By Tara Mello
Dave Gallaher, aka Microwave Dave, has been a Huntsville staple for four decades, but this musical aficionado who plays weekly at places like Humphrey’s and The Nook is far more than just a local musician. Dave has played with and opened for such music greats as Aretha Franklin, Reba McEntire and Greg Allman.
Born in Chicago and growing up in Texas and Atlanta, Dave landed in Huntsville in 1982 after time serving in Vietnam and at Langley Air Force Base, studying at the Berklee School of Music, followed by time as a working musician in Florida. It was in Huntsville that Dave became “Microwave Dave” after briefly sitting in with the blues band the Heart Fixers, during a performance at the Kaffeeklatsch. As the band leader was signaling Dave to wrap it up, he couldn’t remember his full name and said, “That was Dave, the Microwave.”
The name stuck, and about a year later, after being asked if he had a band that could perform live during a pledge drive on WLRH, Dave quickly assembled friend Rick Godfrey to play bass guitar and Mike Alexander to play drums. It was 1989 and Microwave Dave and The Nukes was born. The Nukes has been together ever since, with Dave and Rick as the mainstays and various drummers throughout the years, including most recently, James Irvin.
Dave’s desire to become a musician came as a fourth grader while watching a performance of a well-known Dixieland Jazz band that performed at Longfellow Elementary School in Dallas. He was instantly entranced, launching his own musical journey on a ukulele. He began guitar about a year later, ultimately learning how to play more than 10 instruments. Guitar, however, has always been his mainstay. Currently, when Dave plays around town, solo or with The Nukes, you’ll see him performing on a variety of guitars as well as on vocals. As a solo performer, he works his magic with a looper, layering one guitar track over the next to create a full, rich sound. In fact, Dave’s American Peasant album released in 2004, was the first live blues album to feature live looping.
Dave brings a collection of guitars to every gig, and that typically includes a couple of cigar box guitars. He caught his first glimpse of a cigar box guitar in 2001, when The Nukes were in Memphis gigging at the same time as the International Blues Challenge. There he saw Richard Johnson playing the drums with his feet and a unique cigar box guitar with a broom handle neck made by John Lowe. It was an impressive sight and resulted in Richard taking home the solo act award. Dave was so intrigued that the next day he bought his own “Lowebow” and proceeded to drive his bandmates crazy learning how to play it in the backseat as they drove home to Huntsville.
A couple of years later Huntsville launched its first Cigar Box Guitar Festival, where Dave, among others, performed at Lowe Mill. The event has had a variety of organizers and other performers over the years, but Dave has been a fixture at every event. In 2021, Jeff and Tara Mello stepped in as the new Festival organizers. The pair also own The Cigar Box Guitar Store, one of the first studios that opened at Lowe Mill, taking over in 2021 from the Nickel family. At the 18th annual event, held this past June, Dave shared the stage with Debbie Bond, a blues guitarist and vocalist in the national Blues Hall of Fame, along with “Radiator” Rick on keyboard and harmonica and Darrell Tibbs on drums. Trading both lead vocals and cigar box guitar, Dave and Debbie wowed the crowd, including on “I’m a Roadrunner, Honey.” The Nukes version became the theme song of the Parisian soccer team PSG and a huge hit in Europe, resulting in the band touring Europe four times during 1996. The Mellos have shifted the Festival’s focus to a free event that showcases the wide variety of genres that can be played on cigar box guitar and to raise money for music education. This year they raised $2,000, which was donated evenly to Arts Huntsville’s North Alabama Arts Education Collaboration and the Microwave Dave Music Education Foundation (MDMEF).
The MDMEF was founded shortly after the first Microwave Dave Day in 2015. With the impact of hearing Dixieland Jazz that fourth-grade day at Longfellow Elementary, the importance of music in schools has never been far from Dave’s heart. Dave has played for school children since the 1970s, while later on The Nukes regularly visited classrooms in Madison County. The first Microwave Dave Day, in which Dave received a key to the city, was as much about the community’s love of Dave as it was about Dave’s love for his community. It is held annually as the chief fundraiser for the MDMEF to fund its Concerts in the Classroom and the Danny Hall Music Scholarship. In a partnership with Valley Conservatory, the scholarship provides one year of music lessons for aspiring young musicians.
Concerts in the Classroom integrates music and other subjects together in a unique program for students in North Alabama. Local musicians create lesson plans based on academic standards, then become teachers for a day, mixing in music performance with the learning. Each program concludes with an open discussion with the musicians, giving youngsters the opportunity to ask questions and interact individually.
Microwave Dave Day will be held at Stovehouse on October 16, 3:00-10:00 pm with three stages of music. Visit MicrowaveDaveMEF.org for info about the event, Concerts in the Classroom and to submit applications for the Danny Hall Music Scholarship, which is open until November 4. Dave’s show schedule is posted weekly at Facebook.com/MDandNukes