INTRODUCTION: People kept telling me, “You really ought to talk to Mike Dove.” “He was our first fan.” “Mike is like an Eva Cassidy historian.” Mike Dove’s name was listed in the credits for the albums LIVE AT BLUES ALLEY and EVA BY HEART. So who was this Mike Dove guy, anyway?
Laura Bligh interviewed Mike Dove in June of 2002.
Laura: How did you meet Eva and get involved with the Eva Cassidy Band?
Mike Dove: Chris Biondo lived next door to me in Rockville. He had the studio in his house, people were coming and going all the time. I knew Chris enough that every so often I would talk to him. Sometimes I’d be working in the backyard, he’d have the basement door open and I’d hear people singing.
One day Chris introduced me to Eva. He gave me a tape of some of the Eva demos he had been working on, and he said “Hey, listen to this.” So I did, and it was pretty good. It was a little bit of a mix of stuff, some songs that were going to be on the “Chuck and Eva” album, some of it was go-go stuff, some of it was spirituals, just a wide assortment. I thought was all pretty interesting.
At one point I was getting ready to go someplace and Chris and Eva met me in front of my house, said “Hey Mike, do you know of anybody who might want to play guitar with Eva?” I knew that Keith Grimes had been in a band called the Barflies and that band had just broken up. I knew that Keith was a good guitar player, and maybe they should talk to Keith, so I gave them Keith’s telephone number. Chris already knew Keith, they had lived in the same apartment building at some point, but they had never worked together. So they called Keith, evidently Eva really liked Keith’s guitar playing, and it went from there.
Laura: How did you know Keith, from your guitar business?
Mike Dove: Yes, I’m a guitar repairman. I had known Keith since the mid-seventies, and had done repair work for him over the years. I used to go out every so often to see the band The Barflies.
Laura: I think Eva’s fans would be interested in hearing about the early days of the Eva Cassidy Band, and about the gigs they used to play. I gather you went to more of them then just about anybody.
Mike Dove: I went to at least 90% of them.
|Set List for Fatty’s
The first performance of the Eva Cassidy Band
Sometime in 1991
Take Me to the River
Mike Dove: Yes, I was there. Fatty’s was not very far from the Rockville Metro, it was an after-work bar, where a lot of people would go and sort of drink their dinner. I don’t think it’s there any more. I remember Eva being pretty nervous but she was really good. People said “Whoa, what a voice” but they didn’t know what to expect, a lot of people would be surprised. I remember Chris telling me where he and Eva used to go to John Harbison’s open mike at Durty Nelly’s in Bethesda, when Eva was trying to get used to playing in front of people. They would bring a backing tape and Eva would sing, and everyone said “That’s not really you!” It’s kind of hard to believe when you look at Eva and hear the music. After a while, they were kind of like, “It IS really you!”
Eva kind of hated to talk, in the beginning, so Chris and Keith did all the talking. Then after a while they took Chris’s microphone away. Chris said so many weird things that down the road they decided “We should just let Keith talk.” Chris would make a running commentary between the songs, and say a lot of “Isn’t she great?” and stuff like that, it embarrassed her. Keith would say things like “Here’s Eva Cassidy, inventor of the Eva Casserole!”
Originally Jim Campbell was the drummer, and Kent Wood and JuJu House also played with her in the early days.
In the beginning they hired a sound man for every gig, because she was so afraid of the sound being bad. Then they realized that the sound guy ended up making more money than the band members because they’d have to pay him a fixed fee off the top, and they all earned less. After a couple of gigs where the sound man didn’t show, Eva bought a little PA and they started learning to do it themselves.
Laura: When did Lenny Williams come in?
Mike Dove: I guess off and on all along, but I had never really seen Lenny until they did some of their bigger shows, then “What’s that keyboard guy doing here?” But yeah, their regular gigs they never had a keyboard player, so to me, the stuff with the keyboard sounds funny. I never heard the band with the keyboard for the most part. It would be two, three, four of them, depending on how big the place was.
Laura: Tell me about some of the other early gigs. I know you won’t be able to remember everywhere the band played….
Mike Dove: They played a lot of places. The Trade Winds was their first regular gig, that was a Polynesian restaurant over by Congressional Plaza in Rockville. It’s a Brazilian barbecue place now. It was a really big place, a large banquet room, the band played for food. I think the first week there were four of us there, and after that it was mostly just me, for the next eight weeks. There might have been another person off and on, but for the most part it was just me.
They played the Wharf in Old Town Alexandria. It was up a flight of stairs, it was a really small place. They played a band gig a few times but mostly it was a duo gig for Keith and Eva. They played a couple of gigs at Durty Nelly’s, she didn’t like playing Durty Nelly’s, too noisy, people didn’t pay attention, she didn’t like the Luna Park Grille for the same reason.
She played one of those WAMA things at Whiteys, over in Arlington, where Bill Kirchen sat in with her.
One time I went and saw her play at Sully’s in Chantilly. That was an absolutely huge place, but there might have been only five or six people there. Any of these places, where there would be ten people to start with, by the last set it was just me. I used to stick around until the end and I’d help Keith and Eva pack up. We’d sit around at the breaks and talk about things. Sully’s sticks out in my mind because there was nobody there, they quit playing before the end, they couldn’t divide the money evenly so they ended up like giving me eight bucks or something for going to the gig. OK, pay me for coming to the gig! I don’t think that they ever got very much money. A lot of those gigs I’m sure she did for free, just to get the exposure, to get more gigs.
I didn’t go to as many of the high-profile things as I’d have liked, the Barns of Wolf Trap was good. She did an outdoor thing in Silver Spring with Chuck Brown and a horn section that was really good, it was one of those Montgomery County sponsored things. I didn’t get to Blues Alley, or to the ones where they played at RFK parking lot. I don’t know where they got those gigs, outdoor gigs in a parking lot!
Laura: Why did you keep coming back?
Mike Dove: Well, because they were good. Eva would always ask you that question, like “Why do you keep coming to see me play?” Well, it might be because you’re good! She could never figure out, “Why do you people keep coming out? You’ve already heard the songs!” Well yeah, but….
Usually I’d call Keith and ask him, where are you playing next. Eventually they had a mailing list, and I’d get a card in the mail. I had a core group of four or five friends, and depending on what their work schedule was, they would come with me or not.
Laura: Did Eva like to come chat between sets?
Mike Dove: She was pretty shy, she didn’t talk at all for a long time. Chris and Keith would come over, Eva would go sit by herself. Finally we’d convince her to come over and sit down. Eva was real shy about that kind of stuff, it was pretty easy to embarrass her, too, as I remember. You’d say something and it’d be like, whoops! Certain things would embarrass her, if you’d tell her how good she was, or you’d ask her about a song, or where that came from, she was pretty quiet about most of that stuff. Only after a while she’d come over by herself, usually you had to tell her to sit down.
Laura: Do you remember any kind of a following building up?
Mike Dove: Toward the end it was pretty good. After the Blues Alley thing it started picking up some, she played the 219 Club in Alexandria, a couple of times, I remember it was pretty crowded for that. That was a pretty nice place. I saw her at Fleetwoods twice, once with Mary Ann Redmond and once by herself. Keith played with her and the rest of it was Mary Ann’s band. They did some of Eva’s stuff and some of Mary Ann’s stuff and a couple of songs they combined on. I don’t remember what, I remember it was really good. When they did the thing on “Nightline” they actually showed a film clip from that. We were sitting right next to the railing so if it were brighter you could actually see my friend and I there. It was a good show, as I recall. Of course Eva always thought every show was terrible.
Laura: For example?
Mike Dove: She hated it if she didn’t have enough reverb, and she always thought the guitar sounded crappy, and the acoustics weren’t good, I mean, she was a perfectionist and she absolutely hated it if she’d forget the cable for the reverb, or if something didn’t work, she was terrified to sing without reverb. But she didn’t really need it, she liked it because it was something to hide behind.
Photo: The Guild “Songbird” model guitar
Laura: Can you describe Eva’s stage presence?
Mike Dove: (laughing) She just stood there. Basically she’d either hold the guitar, hold the microphone, basically she would look at the floor and let Keith do all the talking, she’d say “Thank you,” that’s about it. When she was trying to work up her talking between songs, she told a few jokes, but she’d get them from Keith. His jokes were always like really dry. So he’d be telling jokes, she’d break up on stage, she’d start laughing. But she would try a little bit, on stage, but she wasn’t very good at it. She never really got over that, but she got more comfortable when she talked a little bit. There in the beginning she wouldn’t say a word, but later she’d do things like talk about Chris — when he had his hair in cornrows, she’d say “You saw him in ‘Alien’!” She got better, she kind of got into teasing Chris a little bit. The closest thing she got to a joke on-stage was when she’d pick on Chris.
She always liked to have the guitar, it was a good thing to be behind, she didn’t have to figure out what to do with her hands. …She was a natural musician. She learned a lot of it, but most of it was just in her.
Laura: Talk a little about her guitar style, her guitar influences.
Mike Dove: Influences, it’s hard to say, because she listened to so many different things, you could tell. As far as style, she didn’t like to use a pick, she always played with her fingers. Even on the electric, she would strum with the backs of her fingernails, which if you do it very long, wears your fingernails really thin, and makes your fingers sore. But she would do it, she was really good at playing with the back of her nail and using it for a pick. Eva had these short stubby fingers, not those long piano-player’s hands. She’d use a capo a lot, and play a lot of bar chords.
She wasn’t credited enough as a good guitar player, she had a really strong natural rhythm and sense of timing. She was really good on syncopation, she worked so well with Raice because Raice was good with complex rhythms. Chris had an early 80s Fender Stratocaster. For the electric stuff she would play that. Eva was a really good rhythm guitar player, but you’d tell her that and she’d be amazed.
Laura: I never realized how good she was on guitar until I heard some of the tapes from her solo gigs.
Mike Dove: Yes, she was also an accomplished finger-style player. Her styles on acoustic and rhythm guitar were very different. I thought she always had funny-sounding guitars. I think mostly it was money, she never really had the money to buy a good guitar.
Laura: Keith said you helped her get the best sound out of the guitars she had.
Photo: Bethesda Music, where Eva bought her “Songbird” guitar
Mike Dove: Pretty much. The first acoustic guitar she had was a Gibson “Chet Atkins” which was basically a hollow solid-body guitar, I don’t know how else to explain it, with a little ceramic pickup, it sounded really tinny, the strings sounded like rubber bands. It kind of died, so after that one of the owners at Bethesda Music, a guy named Andy Roberts, helped Eva get a Guild Songbird, that was the one she basically played until the end. It was another really thin bodied guitar that didn’t have a lot of bass response, so it sounded thin, she’d always complain about it sounding like rubber bands. It was a Catch-22 because she wanted it to sound better but she didn’t want a bigger guitar. We worked at it, we tried different strings and a bunch of different things trying to get a better sound out of it. I think for the most part she was pretty satisfied, it recorded OK, it just sounded a little bit thin when she played out.
Laura: And she didn’t have any money to invest in a better instrument.
Mike Dove: No, not at that point. Of course now she could have had the best guitar in the world.
Laura: What would you pick out for her now, if you could choose?
Mike Dove: Probably a smaller-bodied Taylor that she could reach around when she was sitting down. Something with a thicker body that sounded more like a guitar.
Laura: What kinds of strings did she like to use?
Mike Dove: She liked a light-gauge string, like a D’Addario J16. On the Stratocaster that was Chris’s guitar, that she used, we always restrung it with tens — XL110s — which is D’Addario also.
Laura: I’m told you used to help her with the tuning.
Mike Dove: Yeah, that’s true, I forgot about that. Sometimes between sets she’d say “Mike, can you tune my guitar for me?” Since I do it for a living it’s kind of easy. She always complained about it not staying in tune, but it wasn’t really the guitar, it was that she played so aggressively. She played pretty hard, basically pulled it out of tune. Eva worked with her hands, moving trees and stuff, so she had powerful hands and arms.
Laura: Did she take any guitar lessons, while you knew her?
Mike Dove: I don’t think so, maybe Keith went over a few things with her, because Keith is a teacher. Maybe he’d say, “Eva, try it this way,” like a chord progression or an inversion.
Eva and Keith did a lot of duo gigs together, like “Taste of Wheaton.” Keith always had his little tape recorder going because he liked to critique everything and see how he could make it better. He and Eva really worked on stuff and changed the arrangements. I know when they did the Chuck and Eva album, and maybe even Blues Alley, the way she would tell if she liked it or not, she would play it on the tape deck in the car and listen to it. That’s how she could tell if she liked the sound, or didn’t like it, or what was wrong. She had this old beat-up brown Datsun truck.
I remember Keith saying Eva didn’t like it when he showed off. Some of the songs, he’d be playing the guitar behind his head, stuff like that. Eva would get this surprised look on her face, she didn’t like flashy very much, he had to tone it down for Eva. If you go see Keith now, he cuts loose a lot more than he did.
Laura: What did Eva wear for most of her gigs?
Mike Dove: Sometimes khaki shorts and a baggy T-shirt, and these big black leather clodhopper shoes, for the most part. Sometimes she’d wear long pants but I remember her wearing shorts a lot, jeans sometimes, she very rarely dressed up, she always had her hair back in a ponytail. Sometimes she’d have it in a braid, but it was usually the ponytail. For the Barns of Wolf Trap, she got dressed up, and the Silver Spring thing with Chuck, but most of them were pretty casual.
Laura: You said you remember meeting me at some point, do you remember meeting anybody else from Eva’s family?
Mike Dove: Well, yeah, I saw you at a lot of gigs. I remember they did some gigs at Taliano’s in Takoma Park and one of her sisters was there. I saw her brother Dan at a couple of things, I remember he played violin with her a few times, when he was in town. I went to the Wammies with her mom and Jackie [Fletcher] one year, that was really cool, I went as her guest. It was the year after she played, I didn’t get to go the year she played, but everybody was telling me how wonderful she was. It was at the Hilton, it was a really big open room, and the acoustics were just horrible in there, but I guess everybody stopped and listened. I went the year after, with her and Jackie and her mom, I guess her dad didn’t want to go, so the three of us met at Chris’s studio in Glenn Dale, and we went from there. Chris was recording a rap group that night and couldn’t come. I remember Eva won one Wammie, she was really happy, she was nominated for a bunch but Mary Ann Redmond won all the other ones. She was happy that at least she got one.
Laura: Did you ever go to any of the band’s rehearsals?
Mike Dove: Yeah, you know, they’d be next door, Chris would say “Why don’t you come over,” I’d pop in when they were rehearsing.
Laura: Who was running the show at the rehearsals, was it Eva?
Mike Dove: A lot of it was Eva. She knew what she wanted to hear, then each one would say, “This might sound better this way,” and they’d try something, if Eva didn’t like it they wouldn’t do that. Sometimes Chris would say, “That won’t work for this, we have to do that.”
Chuck Brown would come up to do rehearsals, he had this big white stretch limousine. That was his car, that’s what he drove! Evidently he got the money from the one hit that he had, “Bustin’ Loose,” and bought this huge Lincoln Town Car limo. He’d drive it up and park it in the middle of the street, because we lived in a little cul-de-sac, and a stretch limo took up a lot of room.
Laura: What was Chuck Brown like?
Mike Dove: Outgoing, gregarious, you know, sunglasses, big gold tooth.
Laura: You told me the other day that you and Eva discussed her song selection for LIVE AT BLUES ALLEY.
Mike Dove: When she was at the Wharf, it was always a Thursday night and by the last set it would be dead, so they’d have a long break and we’d all sit around and talk about stuff. She was wondering what songs I thought she should do for the recording, and I told her she should do “Songbird” and “Fields of Gold.” She said “Why Songbird?” I said, because it was a really good song, and she did a good version of it. I said she should also do “Fields of Gold.” She looked surprised, she said, “You think?”
Laura: Do you have any special memories of her singing “Fields of Gold”? It turned out to be a big hit for her.
Mike Dove: It did turn out to be a big hit. I remember her doing it at her gigs and getting a good response. All of her ballads, she would get a good response, especially the ones that would be just her. I remember Keith working up a lead part behind it for the solo. Over three or four months they were working on that, it started out as a duo song, she had a lot of things that she did duo that she didn’t do with the band. “Songbird” was one, “Fields of Gold,” I think she did “American Tune,” the Paul Simon song, and some of the other Paul Simon tunes.
There were a lot of songs that never ended up on anything, every time I’d go she’d just pull one out of her hat, she’d do one song that wasn’t one of her normal songs. At Christmas time she would start every set with one or two Christmas songs, she’d do Christmas carols, and then do the rest of the set. “Silent Night,” “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” just the traditional stuff. It was pretty cool, too bad we didn’t get any of those taped, it sounded really good.
Laura: What were some of your favorites?
Mike Dove: I’ll have to think about that. It’s been a while! After she died I had problems listening to anything for a while…. The ballads are good, I liked most of the stuff she did. Later on they started doing standards like “Blue Sky,” “Route 66,” those songs. I liked those, she did them very well. “Son of a Preacher Man,” that was one of the ones they started doing later, a song they did that I thought was really neat was “Caravan,” do you remember that, with a really long drum solo? I usually asked her to do a train song. They did four or five train songs, I’d say “Just pick one.” I liked some of the faster things, every time she played someone wanted her to do “Respect,” I don’t think that’s on any of the albums. I know she didn’t like doing it, but she liked Aretha Franklin so much, she did a lot of Aretha Franklin songs. “Chain of Fools,” same thing. A lot of the stuff she did at Blues Alley she wasn’t really happy with, but I know they did studio demos of a lot of the songs, the standards, like “Blue Skies,” “What a Wonderful World,” a lot of the ones they did at Blues Alley there are also studio demos of, maybe her voice was better. She did a lot of songs, she constantly would add songs and drop songs. Basically I liked everything, it’s hard to pick.
Laura: What do you remember about “Over the Rainbow”?
Mike Dove: She didn’t play that one very often, she’d only do it if somebody requested it. I think it was difficult for her to play, it was a fairly complicated guitar part, so she tended not to do it except at special times. Eva hated to make mistakes. I always told her “If you make a mistake, keep going and pretend you didn’t notice it,” but she’d stop in the middle of a song and say “I screwed up, I’ve got to start over.” I saw her do that several times. Once was at Pearl’s, with that Jimi Hendrix song “Angel,” she made a mistake and just stopped. It bothered her so much she started over. I’d say “You can’t do that, keep going, keep going!”
Laura: You went to the performances at Pearl’s? What was that like?
Mike Dove: I went there a few times. It was pretty small, in the Annapolis area but not in Annapolis proper. It was in a shopping center, there was a little stage and maybe eight or ten tables. Those were her first solo gigs, although I think Chris set up the equipment for her, I can’t remember. I remember Bryan [McCulley] being there, he videotaped a couple of those.
I’m trying to remember other stuff, I remember talking with her and Chris one time, they were talking about “Over the Rainbow” and I said there’s another song, very similar, that she could do, “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Chris loved the idea, but she never got a chance to work it up. It would have been a great song for her to do, as good a job as she did on “Over the Rainbow.”
Laura: What did you think of the Blues Alley album when it came out?
Mike Dove: I thought it was really good. I remember it came out in the summertime, she had played two gigs in the same day, one of them was “Viva Vienna,” which was a festival over in Vienna, and they played that night at the Wharf, and she gave me a copy of it then. She said that she felt bad because she had a bad cold, and they completely lost the first night’s recording, she was pretty unhappy about it, she was afraid she’d spent all her money for nothing.
Laura: I never knew she played “ViVa Vienna” that summer! It’s only a mile or so from where I live. But we saw Eva and the band at Vienna’s Tap Room several times, around that time. What I remember was, there was a waitress who was totally enthralled with Eva’s voice, she would stand there with her tray, and forget about delivering the drinks.
Photo: The Vienna Tap Room, which has since been torn down. The site is now the Vienna Town Green.
Mike Dove: That was a pretty bizarre place. You’d go down in the basement, they had a red sparkle curtain behind the stage. It was like a neighborhood bar, so you’d have all these regulars — who knew there’d be so many rednecks in Vienna? I remember one time, they were playing a song on stage, there were people out in the middle of the dance floor, really really drunk, I remember them like falling down in slow motion. Eva was there laughing with her mouth open! One of the gigs she played at the Vienna Tap, Mary Ann Redmond showed up. Eva wanted to know if Mary Ann wanted to come up and sing but Mary Ann said no, she just wanted to watch Eva.
Laura: Eva mentioned you in the credits for LIVE AT BLUES ALLEY. Did you know she was going to do that?
Mike Dove: No, I didn’t. Chris did it on EVA BY HEART too, he said “We talked it over, and we decided that since you went to all the gigs, you should get first billing on the credits!” It was really nice of them, you know, I was glad they liked me.
Laura: How did you hear that Eva was sick?
Mike Dove: I remember at the 219 Club she was complaining about her hip hurting her. I was helping her carry stuff up and down the stairs, she’d carry all the milk crates with cables and stuff, if I was there I’d help carry the speakers. I think the actual last gig I saw her at, before she went to the hospital to find out about that stuff, was when they played the Borders Books at White Flint. That was actually probably one of their better sounding gigs, they really had it together for that gig. The one in White Flint was the last one I saw before the benefit concert.
Laura: The last time you saw Eva was at the tribute concert at the Bayou in Georgetown. Anything you especially remember about that?
Mike Dove: It was a really sad time. I’m glad I was there, and I got to talk with her for a couple of minutes, but you could tell she was in pain, I didn’t really want to bother her. I had set her guitar up for her beforehand, she told me “The strings need to be high enough that they don’t sound crappy!” But after she played it that night she said “It’s kind of stiff to play, we’ve got to get together and change this.” I said “Call me, you’ve got my phone number.” But she never did, I think after that night she went downhill quickly. I wanted to go out to see her at her house but I felt weird about it, it was all so hard for her parents. I remember when she was saying, “I need people to come out and to go see music with while I’m getting better.”
Laura: But she didn’t get better.
Mike Dove: No, she didn’t get better, she got to the point she didn’t want to do anything.
Laura: Back to the tribute concert at the Bayou, did you bring her guitar there that night?
Mike Dove: I might have, if I didn’t I gave it to — I guess I would have brought it, and gave it to Chris or Keith…. It was good there was such a big response, but parts of that made me really mad. I went to see Eva for five, six years, there’d be six or eight people there. All of a sudden we went to the Bayou and the place is overflowing with people. It’s like, “Where have these people been?” She could have used these people at some of her — I mean, I can see it both ways, she said something about it was the happiest day of her life, which really was weird to me, it’s pretty bad when you have to get that many people there for a thing like that before you realize how much people like you. That kind of irritated me a lot, it still irritates me a bit. She could have used that encouragement from people, way before the end. All those people there patting her on the back, like she’s their best friend, I was like “I never saw you before,” like “What the heck are you guys doing here?” I mean, it made her happy to know how her music touched people, but it was kind of a surprise to me, like “I didn’t see you at any of her gigs.” There were ten or twenty people that I had seen, but I think most of those people might have gone just to the high-profile gigs, like the Blues Alley gigs.
Laura: Before Eva got sick, what did you think was going to happen in her career? Did you think she would be a star?
Mike Dove: If her shyness could have let her. I think if Chris hadn’t pressured her, she’d have been happy just being a back-up singer. She liked the singing part, but not all the stuff that goes with being a star. She was a really private person. But it was just a matter of time. The kind of music she did, you don’t have to be young. She liked jazz, she liked R&B, where people can have hit records in their sixties. Plus, as they played, the band got better, she got better. It’s all part of paying your dues. To make it big, it takes a long time, and she just didn’t live long enough.
Laura: Thank you, Mike, for talking to me.
(Photo of Mike Dove at top of page is by Katherine Wilkinson. Thanks to The American Observer for permission to reproduce it here.)
Copyright 2002 by Laura Bligh and Mike Dove. Journalists, if you want
to use sections of this interview for an article about
Eva, please ask for permission.