Songwriter Profile – Dave Carroll

Dave CarrollDave Carroll was born August 7, 1964, in Ashland, Kentucky. Although Carroll was always fascinated with music, he didn’t learn to play guitar until he was 17 years old.

Carroll was motivated to learn to play bluegrass guitar when he attended a bluegrass concert in his community in which a local band that included his cousin, Fiddling Marvin Carroll, was performing.

Within a few months, he began playing in local bands and writing his own material.

His musical influences include Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, The Stanley Brothers, Doyle Lawson, Larry Sparks and The Lost and Found, and singers like the late Keith Whitley, Charlie Waller and Tony Rice.

In 2003, Carroll helped found the band New River Line.

Subsequently, in 2012, he helped to found Hammertowne.

Carroll’s songs have been recorded by some of the most prominent artists in bluegrass music such as The Lonesome River Band (The Game Is Over), Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out (Old Kentucky Farmers), Lou Reid and Carolina (Brighter Shade of Blue), Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice (It’s Good To See The Homeplace Once Again), Blue Moon Rising (This Old Martin Box), Ernie Thacker and Route 23 (Detroit City Chill), Jeff Parker, and Grasstowne (This Old Guitar and Me).

Most of his songs have, however, been recorded by Carroll’s own bands New River Line and Hammertowne.

Blue Moon Rising’s This Old Martin Box got up to #3 on the Bluegrass Unlimited Chart in 2006 and Scorcher Carroll’s Farm, which is on New River Line’s Chasing My Dreams CD was voted Song of the Year in 2007 on the Americas Bluegrass Chart. The recording of This Old Guitar and Me was among the final nominations for IBMA Recorded Event of the Year.

Where were you born and raised?

“I’m from north-eastern Kentucky, born in Ashland and reared near Grayson.”

When and how did you become interested in music?

“I started playing and singing when I was about 17 (I’m 44 now) and felt compelled to write almost immediately as I was trying to learn to pick as well.”

When and why did you become interested in bluegrass music?

“Well I had always loved music, but didn’t learn to play until I was 17 years old. My desire to learn, was sparked when I went to the local community center and caught a local bluegrass band’s show. The bluegrass bug really bit hard, and I wanted so badly to learn.”

Do you remember the first song that you wrote?

“Not really..and probably for good reason. But my third attempt to write turned out to be a song called The Game Is Over. I was in my first recording project at Ottis Lynn Dillon’s famed River Track Studio in Louisa, Kentucky, in 1988. Ottis had a visitor on that day, a guy by the name of Tim Austin, founding member of the Lonesome River Band. Well it may as well have been Elvis to me, I was such a big fan of Tim and Lonesome River Band. Tim and Ottis were in the control room (as was I, huddled in a corner), were talking about some tracks that Tim had recorded at his brand new studio (Doobie Shea) up in Ferum. Ottis just happen to pull up my tracks in preparation for mixing.

The song that came up was The Game Is Over. Tim stopped talking and just listened. I heard him ask Ottis, who is that? Ottis told him it was me and my band. Tim introduced himself (not that he needed to) and told me that he really liked the tune, going on to ask if I would mind sending him a copy when it was done. Well, as soon as I was able to get back down off the ceiling, I surely agreed to do send him a copy. Months and months went by, when one day I got a call at work from Tim who informed me that Lonesome River Band wanted to include my song on their next album. Well needless to say I was beside myself. I thought, wow, this songwriting deal is pretty easy! Of course it’s not, I just got lucky. You know, things like that happen to real songwriters often, I’m sure. But to me, life was complete. So that was my first tune that got picked up, and it was on the Carrying The Tradition album, which won album of the year in 1991. After that I got to know Tim, and he actually produced a record of mine a couple of years later.”

Who was the first bluegrass songwriter to make an impression on you and why?

“Tom T. Hall. He and I are from the same hometown, Olive Hill, Kentucky. When I was just a kid, Tom T. would come back to Olive Hill and put on a big outdoor concert on July 4th and my mom and dad took me. Even though I was just a youngster, and years before I even thought about playing and singing, those songs he sang made an impression on me. Unlike any other music I’d heard, the words really meant something to me, because they spoke about our way of living in the country. One of his songs The Homecoming even mentioned my brother in law Jan Evans, who grew up with Tom T. He is to me, the “Dean” of songwriters.”

Which of your songs gives you the most satisfaction and why?

“Boy, that’s tough. I don’t know that there’s one. I’ve gotten satisfaction from them all. People tell me all the time, and some of them very accomplished musicians, that they’d give anything to be able to write, so I don’t take any of them for granted. This Old Guitar and Me I’d have to say is one of my favorites.”

Which comes first; the melody or the lyrics?

“People like yourself often ask me to define my writing style, and I always tell them that I don’t know that I have one. I write about everyday things, nothing fancy, just things that I relate to and see going on around me. Often times things from the past, sometimes even the future. I don’t work at writing, although I’m sure I should. Most of my songs write themselves. It has been my experience that those tunes turn out to be the best ones. Heck, I wrote The Game Is Over in about two minutes, sitting on my mom’s couch, watching Bugs Bunny!

I’ve never really considered myself a songwriter, I mean I don’t pitch songs to people. Someone will hear something that I’ve done and give me a holler. I have some heroes and people that I look up to that are great song writers, like Larry Cordle (who’s my favorite), Tom T Hall (who is also from Carter County and actually grew up with my brother in law Jan Evans, up on Tick Ridge), Dave Maggard and the great Bill Castle, who is a good buddy of mine, and a fabulous writer. I consider all of these guys great writers, but sure don’t consider myself to be a real songwriter like they are.

I just kind of write out of necessity for my band, so we can do our own thing, as it were.”

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.