by Eric Normand
Long before recording with artists like Emmy Lou Harris, Alison Krauss, and Peter Frampton, Nashville Musicians Union President and our guest speaker on this night, Dave Pomeroy was learning how to play the standup bass in a school orchestra in Virginia. Growing up as the son of a military man, Dave experienced life in a few different places and also learned how to play the electric bass before eventually permanently relocating to Nashville in 1977. Following a musical heart inspired by the British Invasion, his foray into the world of the fretless bass would eventually come full circle when his skills landed him session work with Keith Whitley and Trisha Yearwood many years later.
The road that led to A-team session work in the Nashville studio scene of the 80’s and 90’s was filled with a plethora of life and music enriching experiences. Working with the legendary Don Williams from 1980 to 1994 was a “journey into minimalism” which ultimately taught him the power of the song. Under the wing of this world-class songwriter and performer, Dave learned how to become a great songwriter, studio musician and producer in his own right.
“Don changed my life… these are all things he taught me, just by example and by encouraging me and giving me respect…”
A key moment in Dave’s life came 10 days after he finished recording on Keith Whitley’s fourth album, when the legendary singer died suddenly of an alcohol overdose.
“…It really shook me up and I realized that I was not at a good place in my life, I needed to change some things and make myself a happy person…it really did change my life and made me realize that life is precious and you better get on with what you’re trying to do…”
Dave continued on as an in-demand session player, his work with Keith Whitley ultimately leading to recording the bass tracks on Trisha Yearwood’s first seven albums as well as countless other major-label projects.
“One of the lessons that I really want to impart is that you have to listen to your inner voice when it talks to you, because if you don’t, it will stop talking…”
He joined the Nashville Musicians Union, AFM Local 257 in 1978, gradually becoming more and more involved in the years that followed. As the years rolled by he became frustrated with the status quo of the Union, feeling there was a growing “disconnect between players and leadership”. In 2008 he ran for union president and won the election. Dave shared that the Musicians Union has totally changed, both here and nationally and spoke about its role in regards to the rights of the individual musician.
“It’s really about trying to spread the word that it’s okay to take care of business, and not all musicians are good at that…in this day and age, if you don’t protect yourself who’s going to? If the Musicians Union doesn’t have your back, it’s you against the music business, good luck with that, it works for some people, but at the same time it’s good to know that there are resources and that you do have something you can fall back on.”
One of his roles as union president is fighting for musician and songwriter rights to be paid for their work, and the reality of digital piracy.
“We’ve been through this terrible thing with digital piracy… it really just decimated the way things were. But now we’re starting to see that people are actually understanding that it’s not that big of a deal to spend $1.29 or $.99 to buy a song instead of stealing it, and that if you want to have a music business in the future it may not be there if you’re not willing to pay for stuff…it’s okay to be a consumer, it’s okay to be a fan, I’m still a fan.”
Near the end of Dave’s talk he shared a few pieces of advice one can only learn from a lifetime of pursuits in the music business:
- Take nothing for granted
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions
- There are no stupid questions
- Strive to play with players who are better than you
- Be honest with yourself
- Be a nice person, nobody wants to work with a jerk
- Don’t take it personal if you don’t get the call
- Owning your own stuff is the way of the future
After some questions and answers Dave played a brief set of original solo material using a very unique approach. Tying into his theme of “individual entrepreneurship in a changing music scene” he used two basses, one on a stand and one he wore around his neck to create loops on the fly using a loop machine. He then sang tunes over the loop accompanying his performance on the second bass by playing secondary parts, fills and solos. It was an inspired performance that everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy.
His portion of the night concluded, and the open jam began featuring a combination of Berklee alumni and others from the Nashville music community. The jam covered a lot of ground, everything from blues jams to original songs by some up-and-coming Nashville songwriters.
I would like to extend a big thank you to Dave Pomeroy for sharing his wisdom and music, Jack Zander for videotaping this event, The Rutledge, Berklee alumni volunteers Shantell Ogden, Heston Alley, Blake Branch, and everyone else who came out for this event. See you at the next one!
The Nashville Berklee Jam is held at The Rutledge on the last Monday of every other month, with the next event to take place on Monday, August 26 when I will be giving a talk about navigating the Nashville Music Industry