Nashville session ace Dave Baker has etched out a fine career playing for artists such as Luke Bryan and Rodney Atkins, as well as in his current gig backing American Idol alumnus Kellie Pickler. He put his own material to the test with his recent, self-released instrumental CD, 71 South, where he traverses several musical boundaries with his eclectic, yet always melodic guitar stylings.
What’s your favorite gear at the moment?
My go-to electrics are a RS Guitarworks Slab ’59, a PRS DGT, a ’78 Gibson ES-335, and a Les Paul Standard. For acoustic situations, I use my McPherson Camrielle. Although I have a modest collection of vintage instruments, I mostly use them for intown sessions and gigs, as I’ve retired the older guitars and amps from the road. My “town” amp is a Dr. Z Carmen Ghia, and my touring rig is a Dr. Z Z Wreck head and a cab loaded with Eminence Eric Johnson EJ-1240 speakers. My effects are minimal. Currently, I use a Wampler Pinnacle, a Fulltone Full-Drive2, a Wampler Ego Compressor, a Line 6 M9, and a JHS-modded Ernie Ball VP Jr. volume pedal. My strings are D’Addario EXL110, .010-.046, and I use a Clayton Acetal 1.26mm pick for guitar.
How do you craft your session tones?
Most of what I do in Nashville is country, rock, and Americana, so the tones have to be organic and honest. Often times, a guitar plugged straight into one of my Dr. Zs is all I need for 90-percent of any song—live or studio.
What are your main responsibilities when you perform with Kellie Pickler?
It’s all about recreating the recording of the song in a live fashion. Kellie’s musical director expects parts to be played verbatim off the album, while keeping the energy up, and not overshadowing the vocals.
As you’ve played on some hit sessions, what, in your view, is in the DNA of a great song?
Most great songs are simple in harmonic principal—three or four chords.—and a catchy melody. The guitar is a supportive instrument to the vocal melody. In my opinion, the best guitar parts add to the harmonic structure by creating a musical hook, as well, whether it’s a rhythmic phrase such as “Faith” by George Michael, or a riff that helps identify the song, à la “Day Tripper.”
What were some of the elements that informed your solo album, 71 South?
It’s a product of the many years I’ve invested into the love of music. I can’t define myself as a country player, a metal player, a rock player, or even Latin or jazz, because I love it all. So I paid tribute to my love for many genres, and although the album may not have a “musical centerpiece” as a result, it does have a personalized identity with my approach to tones and phrasing. And even though they are instrumentals, all the compositions have the spirit of a pop song in terms of structure, hooks, and motifs.
Which artists do you absorb for musical inspiration?
I’m influenced by everything I hear—whether I like it or not. The music I gravitate towards is all over the map, but, as a guitar player, I’m a blues-based classic rock junkie. I like everything from Joe Walsh to BTO to the Stones to Cream. But I also like NIN, Ministry, and Slayer. When I’m playing on a session, I try to conjure Keith Richards, Nile Rodgers, Jimmy Page, and Willie Nelson. That’s a great combination of vibe, rhythm, riffs, tone, and simplicity