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Meet Dave Manley, Neo-Soul's Secret Guitar Weapon

Who Was That Sideman? 5 Okayplayer Anthems You Didn't Know Were Driven By Dave Manley's Guitar

Dave Manley Square

The life of a session player is generally one of unsung heroism. In rare moments, great session players have risen to the status of household names–think of Booker T & The MGs, The Funk Brothers, The Wrecking Crew and, yes, Toto–but for every hired gun that hits it big there’s a legion of players who happily grind out a living far away from the spotlight’s bright embrace, laying the foundations that make marquee artists’ careers possible.

One of the most prolific, humble and talented session players of the last two decades is Dave Manley, a versatile guitarist who played a crucial role in the neo-soul movement of the late 1990s. Manley cut his chops at The New School before eventually making it to Philadelphia in time to play at jam sessions with the likes of Jill Scott, Raheem DeVaughn, Musiq Soulchild and Bilal. But even before those connections were made, the young guitarist was bumping into another rising group of players.

“I met Ahmir and Tariq when they used to play on the South Street,” Manley said, remembering his early run-ins with The Roots. “I was doing sessions and gigs with DJs King Britt and Josh Wink when we all worked at Tower Records at 6th and South. I would always see Quest in the store. I used to watch the Roots on my lunch breaks.” Manley would go on to record with both Questlove and Black Thought in separate sessions, but ultimately carved out a niche for himself as the go-to player for soul vocalists.

Life as a session player has brought Manley to play recording dates with Herbie Hancock, extensive tours with Jazzy Jeff, hours of writing with Raheem Devaughn and so much more. But now, after what seems like a lifetime of playing in the backing band, Manley is striking out on his own with a new band and album project on the way. Following the 2000 release of his Deep Pm LP, October will finally see the arrival of a second record–one that blends hip-hop, jazz and world rhythms and draws from Manley’s extensive seasoning as a player who’s had to excel in a plethora of roles at a moment’s notice. “A friend described my sound as an ‘Urban Pat Metheny,’ or a ‘Black Van Halen,'” Manley said. “I guess that would be one place to start.”

Dave will play Philadelphia’s renowned World Cafe tonight before hitting New York City on April 11th. Find the relevant details listed below and click through to treat yourself to a playlist of some of his greatest guitar moments, your favorite Dave Manley jams you probably never knew were his.

Dave Manley Large


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