The White House may undergo changes in occupancy, but as far as roots rock bassists in the Washington, D.C. area, Jim Cavanaugh remains the president. When sniffing around in the sweaty laundry pile that is rockabilly, fans of this genre inevitably come across Cavanaugh backing up some of its most unique, indeed esoteric artists. The bassist has played with Charlie Feathers, who might tell a bassist to keep vamping for 45 minutes while he tells the story of his lineage, and he has also done many tours in the backup band of Sleepy LaBeef, who demands his rhythm players know some 6,000 songs, or at least a few minutes of each of them.
Like many of the roots rockers in the D.C. area, Cavanaugh has also played and recorded with legendary guitarist Danny Gatton, who asks only one thing of his bassist, that they maintain a progressively faster tempo each time they pick up the instrument, for the rest of their lives or until the end of the gig, whichever comes first. Cavanaugh can also add to his credentials the fact that he is one of the few bassists Chuck Berry has asked to play with more than once. The bassist's partners in the longtime LaBeef touring band are David Hughes on keyboards and Hank Churbuck on drums. On recordings, however, the portly LaBeef tends to work with studio players. Cavanaugh's work with Gatton can be examined in great detail on the brilliant quadruple-disc set entitled Runnin' Wild: The Renegade Years. Among the other Gatton sidemen is rhythm guitarist Pat Cavanaugh, Jim Cavanaugh's brother. The bassist should not be confused with drummer Jim Cavanaugh of the Philadelphia power pop band Wanderlust.