Dave Clark passes

This remembrance of Dave Clark is a contribution from Sandy Rothman, long time Bay Area string musician and former Blue Grass Boy.

Dave Clark - photo by Barbara Stein WhitakerDavid Clark: January 1, 1943–January 30, 2016

Soon after moving to Columbus, Ohio, from the San Francisco Bay Area in 1969 I met Dave Clark, originally from the Newark-Pataskala-Etna area, not far from Columbus. (This was not Dave Clark of the English rock group The Dave Clark Five, but the Dave Clark who played the five.) Dave was not only one of the finest Scruggs-style banjo pickers I’ve ever known but also one of the most pleasant people. He played super-clean traditional banjo with a wonderful touch. Thoughtful, clean, and creative, and blessed with precision timing, Dave should’ve been more widely known as one of the leading five-string pickers in the country. (He was a good singer, too.)

Although Dave was a serious Scruggs-picker, he also enjoyed keeping up with trends in traditional bluegrass banjo. If someone like Bill Emerson recorded a new banjo lick, Dave would learn it—but to me it always sounded like Earl Scruggs playing it. Dave’s and Earl’s birthdays were 5 days apart and to my ear their timing sounded quite similar.

Dave was in ill health with diabetes for many years. He wasn’t playing and had finally sold his banjo (Earl Scruggs model #1). Aside from health issues, another reason Dave wasn’t as well known as he could’ve been at his level of banjo picking—right up there with the very best of the Scruggs stylists—is that he wasn’t crazy about travel, the road life, and the demands of performing. (Maybe he was like Walt Hensley in that regard.) He and bassist friend Dave Dodderer were recruited by both Red Allen and Jimmy Martin, bandleaders well known for recognizing excellent banjo players, but Dave elected to keep his job (parts manager for Cummins Diesel) and stay in his home area with his family.

To say that Dave wasn’t one to seek the limelight would be a major understatement. He was humble and modest almost to a fault. I was inspired by him in every way and am deeply saddened by his loss.

Regionally known and respected but criminally underrecorded, Dave played on a few sessions that won’t be easy to locate now. In 1973 he recorded an LP with the Fields Bros., fine Stanleys-style singers in the Columbus area, titled Waiting and Wondering (Jessup MB-138; available in iTunes).

In the early ’80s he joined the All-American Boys (with Tom Ewing, Bob White, Tony Ellis, and Dave Dodderer), winning the Frontier Ranch band contest in June, 1983. In October of that year they released a cassette titled The All-American Boys, with no release number.

More recently Dave teamed up with singer-guitarist Beuford Wilson and they released a CD titled Beuford Wilson & David Clark: Just Old Friends, recorded May 17 and July 12, 2003, at River Track Studio (near Crum, WV). Again the project had no release number. It’s probably the best-recorded example of Dave’s banjo work, with good singing and picking all around inspired by the Flatt & Scruggs sound.

In the early ’90s Dave played in the bluegrass quartet Summit Station, named for his actual hometown, with guitarist John Obora, mandolinist Jeff Pursley, and Jeff’s dad, bassist Bill Pursley. John emailed me this great reminiscence about Dave:

Summit Station - photo by Bob Studzinski“For my money, Dave was about as good as it gets playing the banjo. His playing was traditional, but distinctive, and always carefully thought out. …He was a fun guy to play and hang out with, as I am sure you know.

I do have a story to share about Dave’s banjo playing that I think nicely captures something of Dave’s wonderful timing and technique.

We were in Jack Casey’s old Rome Recording studio years ago to cut our first Summit Station demo. Jack told Dave that there was a problem with something in the recording of Dave’s banjo break on New Camptown Races, so he asked Dave to go back in and play so Jack could punch him in and out (ah, the old days). Dave did so, but without telling anyone, Jack didn’t punch Dave in and out—he just created an additional track. We then listened to the playback and Jack winked at me and pushed both faders of Dave’s banjo up, playing the 2 banjo breaks at the same time. You could not tell. Every note Dave played sat exactly on top of every other note. There was no echo. No clatter. No ghost notes. Casey was amazed. He said he’d never seen anything like it before. It says a lot about how well-conceived Dave’s playing was and how solid his timing was.

Jeff and I are both fond of saying we’re graduates of the Dave Clark College of Bluegrass Music.”

Dave is survived by his wife June; daughter Kim (Darren); sons Jesse (Mimi) and Clint (Jamie); grandchildren Dustin, Nathan, Briana (Kent), Kasi, Mya, and Mason; and great-grandchildren Ian and Gabby. In addition to his parents, a son, Andrew R. Clark, preceded him in death.