Dave Pomeroy has a date with a bass—41 of them, to be precise, which are featured along with his voice on his new solo album, Angel in the Ashes (available at davepomeroy.com). It was recorded in Pomeroy’s home studio with expert assistance from engineer and co-producer Dave Sinko and released earlier this year. Longtime BP readers will remember Pomeroy’s columns The Deep End (1997–2001) and Retro-Rama (2005–2010)—but BP first featured Dave in the July/Aug ’94 issue, where Richard Johnston called him Nashville’s Electric Upright Man. The EUB in question is a Fleishman 5-string that Dave affectionately calls “The Beast”; it has been heard on hundreds of albums and dozens of hit records, and it remains a key instrument in his arsenal.
In addition to his solo career, playing in several bands, leading the All-Bass Orchestra, and doing sessions, Pomeroy is president of the Nashville Musicians Association, AFM Local 257—but after a long day working for fair treatment of his fellow musicians, he likes nothing better than retreating to his home studio to sing and play.
Your previous solo album, Tomorrow Never Knows, came out in 2003. When did you start work on this one?
I cut the Jesse Winchester song “Mean Something to You” in 2007. That was the beginning of the process—and then a whole bunch of stuff happened. I was sworn in as president of AFM 257 on January 2, 2009. The next day my house caught fire, and that changed everything. It was an electrical fire that started between floors, below my living room and above one of the studio rooms in the basement. It did a lot of damage, and I lost my beloved dog, Duke.
Were all of your instruments in the studio?
A lot of them were, and I lost a dozen. But many survived because of where they were in the house. It was so random. The Beast was around the corner from the room where the worst fire damage happened.
Several of the songs, including Guy Clark’s “Hands” and Don Williams’ “Which Way Is Santa Fe?” as well as the one by Jesse Winchester, are tributes to people you have worked with.
That wasn’t intentional, but it just felt right to re-interpret these songs by artists who had an influence on me. It happened pretty naturally, but in the end I did feel a need to balance that, which I was able to do with the original instrumentals and the other songs.
You also have a beautiful version of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” which was his tribute to Lester Young—so that’s a tribute to a tribute.
I lived with that one for a long time before I put it down. Mingus used to complain that people never did the middle part correctly; they just played the melody and then used a minor blues for the solos. I took great pains to learn those chords and find voicings on a 4-string to play them.
And then there’s your eight-minute medley of “Ball of Confusion,” “For the Love of Money,” and “Cloud Nine,” which has 21 bass parts and 51 tracks total. How long did it take to do that?
I spent a couple of months on that one, working steadily. I’ve always loved “Ball of Confusion,” which starts with Bob Babbitt’s bass by itself at the top. His tone is perfect, and the whole thing builds on that riff. “Money” is another classic from that era, and of course Anthony Jackson’s part is one of the all-time great bass lines. Then it’s back to Babbitt for “Cloud Nine.” I had to cherry-pick the lyrics, so I sang the stuff that I thought had the most resonance. I wanted to make a statement without writing a political song.
Even with all those tracks, it still sounds like a band playing.
That’s the secret of all-bass music—the rhythmic push and pull is what makes it feel like a band. That’s what I was going for, and I was really happy with the way that one turned out.
How did you find the time to make this album while playing sessions and doing your union job?
It wasn’t easy. A huge chunk of my life is taken up by the union now, but it makes me love playing the bass more than ever!
Dave Pomeroy, Angel in the Ashes [2017, Earwave]