Supergroup Member and Session Player Michael Rhodes Has Died

photo: Marty Moffat

Everybody wanted him, on their albums and on their tours. But only the lucky could get him because he was so high in demand. His name was Michael Rhodes, and he was the bass player for countless artists, sessions, and tours over a nearly 50-year span, playing on some 60 Gold and Platinum albums, and racking up six ACM Awards. Though country was his epicenter, the whole world of music benefited from his presence.

If you don’t recognize the name from the liner notes of a who’s who of country artists from the ’80s well into the 2000’s, you might remember Michael Rhodes as a member of the country music supergroup The Notorious Cherry Bombs with Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill. Rhodes was also part of Crowell’s other backing band The Cicadas with Eddie Bayers and others, and played on The Highwaymen recordings.

Among other supergroups local to Nashville, Rhodes played in “The Fortunate Sons” with Gary Nicholson and others, “The Players” with Paul Franklin, Brent Mason, and Eddie Bayers, “The Vinyl Kings” with Harry Stinson of Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives, “TAR” with Guthrie Trapp and Pete Abbott, and “The World Famous Headliners” with Shawn Camp, Pat McLaughlin, and others.

As cliché as it may sound, Michael Rhodes was truly the musician’s musician, and that is why there has been such an outpouring of emotion at the news of his death on Saturday, March 4th. “We have lost another incredible musician. Michael Rhodes bass player extraordinaire and wonderfully funny and gentle man,” Peter Frampton said at the news.

Born in Monroe, Louisiana on September 16th, 1953, Michael Rhodes taught himself how to play guitar at the age of 13. In the early ’70s he first pointed his nose toward Austin and the burgeoning scene there before moving on to Memphis, and then on to Nashville in 1977. While playing in a local band called The Nerve, Rhodes got a lucky break by being hired into the house band of Tree Publishing to play on demo recordings. This was his big move into the world of studio work.

Michael Rhodes is one of those sessions players whose credits span multiple pages, with songs from Randy Travis, Vince Gill, George Strait, Hank Williams Jr., Marty Stuart, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, Reba McEntire, Neal McCoy, Doug Stone, and later the [Dixie] Chicks, Faith Hill, Toby Keith, and Kenny Chesney all making it onto his resume.

But as can be seen by the Peter Frampton endorsement, the Michael Rhodes appeal spanned well into rock. It was Steve Winwood booking Rhodes for his Roll With It tour where he made it onto the radar of many in music. Michael Rhodes also worked regularly with guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa as one of the few bass players who could keep up. Mark Knopfler was another skilled musician who recognized Michael’s talent, and poached him away from country.

An inductee to the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2019, Michael Rhodes was considered part of Nashville’s top flight of session musicians for decades, and his name has been mentioned in Country Music Hall of Fame consideration in the musician’s category.

The death of Michael Rhodes comes as a shock to the country and rock world. He was 69 years old, and had been suffering from pancreatic Cancer.

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