Part 2 of my interview has John talking about his journey to Nashville and his approach to studio sessions.
SCoB: You spend a lot of time in Nashville studios these days. How did you get there? Was it difficult to become part of that scene?
JD: In 1996 I lived there for most of the year, I was touring constantly with Lisa Brokop, and had relocated. I started to get some songwriter demos, but decided to come home when that gig dried up. But there’s so many Canadians there, including Colin Linden, who moved there 14 years ago, that I find all kinds of things that keep me going back. Colin produces a lot, and as well as a lot of the country producers I have worked for in the past, have started doing more and more stuff down there. The wealth of talent, as far as players goes, is staggering. And for me as a session guy, it’s so damn exciting to play with that A team down there, I don’t want to miss any of it. I routinely get to play with some of my idols, which still knocks me out.
As far as saying I’m part of that scene, that’s a stretch. I’m part of some kind of a scene down there, and the guys know me, but it’s always a Canadian connection of some kind, that gets me on a session.
SCoB: Speaking of Nashville and recording. How do you approach a session? I expect they are all different.
JD: I guess they’re all a little different, but as far as a prep for them, I really just try and find out how much stuff to bring. I usually take a lot of stuff, including my signal path stuff, but I generally try and ask what kind of tunes, to decide what guitars to bring. Will I need an upright? Do they want an amp? That’s about it, other than trying to find a bit of time the day before, to maybe make sure my hands are working, maybe play with a drum machine for a while.
SCoB: Do you get audio files before a session and work on ideas to bring to the session? Charts?
JD: Sometimes I get the tunes the night before. Quite often I’m the guy who writes the session charts. So it’s nice to do that before, although sometimes you get stuck writing them between tunes, which is a bit of a pain.
As far as sitting down with the songs and figuring out a part, I almost never do that. I kinda hate pre-production too. I’d rather sit down with a bunch of guys and hit go. I find what I need to play by listening to what everyone else plays. My experience is, in the old days, I would worry about that kind of thing, and almost everything I imagined playing goes right out the window when the band fires up.
I had a session in Nashville a few months ago, with all those heavy players, and I remember during the drummer counting the song in, I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was going to play………at all……….. But by about bar 3, you figure it out. Those guys are that good! They can bring it out of you.
SCoB: My studio background is nowhere near as comprehensive as yours but I usually try a couple of passes on a tune with a simple line then a busier take and go from there.
JD: You’re smarter than me!! I used to start out way too busy and then have to reel it back!!!! I used to try different things on different passes, but I’ve been trying to stick with my gut feeling, that you usually have on your very first pass or two, and stay with that idea, just cleaning up a few things that you think didn’t work, or were messy. I think inherently, our brain knows what to play, at least when you get to a certain point in your playing, but your brain can screw with you, and make you think you can do something smarter, or craftier, but at least with me, it’s rarely the case. Many of the records I make, take 1, 2 or 3 are good, then they start getting good again around take 25!
SCoB: Like you I play electric and double bass. Quite often I’ll ask an artist what bass they’d like on which song. More often than not the answer is it’s up to me? Is that your experience as well?
JD: I’d have to say for me, quite often the producer will have a fairly good idea which songs he wants acoustic or electric on. Usually I agree, sometimes not. But as a sideman, I’m there to try whatever they want. And I’ve been wrong many times. For me, I don’t really consider myself much of an upright player, so I probably shy away from it more than I should.
SCoB: I heard a story recently that you came to a session, listened to the tune, wrote charts for everyone and put down the bass part quickly. True or false?
JD: Ha, well, maybe……… as far as writing charts for everyone, they’d just be number charts, but I’ve likely written 5,000 charts in my life, so I’m pretty fast.
SCoB: How has the music industry changed since you started working professionally?
JD: God has it ever!!!!!!!!!!!! There’s no record companies anymore, so that makes everything so tight. Everybody wants to make a record cheaper, quicker. For the same money you were getting 20 years ago! Gigs pay the same as they have for years. Mostly I think of kids learning to play, how do they hone their craft? I don’t know where they get enough time and experience to do that anymore! When I first went on the road we routinely play 6 or 7 nights a week with at least one matinee. We had hours and hours of playing every week. What do kids get now? Lucky if there’s one gig a week. I remember weeks where we barely had time to drive from one gig to another on a Monday…..
SCoB: How are you adapting?
JD: Well, I’m not sure if I am….but I guess driving to Nashville once every couple of months is adapting….I don’t really play bars much, so it’s recording and touring for me. Luckily, the sessions are ok right now. I perform with Blackie and The Rodeo Kings. We’re up for a Juno this year. That is always good. I also tour with Lee Harvey Osmond, and Colin Linden’s band and I sub for a bunch of country acts. I don’t teach. I’ve never been all that interested in that. I do have a protools rig at home, so I can cut tracks for people here. That has picked up this year, which is nice. I rarely do a full record that way, but sometimes people have cut an album with another bass player, that didn’t turn out the way they wanted, or they’re building a track up part by part, so they’ll send me a track to cut.
SCoB: This question is based on my own experience where I’ve done a series of shows with an artist and everything seemed to go well but then the artist decides to use someone else. Maybe they think I’m too busy or maybe they weren’t happy with my work or maybe they just moved on and changed things up. I never really know the answer. How do you deal with another bassist getting a call for a gig?
JD: Well, it’s happened to me many times as well. I guess it used to bother me, or I’d ask the same questions as you, but I try not to think about it too much. I gets to you when you did their last album, then all of a sudden you don’t do the next one. But there’s lots of reasons I guess, new friends, new relationships. Sometimes I’ve stepped out of peoples lives, by not being around, and I suppose that bugs people too. And there’s also the new younger guy ready to move up the ladder!
Here’s a link a recent performance on Sessions X