Want To Record With Johnny Cash’s Bass Player? Q & A With Top Bassist Dave Roe

Originally from Hawaii, Dave Roe moved to Nashville in the early ‘80s, where he became a highly sought after bassist. Perhaps best known for his long tenure as Johnny Cash’s last bassist, a position he held from 1992 till Cash’s death in 2003, Roe has also recorded and/or performed with Dwight Yoakam, Jerry Reed, Charlie Louvin, Mel Tillis, Chet Atkins, Dottie West, Vern Gosdin, Kathy Mattea, Vince Gill, Duane Eddy, Faith Hill, Lee Roy Parnell, Malcolm Holcomb, Rick Vito, Rosie Flores, Billy Burnett, Gary Nicholson, Colin Linden, Whitey Johnson and many others.  

Dave’s been getting some excellent reviews here at AirGigs, and we’re really grateful to have him as part of our community. We also wanted to congratulate him, as he just won his 6th Grammy last week for Country Album of the Year with Sturgill Simpson.

You can find Dave’s AirGigs services here:

When did you start playing bass, and what attracted you to it?
I made the switch from drums to bass in the fall of 1969. In fact, I did my first gig on Halloween of that year.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
On bass, my biggest influences have been McCartney, Jaco, Stanley Clark, John Wetton, and Rocco Prestia. I spent hours upon hours ripping these guys.

Do you play any other instruments aside from bass?
I play guitar, badly, and drums even worse!

When did a career in music become a realistic possibility for you?
It just happened. Once I did that first gig, I was hooked, and I pretty much have been playing for a living ever since.

I understand that you learned to play upright when you got the call to join Johnny Cash’s band. Was that a pretty smooth transition?
It was not a smooth transition. Not only did I have to become proficient enough on upright to do the gig, I had to tackle slap bass at the same time. Lots of shedding and a whole lot of blisters! Johnny’s patience was my biggest blessing and ally on that one.

When did you start getting into music production?
I’ve always been into making recordings. I got my first multi-track machine, a Dokorder 4 track in 1977. I’ll never forget when I got my first 8 track-a Fostex, I was in heaven!

Tell us about your studio and how you approach remote sessions?
I have a fairly decked out place-ProTools 12.5 and a heavily modded Soundcraft Ghost for monitoring. I’ve got quite a few good preamps. My pride and joy is an 8 banger Fred Cameron sort of lunch box-he was one of the early API dudes. If I can, I have my engineer, Luke Martin, who is a real badass, come in to help. It’s quicker and I can concentrate on playing. I think it really helps to have him there, not only to engineer, but to reel me in if I start getting too stupid! Him being there is why I charge a little more per song, but I think it’s worth it to the client.

What makes a good session player in your opinion?
The main thing to remember is that you are not the boss-the artist or the producer is. At most sessions, it’s cool to make suggestions, but in the end it is NOT your call. As you progress in your session career, most people are calling you for what you do, so you end up at that point with a little more leeway. Second, make sure your gear is happening. I don’t care how cool you think your $7,000.00 7 string bass is, you’d better have a P or J style bass as your first choice. It’s just the way it is. Always bring a couple of options, like a hollow body, or a cool vibe, weird bass if you can. I can’t stress how much more you’ll work if you can play at least fundamental upright bass. Get after that as early as you can.

Any thoughts on what contributed to your success as a bass player?
All of the above, and my early training in Top 40 music in the 70’s. I learned to play a lot of different styles because popular music was so much more diverse then.

You’ve worked with some major people of the years…can you share a few key insights / lessons learned along the way?
Johnny gifted me with patience. The finest human being I ever met. Never saw him raise his voice to anyone. Let me just quote Willie Nelson on this one, “Don’t be an asshole!” That about says it all. It took me awhile to really get that one.

Tell us about what keeps you busy these days?
I’m in an original band with two of my friends-Kenny Vaughan, one of Nashville’s top guitar players, and a drummer named Scotty Schultz, who is another AirGigs guy. Both badasses. We are actually going to start a band page here soon-The Injectables. Look for it if you need good tracks!!

Lastly, any tips or tricks for keeping in balance and feeling good while on the road?
Keep the partying to minimum-no one one really wants to be around a drunk or a total druggy. Try to eat right and exercise if you can. I hate to sound like Mom here, but take it from me, it really helps. Also, and this is really none of my business, but be very careful who you choose as a mate. The wrong choice there can really screw up your life, and theirs.

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