ONE MAN HAS BEEN STANDING BEHIND COUNTRY SUPERSTAR Blake Shelton, from the beginning of his musical journey, supporting him
in all his musical endeavors: his bassist and music director, Rob Byus. Long
before Shelton won CMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year (every year since 2010),
CMA Entertainer of the Year (in 2012), or became the most successful coach
on NBC’s popular singing show The Voice, he and Byus paid their dues on the
road, traveling across the country in a pickup to play small gigs at local bars.
How did you get into the country music scene?
I grew up a trumpet player, but in junior high I picked up a bass sitting
in the corner of the band room, and I discovered that I was really good at
picking out bass parts. Throughout high school and college, I put together various rock bands and got better on the
bass. Although I later went to college on
a trumpet scholarship, I knew I wanted
to play bass for a living. I thought country
music could make that happen, so in
1994 I moved to Nashville and started
backing up songwriters, which I thought
gave me my best shot. Blake and I met
a year later, and I began putting bands
together for him to take on the road.
We’ve been together ever since.
How do your roles as music director and bass player inform each other?
A bandleader has to be familiar with all aspects of a song, tuning into each
and every instrument to make sure all parts are being played correctly. A bassist
has to listen to everything, too, from guitar chords to vocals to kick drum
patterns. As a bassist, I see my instrument as a bridge between the rhythm and
melodic aspects of the songs, so I’m used to listening to and feeding off both sides.
What are the challenges to being a road band for an artist like Shelton?
For one, having to learn a lot of new music fast. We have to do that a lot. For
example, on the spur of the moment a while back, Blake hosted a live benefit on
NBC for Oklahoma tornado victims. We essentially became the house band for
all the artists who came to be part of it. It was a big sense of accomplishment
to step up in that pressure-cooker type of situation and deliver good music.
What’s your strategy for learning music quickly?
I first put on my bass player hat before making sure the others have learned
their parts. I learn the song’s form and then focus on the subtleties. I developed
my ear over the years by playing along with records, and I think that’s the best
training for this sort of thing.
How has Shelton’s success on The Voice impacted his band?
Over the past couple of years we’ve gone from playing 200 dates a year to
maybe 40 now. Blake still loves playing live, though, so we’ll continue to play
out while he’s on The Voice.
How have you been using that extra time?
I have two local bands I play with, and I do as much session work as I can. Being a session player has always been one of my
main aspirations. I’ve also been doing a lot of songwriting.
In 2012, I got a few songs on Blake’s Christmas
album, and that same year I released my funk
band’s instrumental album, Trypta-phunk, which I
wrote all the music for.
Sounds like you stay plenty busy, even when
off the road.
When your job is playing music, and you’re out
there playing the same thing night after night, sometimes
you can forget why you fell in love with music
in the first place. Doing all these other things locally
reminds me of why I do it.
What advice would you give someone looking
to join a road band and make it in a music
scene like Nashville?
First and foremost, you have to move to where
the music is. If I had stayed in West Virginia 20 years
ago, I wouldn’t be where I am now. You’ve also got to
network with other musicians and with the people
who do the hiring. There are tons of bass players
who would love this kind of gig. To beat the odds,
“you must be present to win.”
Basses Mike Lull M5V,
1971 Fender Precision
Rig Mesa Bass Strategy
4x12 Powerhouse cab
Effects MXR Bass
Chorus Deluxe, MXR
Envelope Filter, Dunlop
DVP1, Boss OC2
Octave, Radial J48 DI