Willie Nelson's Longtime Bassist Dies Unexpectedly

Dan 'Bee' Spears slipped and fell outside his Nashville home

December 9, 2011 6:10 PM ET
dan bee spears
Dan 'Bee' Spears of Willie Nelson & Family performs during Willie Nelson's Country Throwdown Tour in Nashville, Tennessee.
Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Dan "Bee" Spears, who played bass on the road with Willie Nelson for more than 40 years and appeared on many of his classic albums, died unexpectedly late Thursday. Austin, Texas television station KXAN reports Spears slipped and fell after stepping out of his motor home in Nashville Thursday night, according to his friend Dee Pearce. He was found dead, due to exposure. He was 62.

Spears grew up in a musical family outside San Antonio, Texas. Nelson hired Spears in 1968 when he was only 19 years old after Nelson's previous bassist David Zetter was drafted. "I happened to be there when the guys were talking about finding a replacement," Spears once said. "One of the guys said, 'Hell, let's hire Bee. He doesn't play worth a crap, but we can teach him what to play, and he won't come in with any preconceived bullshit!''"

Spears played on key Nelson albums including The Troublemaker, Shotgun Willie, and Phases and Stages, The Red Headed Stranger and Stardust and provided a solid backbone to Nelson's offbeat phrasing and guitar acrobatics during live shows. "Willie is all over the place with his vocal phrasing," Spears said. "He'll take you up a creek and dump you in a minute. My main role in the band is to make sure he knows where the 'one' is, so he can come back to it." Spears also toured with country artists including Waylon Jennings and Guy Clark.

A statement on Nelson's Web site reads: "We are deeply saddened by the death of Family member Dan 'Bee' Spears, long time friend and bassist for Willie Nelson and Family. We are still in shock and gathering details as the day continues. He apparently died of accidental exposure at his property near Nashville, Tenn."

Nelson's next concerts are scheduled for December 30 and December 31 in Austin, Texas.

Here's a video of Spears singing "Okie From Muskogee" with Nelson on a classic episode of Austin City Limits:

The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Willie Nelson

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