Hear Me Out: Dave Crenshaw

For some people, music just runs in their blood. And for local drummer Dave Crenshaw, it’s more than just an old saying.

By Lee Shook

The product of a long line of accomplished musicians running back generations here in Alabama on both sides of his family— including noted blues musician Adolphus Bell— Crenshaw has proven himself a worthy successor to the Crenshaw name, while also cutting his own distinct path as one of the best percussionists in Birmingham. The son of legendary Ramsay High School marching band director Ed Crenshaw, from a very early age he was taught about not only the fundamentals of music-making, but also how to conduct himself in a professional manner as both a player and person, providing invaluable life lessons that would pay big dividends on stages around the country and world with some of today’s most well-known artists. Having recorded or performed with everyone from Maroon 5’s PJ Morton, to Peabo Bryson, CeeLo Green, Snoop Dogg, and the B.B. King All-Star Band, Crenshaw has helped bring a spotlight to the local music community in a diverse array of styles and settings, making him a unique presence here in the Magic City. And whether he’s playing shows at Madison Square Garden, covering classic albums with Black Jacket Symphony, or doing pick-up gigs around town playing reggae and jazz, he’s always tried to stay humble and true to his roots, providing a role model for younger musicians to look up to.

Having gotten his start at just 5 years old playing cello, Crenshaw soon moved to drums after falling under the tutelage of music teacher Darrell Curry, who would play a crucial role in his rhythmic development and understanding of the rudiments of his chosen instrument. A naturally gifted player, by the time he was 12 he would find himself manning the kit as part of the staff band for his local congregation at 6th Avenue Baptist Church, where he would start off playing gospel music before slowly beginning his ascent into the realm of professional musicianship. Gradually being introduced to the world of jazz as a teenager, he would quickly make his way into the company of local legends like Frank “Doc” Adams and Cleve Eaton, learning the language of one of Birmingham’s greatest musical exports at the feet of some of the best players around, honing his skills in a genre that would prove to be a lifelong inspiration. A self-professed “band geek” in junior high and high school, who could always be found with a pair of drumsticks or keyboard in his hands, his love of classic and alternative rock would increasingly find its way into his sonic lexicon, leading him to play in bands like Distorted Harmonies before leaving to go to college at Lawson State, followed by stints at summer programs at the Berklee College of Music.

Spending his early post-college days networking with musicians from around the country doing session work in studios everywhere from Atlanta to Los Angeles, Crenshaw’s nascent career would begin to take off from there, eventually finding him in the orbits of people like Southern rap icon Ludacris and hit producers like Bryan-Michael Cox, among other notable musicians. Having gained entry into the world of big name artists by the mid-2000s, professional touring wouldn’t be too far behind, culminating in his first major headlining excursion with net-soul star Maxwell in 2010— an influential relationship that would see him performing alongside some of the most accomplished players in the business over the course of the next five years.

Yet despite being out on the road, he would still maintain a strong connection to both his city and state, joining up with folks like the Alabama Blues Project to help preserve Alabama music history, while also collaborating with other musicians from around Birmingham. “Alabama is definitely a good place to be,” he says today, “Because I feel like in the major cities it’s become too commercialized. And me being from Alabama, and being here in Birmingham, kind of keeps me grounded, keeps me organic and authentic to the art form.” Adding, “I look at myself as someone making a path for the generation that’s behind me.

And that’s a great thing for both them and us as a city. Recently getting a Grammy nod for his work on PJ Morton’s Gumbo Unplugged live album, which won the 2019 award for Best Traditional R&B Performance for the song “How Deep Is Your Love,” it would be easy to lose sight of his musical roots. “I’m still the same guy,” he says laughingly. But with a resume like that there’s no telling where he may go from here.



3 Responses to “Hear Me Out: Dave Crenshaw”

  1. Debbie says:

    Thank you for highlighting the great talent of this Birmingham area drummer extraordinaire. Dave has played on my last three albums and performed with extensively with my band for over a decade. A true professional, and a consummate world class drummer – live or in the studio. As the founder of the Alabama Blues Project I have also greatly appreciated his mentoring of our young student musicians – both as a life-skills role model and a musician and arts educator.

  2. Josephine Rucker says:

    So proud of your accomplishments. You are a proven musician and Godly man. Congratulations.

  3. Arturo LaCruz says:

    Dave Crenshaw is a most talented musician. His unique perspective allows him to blend with a wide variety of musical approaches. Sol-Musica is very honored to have him as the lead drummer/percussionist.

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