Dave Clarke


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 Dave Clarke biography

             Photo by Lucinda Chodan

Dave Clarke has won fans and friends across Canada for his complex, lyrical guitar playing. As he settles in Edmonton, he is preparing a new album that will consolidate his reputation as one of Canada's finest acoustic guitarists and a singer-songwriter to reckon with.

For the last decade, Dave has garnered kudos for his work with the hard-driving West Coast trio Shearwater Bluegrass, acclaimed Montreal-based folkgrass trio Steel Rail, Juno-winning singer-songwriter David Francey and Canadian Folk Music Award-winner Penny Lang.

Dave's solo work includes his first instrumental album Guitar Songs, released in 2002, and an album of instrumentals and songs, Reunion, released in 2007.

However, Dave's career stretches back to the heady Montreal folk scene of the 1970s. His playing style -- he has been called one of the country's "most fluid acoustic pickers" -- his gift for melody and his fluency in folk, Celtic, bluegrass and country, have made him one of the most respected players on the Canadian acoustic scene.

Dave's interest in music began in his childhood in Montreal. He remembers taking naps with a beloved 78-r.p.m. recording of Casey Jones, and he played in a ukulele band with his brothers when he was in grade school. But it wasn't till he heard the strains of Mississippi John Hurt and Doc Watson that he fell under the spell of the guitar and began racing home at lunch time and after school to practise for hours on end.

He got his start as a professional musician with the legendary Quebec group the White River Bluegrass Band in the late 1970s and later with the jazz-folk-swing band Soupe du Jour in the 1980s. He played with such performers as Barde and Theresa Doyle, but it was his work with the Montreal-based folkgrass trio Steel Rail, starting in the 1990s, that brought him to national attention.

Dave also played with David Francey from 1997 to 2004. During that period, his versatile and sensitive guitar arrangements provided a musical bedrock for Francey’s strong original material and powerful vocals. He co-produced three David Francey albums, including the Juno-winning Far End of Summer and Skating Rink.

When he moved to Vancouver Island in 2005, Dave joined forces with renowned singer-bass player Tammy Fassaert and hot young mandolinist James Whittall to form Shearwater Bluegrass. The band, later augmented with elegant Victoria fiddler Miriam Sonstenes, was a force to be reckoned with on the West Coast bluegrass scene and performed in festivals on both sides of the border before its dissolution in early 2011.   

Apart from his band work, Dave’s tasty playing and his 1938 D18 Martin guitar have been featured on everything from bluegrass albums to television soundtracks. One of his instrumentals is featured on the album Six Strings North of the Border, along with those of such other guitar luminaries as Bruce Cockburn and Don Ross. Dave's playing figured prominently in the TV documentary series Four Strong Winds, which celebrated Canadian singer-songwriters.

He has appeared on many other recent folk recordings including those by Penny Lang (the 2006 CFMA contemporary album of the year Stone and Sand and Sea and Sky), Bill Garrett and Sue Lothrop (Red Shoes), Eve Goldberg (A Kinder Season) and Rosemary Phelan (Avalanche Lily).

Dave's first solo album, the all-instrumental CD Guitar Songs, was released in late 2002. It has been called "an exquisitely executed collection of original solo instrumentals from a Montreal master of the acoustic guitar."  

Dave’s songwriting with lyric partner Lucinda Chodan is showcased on Reunion and three Steel Rail albums, and their material is being covered by a growing number of folk and bluegrass artists. His highly original arrangements are showcased on the Steel Rail releases as well as three David Francey releases. They reflect both his formal musical training –- he has a music degree from Montreal’s Concordia University -– and his love affair with various genres of roots and acoustic music.

He also has a growing body of work as a producer, including the Steel Rail albums The Road Less Travelled and River Song and three David Francey albums, Torn Screen Door, Far End of Summer and Skating Rink.  

Workshops and teaching

Over the years Dave has given many hands-on guitar workshops including at the Ottawa Folklore Centre and the Townships Bluegrass and  Old-Tyme Music Society in Waterloo, Que. He has also taught at summer acoustic music camps, notably the Woods Camp in Ontario and the B.C. Bluegrass Workshop in Sorrento, B.C. For many years he was Montreal’s foremost acoustic guitar teacher, with stints at the Montreal Folklore Centre and his own private teaching studio.

 Selected discography 

1 White River Bluegrass Band, White River Bluegrass Band  [out of print]  

1 1995: Steel Rail, A Thousand Miles of Snow, Crossties CD-1001

1 1999: David Francey, Torn Screen Door, Laker LKR-1001 (Festival)

1 1999: Steel Rail, The Road Less Travelled, Crossties CD-1002 (Festival)

1 2000: Various artists, Six Strings North of the Border, Borealis BCD128 (Festival)

1 2001: David Francey, The Far End of Summer, Laker LKR-1002 (Festival)  

1 2002: Dave Clarke, Guitar Songs, Crossties CD-1003 (Festival)

1 2003: David Francey, Skating Rink, Laker LKR-1003 (Festival)  

1 2005: Steel Rail, River Song, Crossties CD-1004 (Festival)

1 2006: Penny Lang, Stone and Sand and Sea and Sky, Borealis Records (Koch)

1 2007: Various artists, Couplings, Independent

1 2007: Dave Clarke, Reunion, Crossties CD-1005





 Selected quotes

“Dave Clarke is one of Canada’s most accomplished and tasteful acoustic guitarists.”

Mike Regenstreif, Montreal Gazette

“Clarke’s lead guitar is a joyful marriage of bluegrass flatpicking and the big generous notes of folk music.”

Patrick Langston, Ottawa Citizen

 “Lead guitarist Dave Clarke sweeps you along with both style and substance.”

No Depression