Dave Yoke is an all around badass on the electric guitar playing with legends like New Orlean’s genius Dr. John and Susan Tedeschi. Yoke’s hitting the road with The New Stew in support of their tour performing Bill Wither’s Live at Carnegie Hall album in its entirety. We spoke with Yoke about his career and the newest project. We hope to see all you DC/MD/VA fans at The Hamilton next Tuesday, May 10th (Event Info & Tickets).
You and Matt Slocum has a chemistry that dates back to your time with the Susan Tedeschi Band. Could you describe the strengths Matt has a bandmate?
Matt is an amazing player and an equally amazing dude. Being out on a lengthy tour, crammed on a tour bus with a group of people can be tough if you aren’t a fan of some of the people you’re out with, believe me I know! Matt is such a genuine and easy going guy that it makes traveling and playing music that much more special, the way its supposed to be. He is the type of player that makes everyone else around him sound better, and that’s one of the highest compliments I can give to a musician. According to him, he’s also a pretty mean ballroom dancer too, ask him about it sometime.
The session guitar playing you did in the 90s in Atlanta must have helped you learn a lot as a player. What are some of the most interesting session guitar playing moments you’ve experienced?
Honestly, there isn’t any specific session that comes to mind that stands out from that time period. It was mostly local bands and artist stuff. We were all learning the craft of recording together so there were a lot of “misses”. That’s how you figure things out, though. I think one of the main things I’ve learned is to not over play in the studio. You have to play what the song wants you to play, you just have to learn how to listen. I also found that the smaller, vintage amps sound better to my ear in the studio. You can get really big and crunched out tones from those. For the longest time, I would use the bigger amps that I played live shows with in the studio and just could never get a sound I was happy with in the studio. A friend gifted me a small old Supro amp with an 8 inch speaker in it and I decided to try it out on a song and it blew me away. I’m always on the look out for any small, old funky amps now for studio stuff.
In terms of tone, can you tell us from a guitarist point of view, what gear have you used in the past and how have you changed it over time? Also, do you ever feel like using too many effects (especially digital ones) can drown out the “natural” sound of the guitar?
My set up is pretty basic, I mainly use a 68 Super Reverb and one, sometimes two, overdrive style pedals and a Gibson SG. I’m always changing the overdrive pedals because I can’t seem to find one I’m crazy about. I’m trying to phase the pedals out completely because I prefer the sound of just guitar into amp, but there’s a lot of shows that I can’t turn my amps up loud enough to get the breakup I’m looking for without the singer give me the stink eye. I don’t blame them either, I don’t like the guitar to be blaring and drowning out everybody else, but sometimes it has to happen! I haven’t had a lot of experience using effects pedals, its never been a sound that I was into. I’m becoming more open to it lately, though. Actually, I had to go and buy a wah pedal for the upcoming Bill Withers shows for some of the parts on those tunes. I haven’t played or owned one in long time, so maybe that will inspire me to explore some different things like that in the future.
You’re in the band of one the most iconic musicians from the crescent city, Dr. John. His lyrics for example “ The money you got, it ain’t no better than a higher spending man’s, All I’ve got is a little bit of common sense,I believe in my heart, the best teacher is experience” in the song “Qualified” exude a raw and powerful delivery of simple yet deep messaging about society. What has Dr. John taught you about music and life?
Man, I love that song! When I got the call to do that gig, they sent along a master list of about 90 songs to learn and that tune wasn’t on the list! I had a couple of weeks to get my homework done and it wasn’t until a couple days before the first gig that I found out that there wouldn’t be a rehearsal, just straight to the stage. Oh shit! They flew me to meet the bus the night before the first gig and he wasn’t getting on the bus until 3 or 4am. I ended up getting in my bunk before he got there so I didn’t get the chance to meet him that night, but I heard him arrive and heard him shuffling down the bus to his bunk with his necklaces and trinkets jingling and I got kinda scared. haha I was star struck just hearing him walking. In the morning, when I finally met him, any anxiety I had about meeting and playing with him went away. He’s even cooler than you think he is. He’s an open book, too. He’ll tell you about all his past music and life experiences all day. He’ll sit down on the piano and show you everything he knows if you ask. After about 3 or 4 shows, I got comfortable enough with him to ask him about playing Qualified and he said “hell yeah, we can play that sucker!” It was on the set the next show. After that, I would just start naming off all my favorites and he’d put them on the list the next night. It is an experience I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. He always said that the music business is nothing but a racket, and that he’d been screwed many times over, but he still loved to be out playing and taking care of the people around him. He told me once that he wants to die on stage after the last song of the set so that the band still gets paid and they don’t even have to play an encore. I hope I can achieve a fraction of what he’s done and still be playing when I’m his age.
The guitar playing on Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall isn’t necessarily super technical from a guitarist perspective, but playing it correctly with that punch of soul is another story. What kind of philosophical approach are you taking to play these songs?
For sure, I think that’s true for all of the guys in the band. Being a good player is one thing, but you can tell that those guys had a real chemistry going on. Everybody’s playing style complemented each other and I think that’s a big reason why that album is so amazing. He knew what he was doing when he put that band together. You have to pay attention to the subtleties of whats going on to get it “correct”. Playing in the cut! All of the guys that Jared has put together for this group are all students of music and it matters a lot to us to get things as good as they can get. Kevin, Matt and I have logged a lot of hours playing together so I know what to expect there, I’m excited about getting into it with the rest of the band and seeing where it takes us. Who knows, maybe we’ll brew up some chemistry of our own.