoustic bass guitars, including a huge Mexican made one that records great, and a couple of Boulder Creeks. I love the Kala U-Basses, and have a couple of those as well.
Around 2006, I ordered an Alleva-Coppolo 5 string jazz, and that has really become my go to fretted bass. It is a great instrument. About four or five years ago I found a Framus Star hollow body short scale bass that kind of looks like a Les Paul and it has no bracing at all, so it’s totally live acoustically. It’s got a wonderful feel and sound to it and I have been using that one a lot, live and in the studio and especially for writing. Now it’s finally cool to have a hollow body Gibson, so I’ve gotten the EB-2 back out. Needless, to say, I love basses and I have about 45 of them.
As far as effects go, I’ve almost always been a Roland/Boss guy. Back in the days of Tone Patrol, our guitarist Larry Chaney was amazing with effects. He could make sounds that you couldn’t believe were possible without triggering a synth. He taught me how to get inside those Boss multi effects boxes, the SE70 and VF1, and really make them do cool, other worldly sounds. I got into the looping thing pretty early. I used to do it with delays, then the JamMan for a little while, and then the Oberheim Digital Echoplex, before switching over to Roland’s Boss loopers along with the Boss multi-effects. I’m currently using the RC50 Looper and I have a GT10-B Multi effects unit. I mainly use effects live but once in a blue moon, I might in the studio when someone wants something different.
For recording, my main piece of gear is the TubeTech recording channel, the MEC-1, which has the Tube Tech mic preamp, eq, and compressor all-in-one. I like to hit the compressor lightly, and not overdo it, so the mixing engineer still has some dynamics and he can choose if he wants to squash it some more. I use a couple different preamps on the front end. I’ve got a Trace Elliot V type preamp that I have been using for years that I really like. Sometimes, if the Tube Tech is sounding a little too pristine, the Trace Elliot warms it up. I also use it as a front end gain staging thing with some of the passive basses. I also have an Ampeg SVT 2P amp that I use. I’ve also got an Avalon DI that I use when I really want to have a lot of headroom and be really clean. Sometimes I’ll use that in combination with the TubeTech. Amp wise, I’ve kinda been through a lot of different things over the years. Peavey, Ampeg, Trace Elliot, and ended up with SWR, who later got bought by Fender and now they no longer exist. I really like the SWR Natural Blonde which is a great amp for string bass. You can plug a mic and a pickup into it and blend the two. It’s got two eight inch speakers, and one more in the back of the amp with a separate volume control, which helps control feedback.
DP) Paul McCartney, for sure, in the sense of, I just loved the Beatles as a whole. I never really tried to pick them apart to see who was doing what. The first guy that really made me think, “that’s exactly what I want to be doing” was Jack Bruce. Jack was singing, writing as well as playing bass and it was very obvious that, if he was not necessarily leading the band, had a very powerful voice in that trio. The live Cream stuff, to me, was the invention of jam band music. They could take a song like “Spoonful”, which is one chord for 16:44 and just jam. Guys like John Entwhistle, Chris Squire, Andy Fraser and Jack Casady were all very influential too, playing intense and innovative lines that are driving the band and making the music unique. Then there was Stanley Clarke, who turned my head around and woke me up to jazz and fusion, before Jaco arrived on the scene. Around that same time, I discovered Charles Mingus. Mingus kind of brought it all home for me. He was a bass player, composer, and bandleader and was always trying his own stuff and breaking the mold by doing things like starting his own record label. He was very ambitious and all of his ideas didn’t always work, but his music really spoke to me. He helped me get back into the string bass. I discovered Eberhard Weber around that same time period, late 1970’s. Of course, when I moved to Nashville, I had to learn how to play much simpler and I learned from people like Bob Moore, Joe Allen and Roy Huskey, Jr. all of whom played on countless hit records.
Overall, I would say that Jack Bruce, Charles Mingus, and Eberhard Weber encapsulated what I wanted to do with my own stuff. My own music is more in that wide open tradition, and if I need to come up with something off the wall, I have a lot of stuff I can draw from. As far as performing solo, which came later, the influences were a little different. When I was living in London in the ‘70s, I saw a guy named Harry Miller, a South African bass player, do a solo concert on string bass, and it was the first time I had ever seen anyone just play unaccompanied string bass. He played for maybe an hour and fifteen minutes with 30-40 people in a little jazz club. I thought that was so brave to just get up there and play by yourself. Years later, when the song “The Day the Bass Players Took Over the World”, came into my life, as soon as I started performing it, it got such a response that I thought “I’m gonna have to learn more songs!” Right around that same time, we were touring with John Hartford, who was opening for Don Williams. John would play solo in front of eight to ten thousand people and he would play banjo on some things, and when it came time for the solo, he would just play the solo like it was no big deal, and that was inspiring to me, for him to just get out there and do that. Harry and John made me realize that this solo thing is possible and I started working up more tunes.
TC) Any final thoughts?
DP) I think bass is a very interesting instrument because we have a shorter history, especially the electric bass. Leo Fender and the P bass really changed a lot of things. The electric guitar was an evolution from an existing instrument, but the electric bass was a whole new concept. It has been interesting to see the instrument evolve in so many ways, both from a design and sound angle, but even more, by the innovative artists who have chosen the bass as their instrument. A bass player can make or break a band. I think people like Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller and Edgar Meyer have shown that you can literally do anything on the instrument and still make it musical. We’ve gotten through the phase of “how fast can you play” and into understanding song structure and how a well-placed note can really make or break a record. Not everyone is going to get that. There’s a lot of challenges in the music business, but a bass player who can find a good solid part, play in the pocket, sing harmony, will always be employable.
What I would say to a young bass player is to follow your heart in terms of the music you like, and don’t be afraid to try something different, but don’t do it in a bubble. Try to interact with people. Guy Clark told me one time that the last act of writing a song is to play it in public. You can sit at home and practice and get all these hot licks together, but if you can get your groove across to an audience, whether you’re in a band or by yourself, and make the whole room move by being in the moment and knowing what needs to be done, that’s a whole other level and what’s it’s all about. The bass is still the glue in most music and I am intrigued with some of the EDM stuff, like Bass Nectar, and am working on how to incorporate “real” bass into that. There are some guys doing that already, but everyone has their own spin on it. Square Pusher is a real interesting guy out of England and Thundercat is another one of many guys doing some very cool stuff. I love it all, as long as it comes from the heart. That’s the X factor.
Bass players are a community, and for the most part, we are pretty nice to each other in a way that is not so competitive. Part of what makes a bass player cool is that thing of “hey, you may not notice me, but this whole thing is groovin’ cause I’m in the zone and I’m gonna make you feel something.” Bass is infinite and there is so much to learn. I feel real fortunate to be part of the music community, not just as a player, but to also play a role in making the union more responsive to the changes in the business, and cooler than it used to be. Music makes the world a better place, and I love being able to help musicians help themselves, so that future generations of players will also be able to have the opportunities that I have been so fortunate to enjoy. Peace, Love and Grooves to you all…