THE MUSIC WORLD HAS AN ENDLESS list of unsung heroes—incredible players and artists who work behind the scenes and influence all who come after them. Bob Moore, the undisputed father of Nashville bass playing, has earned a place toward the top of that list. As a member of the storied Nashville A-Team session crew, having worked over 17,000 (that’s right, 17,000!) union sessions, he lays claim to a diverse recording resumé that includes sessions for Elvis Presley, Quincy Jones, Bob Dylan, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Tom Jones, Patsy Cline, George Jones, Johnny Cash, and scores of other major artists. His delicious tone and impeccable note choices grace some of history’s most timeless recordings: Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia,” and the record that many folks see as the quintessential country recording, George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” There are people who can say that they’ve played on millions of records. Bob’s playing can be found on hundreds of millions.
Your career has wound its way through almost every recording technology, from direct-toacetate to Pro Tools. Can you describe your first session?
It was in 1954. We set up onstage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and the signal was sent via a phone line to Castle Studios, located in the old Tulane Hotel. It was a mono recording done direct to acetate.
You’ve mentioned many times that your favorite microphone for upright bass is the RCA 44 ribbon.
It just has such a nice, complete sound, without a lot of biting highs. I remember liking some of the older Telefunken mics as well, although I can’t recall the model numbers.
What was it like to work with a lot of the same studio guys, day after day, year after year, often three sessions a day?
First and foremost, we were all pretty good friends, more like a family. I think you can hear that on those records.
You worked a lot with drummer Buddy Harmon. Together you had such a distinctive shuffle groove. Were you drawing from any particular influence there?
Buddy and I just felt that style the same way. I don’t know where it came from. It feels good to have folks mention that, and it’s fun to hear the younger guys try to nail it!
Speaking of influences, who makes your list as your personal favorites?
Mostly the great jazz upright players from the ’50s and ’60s; Red Mitchell, Leroy Dennigan, and Oscar Pettiford come to mind. My all-time favorite would certainly be Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, who played on a lot of the great Oscar Peterson records.
I’ve seen a few pictures of you playing a Fender bass. Can you recall the first time you used electric bass on a record?
That would have been on “He’ll Have to Go,” by Jim Reeves. That was cool because it was such a huge crossover hit for Jim. I think I went direct to tape on that. Later on, Gibson gave me an old Victory bass.
A lot of players, including Scott LaFaro and Charlie Haden, copied your use of steel E and A strings combined with gut D and G strings.
I just felt like having guts on top made an upright sound more uniform all of the way across. It took some of the boing out, and I love the way gut strings sound on records.
What’s on the table for you in the near future?
I’m about to produce a record for Leon Rhodes, one of the greatest guitar players ever. He played with Ernest Tubb back in the day, and was in the Grand Ole Opry staff band for years. He’s a great musician, and a really sweet fellow.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring roots upright bassist?
Even if you’re not a schooled player, learn the correct positions on your bass. And most important, learn how to pull the string the right way. That’s the most essential thing of all.
HEAR HIM ON
Roger Miller, “King of the Road” [The Return of Roger Miller, Smash, 1971]; Elvis Presley, “Marie’s the Name (of His Latest Flame)” [RCA, 1961]; Ray Stevens, “Ahab the Arab,” [1,837 Seconds of Humor, Mercury, 1962]
Basses Circa-1700 full-size Italian upright, German round-back upright, 1963 Fender Jazz Bass, Gibson Victory Bass
Rig “Whatever is around!”
Studio signal path Vintage RCA 44 microphone