"Seeing his name on records was like Mount Rushmore to me" – musicians mourn the passing of session ace bassist Michael Rhodes

Bassist Michael Rhodes as Joe Bonamassa is on stage at Beacon Theatre on November 14, 2019 in New York City.
(Image credit: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Michael Rhodes was a musician who commanded respect from his peers, with a reputation in Nashville session scene as one of the most dependable, focussed and inspirational bass players around. His passing at the age of 69 has now prompted a swell of sorrow and admiration from fellow players.

"Like many, I was a huge fan of Michael Rhodes way before I got to know him, play with him and call him a friend. And well before I even thought about moving to Nashville," wrote session guitar ace Guthrie Trapp, who collaborated with Rhodes in the band TAR with Pete Abbott. 

"Seeing his name on records was like Mount Rushmore to me," Trapp added. "Larger than life. Micheal was like a super hero. Ungodly talented, heavy, deep and terrifying. He kicked my ass more than anyone ever has. And I loved every minute of it. He was also a very sweet guy, but zero bullshit. Ever. Many of us learned so much from him and will continue to. 

"He NEVER sacrificed musical integrity for anything and when he showed up, he showed to play like no other. Words won’t do him justice here, and this could go on for many pages, but I’ll just say that I was extremely lucky to be able to know Michael really well and to share many musical experiences with him. This town is going to really miss him. We lost an icon today, ladies and gentlemen. The legendary, Michael Rhodes."

Joe Bonamassa, whose live band Rhodes had played in after the two met recording Bonamassa's 2011album Dust Bowl, was simply too upset to post much on hearing the news beyond the above Instagram post dedicated his 4 March show at the Fox Theater in Atlanta to the late musician that pedal designer Brian Wampler called "the Brent Mason of bass". 

“Music is like having a conversation, you have to listen for the most part," Rhodes told us in 2018. "The best session players are the ones who are good listeners and can take suggestions. You have to leave your ego out of it. Do what is asked of you and don’t slow the process down, in other words make sure that you’re prepared and all your gear is in good order."

Rhodes' passing came shortly before the 27th anniversary of Mark Knopfler's debut album Golden Heart which saw the bassist play on seven songs.

It's just one of countless chapters in an illustrious career that saw Rhodes as a go-to bassist in Nashville and beyond for everyone from Vince Gill to George Strait, Carrie Underwood, Etta James, Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Dolly Parton, Elton John and Bob Seger.

"It saddens me beyond belief," said fellow session musician Tom Bukovac during his latest Homeskoolin' YouTube episode, posted above. "Michael was a dear, dear friend and we did a million sessions together over the many years I've known him. Just a monster bass player. A great musical mind. Deep thinker. Great conversationalist and painfully intelligent dude."

Rhodes was awarded the Academy of Country Music's for Bass Player Of The Year ten times and played on Lee Ann Womack's 2000 Grammy Award-winning song Hope You Dance before being inducted into the Nashville Musicians Hall Of Fame in 2019.

Rhodes's humble but focussed view of his part in the music he played as a prolific artist over four decades typified his working musician's outlook; a team player always working for the artist's song. 

"My personal view about playing bass is to support whoever I'm playing with," Rhodes told Guitarre & Bass in 2017. "That's primarily what I've done in the last few decades is play on people's records. So I know how to do that and that's the way I think about it. I'm not really a chops guy, I'm not Victor Wooten – but who is. I just think about bass as being part of the mechanism." 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.