The Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers guitarist passed away from colon cancer yesterday. This story is an encore presentation of an interview My Spilt Milk did with Rosser in 2014.
[I was sad to wake up this morning and learn that Dave Rosser’s battle with colon cancer has come to its inevitable end. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and all the people he touched along the way. Here is an encore presentation of the story we ran in 2014 when he played The Circle Bar with his own band, The Get Busy.]
Guitarist Dave Rosser grew up thinking of himself as being in the people-pleasing business, but playing with Greg Dulli in The Twilight Singers and the reconstituted Afghan Whigs made him think differently.
“Someone was really bothering him,” Rosser says. “A stalker-y type fan who had something to say about everything he did, and I remember him saying at one point, Feel free to not be my fan. I’m not that desperate for someone to love me.” This was a mindset Rosser had never considered, but Dulli’s willingness to lose fans is shared by Mark Lanegan, with whom Rosser has also worked. Their commitment to their art whether fans liked it or not inspired him. “You might not make a living at it, so be true to yourself,” he learned.
Tonight, Rosser will play The Circle Bar with his new band, the aptly named The Get Busy. The long-time New Orleanian had time on his hands between legs of The Afghan Whigs’ tour and needed something to do. Rosser has been writing songs and working on his lead vocal chops, and he felt like it was time. “While I was [on tour] with Greg [Dulli] and Mark [Lanegan] doing the acoustic version of The Gutter Twins, they were encouraging me to sing more,” Rosser says. “I’m a pretty okay singer, and in the recent years I’ve loosened the fuck up, so I decided I want to front a band.”
The Circle Bar show will be launch party more than anything else, an opportunity to let people know the band exists or will exist. “We’re going to play a lot of stuff that it sounds like a band called The Get Busy would play,” Rosser says. “I don’t know what the show’s going to be, but I’m going to try to tailor it to the Circle Bar. As we record some music, it’ll have a more defined face. We’ll play some punk rock, maybe some interpretive stuff. Maybe a Scott Walker tune with Dinosaur Jr.-like guitars going on in it.” Before the month’s out, he’ll put The Get Busy on blocks and resume The Afghan Whigs’ tour that will play The Civic Theatre on September 20. They’ll take some time off again in October, so he hopes to schedule another show then or in another break near the end of the year.
He’s joined in the group by fellow Afghan Whig and Twilight Singer Rick Nelson, Zacharia Lee Hobbs, and drummer Keith Hajjar, and the gig came about out of happenstance as much as anything else. Rosser ran into The Circle Bar’s Jason Songe on the street and while they were talking mentioned working on a new band to stay busy. Songe pulled out his calendar and found a date for him on the spot. Later, Songe called when he realized he didn’t get the band’s name. Rosser didn’t have one, but while he was on the phone, “My friend Jack said You need to call it The Get Busy because you’ve been fucking off too long.”
Much of Rosser’s musical life in recent years has revolved around Greg Dulli. The two met when The Afghan Whigs recorded at Kingsway Studios, but they only realized that later. Really, they met when Dulli was working with producer Mike Napolitano, who recorded a Twilight Singers album in his apartment upstairs from Checkpoint Charlie at the corner of Decatur and Esplanade. Dulli and Napolitano kept the number of players involved to a minimum to keep a scene from developing, but Napolitano thought Rosser brought something as a guitarist that the album could use, so he suggested that Rosser show up one night with a six-pack officially to hang out. Once there, he laid down some guitar on one track and soon was all over the record. When guitarist Jon Skibic left the touring band, Dulli asked Rosser to join.
“After Katrina and the horrific pile of crap that that year was and a bad break-up and a death in the family, Greg called and I said Okay!“ Rosser remembers. “A good gig with a known band.”
Rosser knows he got the gig partly because he can play, and partly for social reasons. “To be a drummer or a bass player, you have to be really good,” he says. “You can’t be sloppy. But guitar—Neil Young is amazing in one way, but sloppy as fuck. You couldn’t have him and a shitty drummer and a shitty bass player. A guitar player has to be a good hang. You stay in a band a whole lot longer if you’re a nice guy and fun to be around. People find reasons to hire you if you’re a good hang.”
That doesn’t only mean being easy to be around; it also means helping to create an environment that frees up artists to be artists. “You’ve got to surround yourself with people who make you feel protected,” Rosser says—something has seen working with Mark Lanegan in The Gutter Twins. “He’s not an act,” Rosser says of Lanegan, whose haunted musical world has definite roots in a rough times in his personal life. “He’s on the path to something. I think he’s one of the great American voices up there with Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.”
Rosser played on The Afghan Whigs reunion album Do to the Beast, so he’s gratified to see that in concert the audiences are as into the songs from that album as they are from the others. Typically, he says, “If you go see an old band and they do something new, nobody cares.” He credits Dulli’s ability to rivet a crowd and his commitment to his vision.
“It’s more like an art thing,” Rosser says of the band. “They were never a pop band and never gave a shit if anybody liked them.” With that in mind, Dulli chooses the songs that fire him up and make sense to him. Since the band’s going to cities it has never played before, a few songs it had stopped playing are back in the set, but not many.
“Compromise is not a word he uses unless he’s demanding it of someone else,” Rosser says, laughing. “I’ve learned a lot from that cat. Hone your instincts, then trust them.”