Dave Manley Square
Dave Manley Square

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

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

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.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

1. Raheem DeVaughn - "Who"

"I recorded on Raheem’s “Who” on The Love Experience with Anthony Bell producing. They wanted some rock guitar, and liked what I did. It ended up coming out real nice! I also performed with Raheem quite a bit during this period. Anthony had produced records for Jill Scott, “Golden” comes to mind first, Vivian Green, Raheem.. the list goes on. He always liked what I brought to the session vibe wise. We still work some to this day."

2. Jill Scott - "Still Here"

The closing track on Jill Scott's 2004 Beautifully Human LP was written and recorded by Manley, and that session lead to a place in the singer's live band and a whirlwind of tour spots, including Dave Chappelle's historic Block Party.

"I started working in the studios, Jazzy Jeff’s spot at 444 north 3rd, and Larry Golds spot on North 7th street Just through word of mouth about my ability as a versatile player on the scene. I started working with Anthony Bell and Pete Kuzma in 1999 at Jazzy Jeff’s studio. There I wrote and played on the song “Still Here” on Words and Music Vol.2 with Pete Kuzma and Jill."

3. Vivian Green - "Frustrated"

" I toured  with Vivian Green in  2003 on a tour with Maxwell in support of her record “A Love Story.” Then in 2005 I  played on the song “Frustrated” on her second record Vivian. Working at Jazzy Jeff’s studio we did sessions for Jewell, Herbie Hancock, Daruis Rucker, Floetry, Jazzy Jeff, and a ton of artists that were in development. That was a dope spot, a rich history in Philly music. I also played some festivals with Jazzy Jeff in Europe during 2003-2004."

4. Jill Scott - "My Petition"

This live clip of Jill and Dave performing live on Tavis Smiley's show speaks volume on the integral role Manley's guitar work plays in her music, here literally a duet between voice and strings.

5. Jill Scott - "Is It The Way"

"Doing Dave Chappelle's Block Party with Jill was an amazing experience. Nothing has happened like that since! We were already on tour with Jill when she got the call to perform in the movie, so we flew from a show in Seattle right to NYC if I remember correctly. Dave was super chill and funny as hell. He would hang at the rehearsals and have everyone in stitches. I remember it was kind of raining and cool that September day. There was a sea of people in rain gear just vibing out when we hit the stage. That band had a lot of energy!! I remember Jill give me a shout out as I took my featured guitar solo in “Is It The Way” (!!) That was an amazing experience. Later that evening I was called to the roof of the school where they shot the video to accompany Dave with guitar bass drums as dave played “Round Midnight” on the piano. The audio portion is used in the beginning of the film."