IF A MUSICIAN’S SUCCESS IS defined by the intensity of his schedule or his body of work, then Dennis Crouch sits firmly atop the heap in the world of upright bass. His album credits for the last several years alone are staggering, including the Grammy-snagging Raising Sand, the genre-busting collaboration between bluegrass queen Alison Krauss and former Led Zep rock god Robert Plant. As half of producer T-Bone Burnett’s crack rhythm section (usually with drummer Jay Bellarose), Dennis has added his fat, gut-string sound to recordings by Steve Earle, John Fogerty, Willie Nelson, and Elvis Costello. His work can also be heard on a long list of hit movie soundtracks, including Walk the Line, Cold Mountain, Don’t Come Knockin’, Across the Universe, and the recent box office smash Crazy Heart, which boasts the Academy Award-winning Song of the Year, “The Weary Kind.”
It looks to be another banner year for this softspoken, affable gentleman, whose playing graces yet-tobe released albums by artists as diverse as Vince Gill, Gregg Allman, Elton John and Leon Russell, LeAnn Rimes, Loretta Lynn, Tim O’Brien, and Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, and Buddy Miller.
How did this amazing journey start?
I grew up in Strawberry, Arkansas, and started playing in groups backing up contestants in fiddle contests. My brother Tim is a great fiddle player, and my dad and I followed him around, backing him at these contests. It was a cool learning ground, as we played mostly western swing—always without drummers, which helped me develop my ear and my sense of time.
Describe your first break into the Nashville recording scene.
I was booked to do what would become the breakout record for the Dixie Chicks. I got booted off that project, oddly enough, because the engineer didn’t know me. I remember thinking, “When did engineers start picking the players?” It was really a low moment for me. But I swear, not ten minutes had passed when my friend Keith Case called me to play on the new Ralph Stanley record. This came at a time when the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? had really pushed Ralph and acoustic music in general back into the public’s mind. It was cool, because it led to my hooking up with T-Bone.
Who are some of your influences?
If you play in this town, and particularly if you play upright, then you just can’t deny the overwhelming influence of Bob Moore. From his tone to his immaculate choice of alternate notes, his presence is felt every day and on every session. He’s been a great friend and mentor to me, and I’m really grateful for what he’s done for me and for bass playing in general.
Do you have a gig you play to blow off steam?
I’ve played with a band called the Time Jumpers at Nashville’s Station Inn every Monday night for the last 11 years. It’s made up of some of the best session cats in town, and we get to play a lot of western swing and classic country. Vince Gill joined the band recently, so you can see what I mean by the caliber of players we have. It ain’t nothin’ but fun!
What do you expect from yourself in the studio?
Man, I love it when it’s a little scary. I love to latch on to that fear you experience when you’re about to go for a take. With T-Bone, for example, it’s usually a one-mic-for-everybody situation, or a thing where they’re really going for a first or second take. That little bit of fear helps me to focus and dig something up from the gut that might make the track a little cooler. That, and the inspiration that comes from working with all of these killer players!
Writer Dave Roe is a Nashville bassist who has toured and recorded with Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, and many others. He’s on John Mellencamp’s newest Rounder release, No Better Than This.
Basses u-size 1840s Tyrolean (for L.A. sessions), 1800s German roundback; various others, including American standard uprights and Juzek
Strings Pirastro Pizzicato gut-wrapped (E and A); Daniel Larson Gamut (Dand G)
Studio RCA 44, Neumann U47, or M-Audio Sputnik tube microphones
Live Various Ampeg amplifiers
HEAR HIM ON
Jakob DylanWomen & Country [Columbia, 2010]; Alison Krauss and Robert PlantRaising Sand [Rounder, 2007]; Elvis CostelloSecret-Profane and Sugarcase [Hear Music, 2009]; Steve Earle, Townes [New West, 2009]; Patti Griffin, Downtown Church [ATO, 2010]