The death of Nashville’s Dave Roe is a reminder of the important connections we can make within the music we love, right where we live.
Last month the sound of hearts breaking reverberated across Nashville—from corporate offices to studios to indie venues—as word spread of the death of Dave Roe. Dave, who was featured on PG’s September cover, was an extraordinary artist, loved for his playing and his personality. He could be endearingly grumpy, but also had a marvelous sense of humor. And his generosity and welcoming nature were almost as well-known throughout Music City as his live and studio performances with Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, Loretta Lynn, Carrie Underwood, Tony Joe White, Early James, Bonnie Prince Billy, Marcus King, T Bone Burnett, Brandy Clark, Dan Auerbach, Chrissie Hynde, Sturgill Simpson, CeeLo Green, Brian Setzer, Faith Hill, John Mellencamp, Kurt Vile, Bahamas, and so many others. As we said on our cover: “You don't know Dave Roe, but you’ve heard him play.”
I did know Dave Roe. He was one of the first musicians I saw when I came to Nashville nearly 17 years ago, annihilating his upright bass in a trio with guitarist Kenny Vaughan and drummer Jeff Clemens, playing badass, rusty swamp blues in a little beer joint, for tips. It was only later I realized I’d seen him before, supporting Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash in a spectacular performance at a big Boston club called Avalon, on the night of a blizzard that kept all but about 150 of us from hearing the then-reigning king and queen of country music. I recall that the four-block walk in shin-deep snow from the subway took almost a half hour, but it was worth every minute spent slogging along through the face-stinging precipitation.
Over the years, I’ve seen Dave play in an amazing variety of configurations, from supporting singer-songwriters to regular country gigs on the Broadway strip to his recent rock band with Vaughan, the SloBeats, who have an unreleased album in the can. One of the most exciting performances was an all-improvised one-off with the Cure’s guitarist, Reeves Gabrels, and Dave’s drummer son, Jerry. I’d call it free rock, and, after the gig that night, Reeves told Dave I’d been a friend of the last free-jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock. I think that cemented my friendship with Dave. Sure, Dave had played with Charlie Louvin, but he loved and played entirely unbridled music, too.
“I was onstage with Dave only once, when my regular bassist couldn’t make a gig and I got up the chutzpah to ask him if he’d sub.”
I was onstage with Dave only once, when my regular bassist couldn’t make a gig and I got up the chutzpah to ask him if he’d sub. Dave said yes immediately, and he slayed. Even without time for a rehearsal, he anticipated everything I played and elevated the gig with his fat, authoritative, bull moose tone … and his humor. Some players throw in quotes or tones or brief lines—the sonic equivalent of asides in the theater—that can evoke a smile, and Dave was a master at that, too. Afterwards I was embarrassed to hand him his cut—a mere $40—but I was in, shall we say, financial straits at the time—and he just handed it back, grabbed me around the shoulders, and told me to call him to sub anytime, and that he’d had a blast. His heart was every bit as big as his sound.
Early this year, I tried to talk Dave into writing a column for Premier Guitar. Dave was a masterful storyteller, with no shortage of tales to relate. His session experiences alone, not to mention his dealings with life—and a few mercurial stars—on the road, could fill a tome. But after a few months of occasional conversations, he passed on the idea. Writing, he decided, wasn’t his thing. So, for me, our cover feature on Dave was a consolation prize, a splendid way to frame our first bass-themed issue, and a fitting tribute to an under-sung hero of the strings. Dave was incredulous when I told him he’d be on the cover. And I’d been holding some print copies for him, waiting for a break in deadlines to call Dave to set up their delivery in-person. I still hadn’t made that call when the news of his death spread on September 16.
I’m sharing this because, after that cover story, you all know Dave. Or someone like him. His surprising departure is yet another reminder that we need to value our local heroes. Dave was more than that, of course, but in recent years he’d spent most of his time in Nashville’s studios and clubs, rather than on the road. At times, he seemed ubiquitous. Almost institutional. And now he isn't. Too often, it happens that fast.
We all need to treat people like Dave the way that Dave treated people. So do more than support your local musical heroes. Tell them you value what they do, that they make your life better, that you appreciate them for who they are. If the chance comes up, be a friend. If it doesn’t, be a fan. Pay the cover, feed the tip jar, buy the album, shake their hand. No one and nothing lasts forever … except maybe for the music—in recordings, in memories, in our hearts. And in its influence. And maybe even in the air, in those special places where it’s made. By musicians like Dave Roe.
Crank up this fuzz-blues stomper and read about King's collaboration with producer Dan Auerbach.
Nashville, TN (October 10, 2019) -- Marcus King today announced the release of his genre-bending debut solo record, El Dorado - produced by Grammy Award winner Dan Auerbach and released on Jan 17, 2020 on Fantasy Records. Already a 23-year-old guitar phenomenon El Dorado will further establish Marcus as an innovative songwriter and one of the most soulful voices of his generation. Following numerous sold out headline shows and triumphant festival performances with The Marcus King Band, Marcus recently announced a 32-date winter tour in support of his new record.
El Dorado is a contemporary sonic exploration of classic rock, blues, southern R&B and country-soul where subtle acoustics and pedal steel shines bright alongside raucous electric guitars and blistering solos. Following their previous collaboration on song “How Long,” King and Auerbach co-wrote twelve songs for El Dorado in only three days in his Easy Eye Sound studio.
On working with Marcus, Dan stated, "Marcus is known by so many as a phenom guitar player, and rightfully so. He’s regularly the best player in the room, hands down. I was equally blown away by the way he can sing - so effortless, so soulful, straight from the heart. He’s a naturally gifted writer too, which was clear right away. Everything for him is so innate – that’s why he can always go right to the heart of a song and connect in a deeper way. He’s really one of a kind and I’m proud I got to work alongside him on this record.”
Their debut single “The Well” a fuzzy, electric-blues masterpiece which rumbles down the highway like Marcus’ jet black El Dorado. The song’s lyrics reflect on hard work and hard times. “When you have a $70 check go bad, you know times are tough," Marcus recalled and added, “The Well for me symbolises the source of all my influences. It is everything that has happened to me to make me the man I am today.”
El Dorado was written and recorded at Auerbach’s Nashville studio, Easy Eye Sound, with legendary writers including Paul Overstreet, Ronnie Bowman and Pat McLaughlin. Auerbach also enlisted revered studio musicians including, drummer Gene Chrisman and keyboard player Bobby Wood. Their renowned work as members of the American Sound Studio band included Dusty Springfield’s "Son of a Preacher Man," Elvis Presley’s, "Suspicious Minds," and hits by Bobby Womack, Joe Tex and many others. Marcus King’s debut solo album El Dorado will be released on his label Fantasy Records in association with Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound. Available to pre-order now.
For more information:
The 72-year-old Delta bluesman’s Auerbach-produced Cypress Grove captures the raucous sounds of the juke joint.
Bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is an American treasure. The 72-year-old is the foremost torchbearer of a deep and esoteric style of Mississippi Delta music associated with the town where he has spent his entire life: rural Bentonia. He’s also the proprietor of the nation’s longest operating juke joint, the Blue Front Café, which his parents established there in 1948. Holmes learned the Bentonia blues style at the side of its originators, including Henry Stuckey and the more famous Skip James, who had a renaissance during the ’60s folk blues revival. Every year in June, Holmes celebrates the music that’s in his DNA by hosting the Bentonia Blues Festival on his family’s farm.
But there’s a less formal celebration every weekend, when the Blue Front stays open late, cold beer flows like rain, and the music gets loud, raucous, and unpredictable. That’s the spirit that producer Dan Auerbach has captured on Holmes’ new album, Cypress Grove.
The song we’re premiering, “All Night Long,” is a robust, free-ranging original built along the thorny backbone of Holmes’ guitar, with interjections by Auerbach, adding fills and commentary, and an essay on hot-butter slide by Marcus King. The album is packed with 6-string highlights, built around Holmes’ rusty freight-train rhythms and tonal surprises, like the feedback drone Auerbach makes sing like an Indian tanpura on the title track.
In Nashville’s Easy Eye Sound studio, Auerbach and Holmes run through the bones of one of Holmes’ durable culled-from-life numbers before showing it to the studio band and firing up the tape recorder.
Just because the album was recorded at Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville doesn’t mean it’s not authentic down-home Mississippi blues. The Black Keys’ frontman explains his modus operandi: “I like to work with people who inspire me, and Jimmy inspires me. Jimmy’s music is rough and tumble, and it can shatter a lot of preconceptions purists have about Delta blues. At the Blue Front, you never know who’s going to show up, or what instrument they’ll be playing. There could be three guitars, bass, drums, mandolin, and fiddle one weekend, and then the next weekend a banjo player or a saxophonist shows up. So the sound always reflects the ages and experiences and styles of the musicians who are there, and that keeps it fresh, modern, and totally unpredictable.”
In addition to Dan Auerbach and Marcus King, Holmes’ new album includes contributions from Mississippi blues bass MVP Eric Deaton and drummer Sam Bacco, who is a percussionist in the Nashville Symphony.
If you’d like to know more about Bentonia blues and Jimmy “Duck Holmes,” check out our interview with him from September 2016. And you can also dig into Ryan Lee Crosby’s Bentonia Blues lesson from September 2019.