Legendary Johnny Cash / Country Bass Player Dave Roe Dies

photo: Anthony Scarlati

For decades, if you wanted to not only bring skill, but class and prestige to your recording project, you wanted Dave Roe involved if at all possible. Simply including his name in the liner notes meant whatever you were recording would enjoy an elevated stature due to Roe signing off on it. But it was also his taste and his respect for the song that made Dave Row one of the most sought after bass players in the country music industry and beyond.

News came down on Saturday, September 16th that Dave Roe has passed away. But he leaves behind over 500 album credits, including from top-flight and diverse acts such as Sturgill Simpson, Loretta Lynn, Tyler Childers, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, John Mellencamp, Chrissie Hynde, Taj Majal, Ian Hunter, Brian Setzer, Dan Auerbach, CeeLo Green, Kurt Vile, Yola, John Anderson, Carrie Underwood, Marcus King, Malcolm Holcombe, Brandy Clark, Joe Ely, Gretchen Peters, Ray LaMontagne, Faith Hill, Kathy Mattea, Rodney Crowell, and many more.

Born David Roe Rorick, he had the rare privilege of growing up in Hawaii. His father was in the military, and much of Roe’s childhood was spent in a small town called EwaBeach outside of Honolulu. Roe started out as a drummer, but since there was a dearth of bass players on the island, he transitioned to bass and was mostly self-taught.

Dave Roe got his start playing in funk and R&B bands in the ’60s and ’70s where the bass is more out front. But after moving to Nashville in the early ’80s, he fell in head first with the country crowd, first signing up with the more funky country outfit touring behind Jerry Reed. He also played early on with Mel Tillis, Vern Gosdin, Charlie Louvin, Dottie West, Chet Atkins, and Vince Gill as he toured the world.

But then everything changed when Roe got the rare opportunity to call himself a member of Johnny Cash’s legendary backing band The Tennessee Three. Cash called Roe up personally, and it was impossible for him not to accept, even though it meant learning upright bass on the fly since he’d never played the acoustic instrument previously.

Signing up with Cash in the ’90s, Dave Roe played bass form Cash for eleven years, and was one of the mainstays in Cash’s band until his death. Roe also can be heard on many of the legendary American Recordings albums produced by Rick Rubin. Rubin rarely used artist’s touring musicians, but he preferred Roe over others.

After Johnny Cash passed away in 2003, Dave Roe saddled up with Dwight Yoakam for five years before deciding to settle down in Nashville and focus mostly on session work. That didn’t stop him from performing live though. He was a mainstay in the legendary Don Kelley Band playing at Robert’s Western World for some 13 years, and would regularly gig with “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan. Roe could also be seen playing in scores of other projects here and there around town.

Everybody wanted to work with Dave Roe, and many did. Rosie Flores may have said it best when remembering Roe. “If not for Dave Roe, the music scene in Nashville would not have been so full of heart,” says Flores. “He taught me so much about arranging songs and making them unique but keeping them true to its style.”

Dave Roe earned five Grammy awards over his career, and incredible admiration from everyone he worked with.

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