Getting in the Game & Living on the Fringe – with Dave Roe

Dave Roe

Dave Roe

Nashville Bassist

Dave Roe grew up in Hawaii, and moved to Nashville in the early ‘80’s. Currently, Dave is doing session work and playing in a couple bands that needed a bass player.

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Set a goal as to where you want to be chops wise in a couple of years and work for it. Sing! It can’t hurt. Finally, and I can’t stress this enough-if you can-learn upright.

Andy – Hi Dave, it’s a super big thrill to have you do this interview for Andy’s World of Bass, thanks for taking the time from your very busy schedule to talk with me. Let’s talk about how you got into music. What brought you to music and the bass specifically, and please share with us some of your earliest musical experiences, and what your first professional playing opportunities we’re like?

Dave – I started out in my home town of Makakilo, Hawaii banging around on acoustic guitars. That along with involvement as a drummer in school marching bands and drum and bugle corps got me started on the rhythmic side of things. There were a ton of drummers in my neighborhood and I didn’t have access to a kit. I did have an old Silvertone guitar that I shared with my brother. We converted it into a bass and I went from there. I hooked up with some guys in high school and we started doing blues and rock covers. My girlfriends parents eventually signed for me to get a drum set, but when I went to the big music store in Honolulu, there was a Fender Jazz bass on the wall, and on whim, I went for it. Wish I still had that bass. After I got out of high school, I formed a rock power trio with two of my buddies and off I went. I spent the 70’s playing in big horn bands-lots of funk and soul, and I studied and dabbled in jazz trios and vocal groups. I worked hard at becoming a good vocalist as well, which I whole heartedly recommend for every player to do, as it blows up your ears and makes you a lot more hirable. Because of my family’s love of country music, I was also influenced by that. I was that weird guy who would quit doing what was doing and put together a country rock band for awhile! That probably lead to my decision to go to Nashville when I topped out in Hawaii.

Andy – You have established yourself in Nashville as a long standing top call session player in addition to touring with some of the most legendary artists of our time, including Johnny Cash. Will you please share a few of the highlights of it all, those  “pinch yourself moments”  that you hold particularly close to your heart, or that we’re pivotal opportunities opening doors to further establishing your career.

Dave – I came to Nashville and was lucky enough to get a major artist gig right off with Jerry Reed. He was one of the founding fathers of modern country guitar, and it was the cream of the crop of gigs as far as playing difficulty, as it required not only country skills, but funk and rock chops as well. It was the dream gig for me, as it wasn’t straight country. He was pretty demanding as a band leader, and it opened a lot of doors for me. I ended up doing a total of about 12 major country gigs in all before I transitioned into the studio. My big pinch me moment was getting the job with Johnny Cash, which was a real challenge. They stuck an upright bass in my hand, and I was forced to not only learn to play the upright, but I had to try and master upright slap bass. That first year was very physically demanding and daunting, but he was patient with me and I eventually pulled it off. It is a big part of my arsenal now, and I will be forever grateful to him for pushing me to expand my boundaries. Can you imagine anyone doing that? He could have gotten any number of guys who already did that style, but he saw something he liked in me, God bless him!!

Andy – Your diverse style of bass playing on both electric bass and upright is deeply soulful, fundamental and always honors the song, and you also sing and can confidently front a group. What advise might you give to players that are on the rise, working hard to enter into the professional realm of performing and recording?

Dave – I think that the most important thing to keep in mind is career management, which is something that Andy is always stressing. I haven’t always been very good at it, I learned by making mistakes all over the place. First, try and figure out where you want to go with your career-what style you want to go for, and where you can go to best get there. Going to a music center might not be the best choice if you want to hook up with a few folks and try to give it a go in band, for instance. You can do that anywhere, in fact doing it here is next to impossible. If you want to make it in jazz, say, Nashville wouldn’t be a good choice as that market is very limited here. Always keep in mind that your priorities will change over time, as other things are thrown into the mix, such as starting a family, etc. Set a goal as to where you want to be chops wise in a couple of years and work for it. Again, sing! It can’t hurt. Lastly, if you can, learn everything you can about bass and it’s role. The heavy chops guys are great role models, but so are the tasty, understated studio guys. Start there. You won’t work if you can’t play BASS!! Finally, and I can’t stress this enough-if you can-learn upright.

Andy – I enjoyed hanging at your awesome studio recently, visiting with you and checking out your bass collection (and learning a few great upright techniques from you). Will you please tell us all what recent projects you’ve been involved with, and how the state of the current music business trends have affected your ability to stay in the game, producing and regularly getting heard on tracks that are landing in the top 10?

Dave – I’m actually a guy who, thru no intent of my own, has ended up on the fringe of what goes on here in Nashville. I’m not the guy doing mainstream country sessions or gigs. Recently I’ve been on records by Sturgill Simpson, Brandy Clark, Ray Lamontagne, The Arcs, and I recently finished working on the new Chrissie Hynde solo record. I also somehow managed to ended up on the new Carrie Underwood record which was pretty cool for me. I’m in a couple of band projects with couple of the guys from Los Straitjackets doing high powered surf and other instrumentals. I’m extremely blessed to be in an all original project with my buddy Kenny Vaughan, who is one of the great guitarists here. It’s sort of a 70’s style vocal funk band, and it’s a blast. We also do a recurring Monday night gig, together with Jeffrey Clemens, the drummer from G Love and Special Sauce, doing late 40’s and early 50’s blues. Really quiet and pretty much all upright. I love doing that gig-playing quietly is the hardest thing in the world to do – Good luck out there!!!


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About The Author


Andy Irvine is musician, author, and educator who has achieved world wide recognition. His devotion to his craft of the bass guitar, and sharing that love with others, has established him as a leading musicianship coach and respected source of encouragement to countless players around the entire globe.

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