For many years Nathan Dale has been a supportive player for some of his favorite songwriters. Now he’s showcasing his musical passion through his own songs and voice. Recognized as the lead guitarist for two renowned nationally touring bands, the 1990s’ Sweet Vine and currently The Jackie Greene Band, Dale has unveiled his long-buried singer-songwriter talents with a new album and growing solo performance schedule. His pop-rock tunes bring a musical mix pleasing to a wide variety of tastes -- not surprising since his musical influences include everyone from Merle Haggard to George Harrison, James Taylor to Michael Penn, The Band to Radiohead.

Raised by his two grandmothers and mother, Dale grew up listening to their favorites, mostly country music acts like Conway Twitty and Don Williams. While nobody in his family was particularly musical, Dale always harbored an interest in playing a musical instrument.

“I remember being a kid, pulling up to a shopping center window and seeing a drum set --and the feeling I got from that! There was an energy there -- like it was glowing at me through the window,” Dale says with a chuckle.

He began playing his instrument of choice when he was in high school. His step-father took him to a New Year’s party where he watched a guitarist play tunes from Led Zeppelin, his favorite band at the time.

“I was just fascinated. I was glued. … To see someone’s hands on a guitar and making the sounds with it, that was just way too much for me to handle. I was bursting with excitement and thinking, ‘Wow, I really want to do this!’” The guitarist at the party agreed to give Dale lessons, and from then on he was hooked.

“I’d spend 13, 14 hours a day practicing. I’d only had that first guitar about a year and the fret board was turning black -- like somebody had played it for 20 years.”
A short while later, the newly proficient guitarist met Sacramento singer Hans Eberbach and drummer Steve King. The three wrote and recorded a few songs, which drew plenty of attention. This was the beginning of Sweet Vine.

The first song Dale ever co-wrote, “Mountainside,” appeared as the first track on the Sweet Vine record. Other songs he had written “were very singer-songwriterish,“ Dale says. “I was just a clean slate letting passion drive me to the next moment. I was writing songs and writing lyrics and I didn’t even realize what was happening,” he says.
Eventually a five-member band, Sweet Vine signed with Columbia Records in 1995 and recorded a self-titled CD at the famed Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, N.Y.

Sweet Vine broke up after a few years, but the three founding members formed a new band, Looking Star, with bass player Jeremy Plog.

The band landed a regular gig opening shows at the Blue Lamp night club in Sacramento for then-up-and-coming blues-circuit star Jackie Greene. Dale and Greene became friends and when Greene lost his bass player, he asked Dale if might be interested in replacing him. But by then, Dale was yearning to create a solo project, so he declined and recommended Plog, who joined the band.

In 2005, Greene landed a major-label record deal with Verve Forecast and wanted a new guitarist who could help with background vocals and tour nationally. So Plog suggested Greene try asking Dale again.

This time the stars aligned. Joining a major-label band was not only a great opportunity, but Dale needed a new sense of purpose after suffering through a family tragedy.
“It was a good time for me to get out of town because it was right after my step-father had died. That happened in August 2005 and I got the call in September.”

Dale has been traveling the nation with The Jackie Greene Band ever since, playing at some of the largest festivals and historic venues, including Bonnaroo and The Fillmore.

“We play a lot of places where there are yuppies and hippies getting together and pretending they have a lot in common,” Dale jokes. The band has shared the stage with a vast list of industry veterans, such as Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Gov’t Mule, B.B. King and The Black Crowes, and has appeared twice on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

Meanwhile, Dale began writing more songs again, as part of his grieving process over the death of his step-father. Out of this grew his solo album, Major Key’s Parade, released in September 2011.

Along with solo touring, Dale plays a few of his songs during Greene’s set. “It’s really great to have that opportunity,” Dale says. “Jackie’s been really gracious. He’s been a great supporter of what I’m doing.”

While Dale has enjoyed helping other people and the friendships he’s made over the years, he’s thrilled to finally have his own project.

After 10 years of being exclusively a lead guitarist, Dale says, “standing next to somebody else, I didn’t really think of myself as a writer. I have these instincts to be that, but I got really sidetracked with just guitar playing. I had to somehow get back to the innocence of this kid who just sat there writing songs and didn’t know anything about lyrics, verses or choruses. I was just writing. I had to finally believe in myself. I knew I had to start believing my story now instead of just being someone’s side man.”

“That’s what the Major Key’s Parade record is -- it goes back to that source. How it got back to that was just sitting down and being inspired by music itself, outside of style … you just have to empty out and just let things happen.”

Dale has no commercial expectations for his future as a solo artist.

“If I’m up there and I’m singing my song and you’re moved by it, then that’s the goal -- that’s what I do it for. If I don’t get to upgrade my lifestyle because of this, then fine… There’s uncertainty all around us right now and it seems like day to day we live in a state of fear. If I can make somebody feel a moment of joy, then that’s remarkable, right? … If I feel that there is emotional communication happening through my singing, that’s all I ever want anyway,” he says. “For me, it doesn’t get anymore pinnacle or remarkable than that.”