As I write this, I find myself still stunned at the news of Dave’s passing. I thought that somehow he would overcome this latest setback, as he had overcome so many in the past few years. Through sheer willpower, the skill of his medical team, the love of his many friends and family members, or the unfailing support of his wife, Pam, sons Axel and Carter and his brother, Steve, we hoped and prayed he would find a way. But to our great sorrow, there was no way this time.
Dave gave us so many gifts over the years. Through his music, he touched us with his performances, teaching and recordings. His unique style on dobro and steel guitar – and versatile approaches to bluegrass, country, swing, roots and traditional Hawaiian music earned the respect and admiration of professionals here and abroad. Accordingly, he was regularly invited to teach at major music gatherings like Ashokan, Common Ground, Augusta, and the ResoSummit in Nashville. He was also in high demand as a sideman and often played with multiple bands over the course of a few days.
Dave taught himself to play dobro while a student at Michigan State, using an old guitar with a pencil to raise the strings. After moving to Virginia, he played bluegrass in a number of bands, including Stoney Point, the Jimmy Arnold Band and Bill Harrell and the Virginians.
After his sons were born, he left the world of full-time music but remained active in the Baltimore-Washington area, expanding his musical repertoire to include swing, Hawaiian, country and blues. In 1988, he co-founded the Hula Monsters, playing a mix of swing, Hawaiian and American Roots music.
Dave was a sought-after session player, with contributions to more than 70 albums and CDs, including his own solo collection, Slide-Tracked. He performed or recorded with a number of great artists including Eva Cassidy, Pam Tillis, Bill Kirchen, Mike Auldridge, Johnny Gimbel, Robin and Linda Williams, John Starling, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa, Randy Kohrs, Commander Cody, Mac Wiseman, Cracker, Bobby Hicks and the Red Stick Ramblers. In recent months, he graced recordings by his newest band, East of Monroe.
Dave’s reputation as a sideman with tasteful backup licks and understated stage humor landed him on stages from the White House to Lincoln Center. He played festivals all over the United States, Canada and Europe. Lauded by his peers, Dave won 11 Wammies – the annual awards presented by the Washington Area Music Association – in the Bluegrass, Country and World Music categories.
He played at countless clubs, weddings, parties, dances and festivals over the years and brought the same level of skill and daring to every gig. I had the privilege of playing with Dave for many years and I count each time as special. As those who knew him can imagine, gigs with Dave were tremendous fun – due to his wonderful wit, his fabulous musicianship and the pure joy he derived from the music. What a blast to stand at his side and hear him play! Countless times, we were left breathless by the agility of an imaginative solo, the tastefulness of a perfect fill, or something simple, quiet and elegant. Dave always had the right touch and inspired the rest of us to do our best as well. A consummate musician, Dave loved to play – and played till the end; continuing to record in his studio at home when his health no longer permitted him to perform in public.
More than that, however, Dave was a loving and devoted family man and a caring and generous friend – always ready with a kind word or gesture, or some of his legendary humor. He had an uncommon gift for making everyone around him feel important. All who knew him speak of what a wonderful person he was, of the laughter they enjoyed together and of how great a loss this is to all of us. I am so thankful to Dave for all that he shared with me. We will miss him terribly.
To Dave’s wife, Pam, I would like to express my appreciation and admiration – not only for the care and support you provided to Dave, but for the thoughtful way in which you kept all of us informed during the most difficult moments of your long ordeal. We hung on every word and prayed as hard as we could. You have a great many fans and we thank you for your tireless efforts.
Your collective example was remarkable – with humor, determination, an eye toward the future and a down to earth practicality rarely seen in such situations – you lifted all of us up when it should have been the other way around. I will always remember that and hope that when my time comes, I can exhibit a fraction of the courage you have shown.
When one reads tributes to Dave, it is striking how similar they are – referring to the way he brought smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts through his music, his intelligence, his humor, his friendship and his humanity. He made the world a better place and we are lucky to have known him.
Aloha Dave – until we meet again.