‘Living metronome’ Jason Moore passes

Jason Moore with Sideline at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival – photos by Frank Baker

The bluegrass world is running short of positive adjectives following Sunday’s unexpected death of Jason Moore, the 47-year-old bass player for Sideline.

“Great. “Amazing.” “Superb.” They and dozens of similar words were used, many of them multiple times, on social media and in phone calls as the shocking news spread. But in the truest measure of what Jason Moore meant to the bluegrass world, the superlatives were used to describe Jason the man as often as they were ascribed to Jason the musician.

Sideline played Saturday at Meadowgreen Appalachian Music Park in Clay City, Kentucky. After overnighting there, the band got ready to leave Sunday morning for a show in Ohio. Jason climbed the first step of the bus, then fell backwards in the throes of a heart attack. CPR from a bandmate briefly revived him in the parking lot, but he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

His shocked bandmates, bringing the bus home to North Carolina without their co-founder, have been laying low. But co-founder Steve Dilling made a brief post on Facebook: “Jason, you have been by my side for so many years now, whether it was on stage, on the bus, or watching a ball game. I will always love you and cherish all the good times we had, and the music we made in Sideline. Rest in Peace, my brother!”

Dozens of other bluegrasses offered their own reflections, which largely boiled down to Jake’s impeccable timing and his innate kindness and generosity.

Fiddler Michael Cleveland, who knows a thing or two about timing, and will someday end up in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, said one 20-minute jam session that included Moore on bass “changed the way I though about music forever.” Cleveland, playing with Rhonda Vincent in London, Kentucky, in 2000, remembered that someone, maybe Audie Blaylock, invited Jason to play. “None of us had ever picked with him before. In the 20 minutes that followed, I got a lesson in groove that I will never forget, and Jason Moore became my favorite bass player.”

Troy Daniel Boone remembers being a bundle of nerves before playing his first gig with Sideline. As the band headed for the stage, the young picker heard Moore growl, “Boone.” That was followed by a fist bump, and a gentle promise: “I got you, son.”

Jake, as friends called him, seemed to have everybody’s back, and seemed to be everybody’s friend. He always had time for an encoraging word.

So it was that Saturday, getting ready to play back-to-back gigs, with a bus ride in between. Jake found the time to pick up the phone and call close friend Kevin Prater, with whom he had shared the stage in the James King Band. 

“He was checking on my dad,” Prater said. Marvin Prater had been hospitalized in serious condition. He was discharged today. “On the one hand, it’s a very happy day. On the other hand,” he said, “it’s a very sad day.”

Their band days ended when Jason left to join Mountain Heart, but their friendship endured. “I not only lost a best friend, I lost a brother,” Prater told me this morning.

Moore lined up the audition that landed Prater in the James King Band. Shortly after, as he was about to enter the studio with the band, Prater stayed with Jason and his parents. They stuck him in a room with a cassette tape of rough mixes, calling him out only for meals. Now and again, Jason would pop in and help Kevin with some tricky passages. “He stood by me and pushed me to the limit to achieve what I needed to do,” Prater said.

In the studio, then and always, “Jason was a living metronome. He had the best timing of anyone I ever played with. He provided a rock-solid foundation. It made you want to play. He made it so easy for everybody. He’d pull you right into the pocket.”

Along with his other skills – bass player, harmony singer, bus driver, bus mechanic – Moore was a patient teacher. I knew this firsthand, and still lean on what I learned from him over the last decade. He helped me at a couple of workshops, where we spent the evening hours talking baseball. We both had large collections of baseball cards, and when I mentioned I was looking to downsize, he expressed an interest in helping me. We soon worked out a trade: baseball cards for bass lessons.

Sunday morning, sorting through packed moving boxes at our new home in the Pennsylvania mountains, I came across three or four cartons of cards. I thought I’d call to see if he wanted them. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jake was already gone.

When I told Prater that story, he said, “We don’t know when, where, or how death will come to call. There’s no promise of tomorrow.”

Then he said something that caused a smile to break through the sadness.

“It’s not goodbye. It’s just so long, for now. I hope him and James are together, working on some new songs.”

Jason is survived by his wife, Mollie, and their children and grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at 2:00 pm Saturday at the Fair Funeral Home Chapel in Eden, NC. Visitation is Friday, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m., at the funeral home.

To help the family, friends have launched a T-shirt sale. The shirts, designed by bluegrass Elizabeth Bowman, are available online.

RIP, Jake. 

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.