Nashville session ace Dave Roe: “The night I played bass with Jaco Pastorius on drums”

Bassist Dave Roe
(Image credit: Dave Roe)

Dave Roe is a lucky man, as he is the first to admit. His anecdote about auditioning for the late Johnny Cash is proof of that. "I got the gig with him because a friend of mine lied and told him that I was the best slap rockabilly bass player that ever lived. I didn’t have a clue what that was! So I just went out and did it, and he busted me on it.

"He gave me six months to get the style down. There were a lot of other great bass players around and he could easily have got one of them. In fact, some of them were a little miffed at me for a while! It was fascinating. It gave me a place to go and it really saved my career."

Although Roe describes himself back then as "just another guy who banged around on a bass", this didn’t stop him playing with Chet Atkins and others before scooping a place in Cash’s Tennessee Three. "I did ten years with Johnny Cash. He was absolutely the nicest guy I’ve ever worked for or met."

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash perform onstage with their band, including Dave Roe on bass, W.S. Holland on drums and Bob Wootton on guitar in 1994 in Los Angeles, California.

(Image credit: Photo by Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Cash had a fruitful career, surviving speed addiction, several turns of the wheel of fashion and a reinvention as a harbinger of doom by Rick Rubin in the years before his death. One of the most enduring songs from his six-decade catalogue, is his 1963 hit ‘Ring of Fire’. In the clip below, Dave explains how Cash changed the key of the song, which caused some problems. "I told him that it’s a lot harder to play in Ab and he said, “I’m really not concerned with that!” 

Unlikely as it may sound, a key feature of the original recording was Marshall Grant’s double bass. "I admire Marshall Grant, of course," says Roe when asked about his bass heroes. "He was so good, but I always go back to John Paul Jones. I saw Them Crooked Vultures and he just killed it. He’s the guy for me."

As a student of fusion, we assume Dave is a fan of the great Jaco Pastorius? "Oh yeah! I actually got to hang with Jaco for a couple of nights back before his problems emerged. He was a sweetheart, the nicest guy. The band I was playing with had some history with him back in Florida. In fact, one night he came out and played drums while I played bass, which is probably the most intimidating thing I’ve ever done in my life …"

To find out more about Dave visit daveroe.com (opens in new tab)

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Joel McIver was the Editor of Bass Player magazine from 2018 to 2022, having spent six years before that editing Bass Guitar magazine. A journalist with 25 years' experience in the music field, he's also the author of 35 books, a couple of bestsellers among them. He regularly appears on podcasts, radio and TV.

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