Bassist & Record Producer
Americana Award Nomination for Band Of Joy
What do Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Robert Plant, and Jorma Kaukonen all have in common? For one thing, they are among the most respected musicians and artists in American popular music over the last four decades. For another, they have all, at one time or another, sought out the talents of Byron House, currently one of Nashville’s—and the nation’s—hardest working bass players, both in the studio and on the road.
Versatile, tasteful, unique, spontaneous and, most of all, musical—these are the words most commonly used to describe Byron’s bass playing. But it was banjo that first inspired him to seriously pursue a career in music. His musical path got off to an auspicious beginning, when, at age 11, he met and jammed with Sam Bush, who was already a world-class mandolin picker and fiddler who had only recently formed the groundbreaking New Grass Revival.
At age 17, after seven years of honing his banjo chops (he also dabbled in guitar, dulcimer, trumpet, bassoon, percussion, piano and other instruments), Byron was drawn to the bass guitar upon hearing Jaco Pastorius’ revelatory work on Weather Report’s Heavy Weather.
“I heard his playing,” Byron said, “and I realized what that instrument could do; not only play the more traditional supportive role, but also add harmony lines in a way that would not only support the melody and the other instruments but also serve as a catalyst to the other players. Yet it was so subtle and carefully played. I went home and did some woodshedding for a year, playing his records over and over.”
In the mid-1980s, Byron left his hometown of Bowling Green, KY, and relocated to Nashville, opening up a new universe of musical possibilities. He was soon working steadily with Foster & Lloyd, and his reputation quickly spread through Music City. In addition to Parton, Harris, Kaukonen and Douglas, Byron has performed and/or recorded with the likes of Buddy and Julie Miller, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Linda Ronstadt, Jim Lauderdale, Dixie Chicks, Nickel Creek, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Shelby Lynne, Clay Walker, Al Kooper and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, to name a few. He was honored with a Grammy nomination in 2005 for his work on Mark O’Connor’s Thirty Year Retrospective.
In 1999, almost 30 years after that first jam session with Sam Bush, Byron’s musical career came full-circle, when he landed the enviable bass gig in Bush’s prolific touring band.
“Byron is the first choice for the upright acoustic bass,” Bush said. “He also plays just as well on the electric and fretless, which makes him as versatile as he is accomplished. With Chris Brown on drums and Byron on bass, I have a rhythm section that allows for limitless possibilities; we can play every musical genre, from reggae to bluegrass to rock. He is also a good friend and understands that being a road musician means being able to get along with your players. Byron is the best.”
Many other musicians are quick to sing Byron’s praises.
“Working with Byron House is an incomparable musical experience,” Kaukonen said. “He brings so much with him when he comes. Whether you need upright, fretless or electric bass, playing with him makes you feel as if he has always been in your band and that you would be lost without him. As if that weren’t enough, you can count on him for background vocals. He is a consummate professional as well as an intuitive player. I am proud to call him a friend and a peer!”
In 2009, Byron House recorded Band Of Joy with Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), and toured with Plant and the Band of Joy. The album was nominated for two Grammy Awards, including Best Americana Album.