Drummer lost: Fire victim was Johnny Gilmore

news-johnnygilmore-drumming-med'Everybody who's anybody musically in this town played with Johnny Gilmore,' says singer-songwriter William Walter.

Acclaimed local drummer Johnny Gilmore has died in a fire, and his father was hospitalized after the blaze erupted Thursday night in the musician's room at the Green Leaf Townhouses in midtown on Fifth Street, SW.

"I was talking to him an hour or an hour and a half before it happened," says Rougemont Avenue resident Kenneth Jackson, who was visiting his sister in the unit adjacent to Gilmore's in the nine-unit apartment complex. "He was sitting on the wall, and we were talking about music."

Music was the 45-year-old's life, say those who heard the Johnny Gilmore Trio, Soko, and other artists, such as Corey Harris, with whom he drummed.

"Everybody who's anybody musically in this town played with Johnny Gilmore," says singer-songwriter William Walter, who recently collaborated with him and Tucker Rogers on a live album called Rough Around the Edges.

"Johnny Gilmore's the best musician I've ever met in my life," enthused Charlottesville music critic Stephen Barling in a 2006 round-table. "And that's the truth."

"I went down to Miller's last night, and everyone was just staggering around," Barling says Friday morning. "I'm listening to Soko right now, where Johnny's playing with LeRoi,"– that's LeRoi Moore, the late saxophonist for Dave Matthews Band.

With musical talent, however, came a sort of semi-seclusion that made it hard for musicians and others to reach Gilmore at times.

news-johnnygilmore-firesiteStudents at a state Fire Marshal's class examined a charred futon and other debris the morning after.

The landlord at the complex where Gilmore lived with his father, Curtis, says that the younger Gilmore's bedroom door was often locked.

"We never could get in his room," says landlord Ampy Smith, mentioning an effort just a day earlier to gain access to measure for window blinds.

And indeed, when the elder Gilmore arrived home the night of the fire, according to Charlottesville fire officials, he smelled smoke and rushed upstairs only to find his son's room locked.

His efforts to break down the door failed, explained Charlottesville Fire Marshal W.A. Hogsten at an October 23 press conference, and by the time firefighters arrived on the scene about five minutes after the 9:25pm 911 call came in, the room had already "flashed over," a condition in which the temperature has risen so high (typically 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit) that material suddenly combusts.

Three early-arriving police officers attempted to reach the room to rescue Gilmore but were turned back by smoke and heat. One was treated and released for smoke inhalation at UVA hospital. Curtis Gilmore, 73, was also treated for smoke inhalation and released the same night.

"This is a tragedy," says landlord Smith. "Both of them are really nice people."

Hogsten says the smoke detector in Gilmore's unit was in an upstairs hallway and appeared to be without a battery. Smith says he's gotten frustrated that tenants sometimes disable the units due to false alarms originating with kitchen smoke– and in fact, firefighters discovered that every single smoke detector present in the 9-unit apartment complex had been disabled or removed.

According to a pair of summer 2008 tests conducted by local fire departments and this newspaper, the most common type of detector, ionization, tends to false alarm eight times more frequently than the competing technology, but fails to promptly detect smoldering fires, the kind most likely to kill people while they sleep.

While Hogsten says it's too soon to be certain what killed Gilmore, the initial investigation suggests it was an accidental fire, and cigarettes– a common cause of smoldering fires– were present in the room.

"This did not need to happen," said Fire Chief Werner, who at today's press conference announced a "call to action" for landlords, homeowners, neighborhood associations, and service organizations to help ensure that every residence in the city is equipped with a smoke detector. And for the first time, Werner made clear that ionization-only detectors– the kind in most homes– are simply not sufficient.

"We think you need to go to the next step and add a dual detector," said Werner, who has maintained his support for the combination technology even as several states have changed their laws in favor of photoelectric-only detectors, and various fire safety organizations have also embraced the technology for its avoidance of false alarms.

Werner says Gilmore's death is a reminder to the fire department that even with a free smoke detector program, "We have more to do."

And, perhaps, that will be one more piece of Gilmore's legacy– one those who knew him say will be large.

"His God-given talent and his passion shouldn't pass Charlottesville by quietly," says Charlottesville musician William Walter. "There will never be another Johnny Gilmore."

last updated 4:33pm (with info from press conference, details on discovery of the fire)

–updated 2:07pm (with Gilmore's age)


A great loss to the Cville community - what a great part of the old team - much love to Huoston Ross, et all of my boys that used to know and play with him. I still remember the lessons he gave that helped me play for the Secret, William Walter & Co. and many others... Miss you bro - what a shame. Much love the rest of the music scene - stay strong and show what men like him have taught us.

I knew Johnny and worked with him many times... and I am saddened by this tragic loss.

I am floored. I played in a band in the early 90's with Johnny. Warren Richardson, T-R3's original bassist, introduced us. I've lost touch with him over the years but this time last year--almost to the day--I ran into him at The Box and bought him a shot of bourbon. Cville has lost one of its musical princes.

RIP Johnny...yet another one gone too soon.

I am deeply saddened by Johnny's passing. He was truly a one-of-a-kind drummer and was a sweet, sweet guy who would never hurt a fly. This is just such a tragedy. He'll always be remembered for his wide-open energetic playing and for his smile.

Keep your eyes and ears open for a benefit for Johnny's dad, Curtis Gilmore, which will also be a memorial for Johnny. Mr. Gilmore needs the community's help now more than ever. A long while ago he and Johnny lost Mr. Gilmore's wife (Johnny's mom), and now he's lost his son and his home. In our grief let's turn to moving forward and reaffirming life.

A real loss for the community. I learned one important lesson from watching Gilmore play: when you are in a small club, you don't have to hit the drums very hard. He was a humble player; he played with a very light touch and sounded absolutely fantastic.

Rough news. My best to the C'Ville music community. Johnny is irreplaceable.

Fellini's #9 staff and patrons will truly miss Johnny. He played with so many groups that have become Fellini favorites. What a tremendous loss to the community.

I've known Johnny most of my life, a very talented drummer and friend who always had a smile on his face. I remember listening to him play @ Millers w/The Dave Matthews Band in the late 80's early 90's. He will truly be missed!

Poor Johnny! an amazing drummer, and such a sweet person. A loss to the world and the musical community.

with heartfelt condolences...prayers and thoughts with you and your family....

"Please send donations, cards and letter to:
Johnny Gilmore Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 6125 Charlottesville, VA 22906
All checks and money orders should be written to
Johnny Gilmore Memorial Fund or make payments via paypal.com to johnnygilmore1@hotmail.com"

Johnny was a great person, I loved him. I'm very happy to know Johnny. I feel so bad to know -by Jamal- he died. Hey Johnny, you still have my love and my friendliness whatever you are right now ¡

Jodie -- if you read this, please get in touch. I've been thinking about you and worried.


Do any of these apartments have stove ventilators that vent to the outside (not the ones that recirculate into the kitchen)? That could probably eliminate most of the false alarms from kitchen smoke that caused the tenants to disable the alarms. I'm guilty of the same myself, but after the twentieth false alarm because you added too much curry to your chicken you begin to value sanity over safety. I'm sure the cost of installing these ventilators is less than the landlord's insurance deductible.

I remember johnny at a very young age coming to my parents house on stonehenge ave. at a very young age maybe 14 or 15, we would play my drums for hours, and he would always tell me that i had what would take to be a good drummer, well he was right, i moved away and became a good drummer, but johnny became a great drummer. Eventhough we lost contact for a while, i always kept up with what he was doing. What a terrible lost for his family, friends, and especially the music industry. i will always keep johnny and his music in my heart. My parents were louise and tommy branch

To Johnny Gilmore: I will remember your beautiful smile and tireless love for music and look for your spirit in the world to come.

So long Johnny! A long time friend died last night..... Johnny Gilmore. He was a phenomenal drummer. Way back in the day we did many a gig together. Lots of playing at Miller's and all over Charlottesville. In the early 90's Johnny moved to... Boston. He moved there to study with drummer Tommy Campbell (Sonny Rollins drummer at the time). Johnny was a serious player and I do mean on the drums. He will be missed.

I met Johnny over 22 years ago in front of my aunt's house on Forest Street. We became fast friends, and remained that way right up until the end.

Johnny, you were a part of my family and my heart perished with you in that fire. You were always there for me when I needed you and encouraged me to pursue my life goals even I wasn't sure it was possible. Thank you so much for the love and friendship over the last 22 years.

I just went by your house and looked up at your window. Devasted, I wept for about 30 minutes and sat in your parking space. It's so hard to believe that you are gone, dearest Johnny. I know that you will always be with me in spirit, and that brings me a little bit of comfort. I love you always and forever, until the end of time. God Bless you and rest in peace, Johnny dear!

Love you always,

You were my best friend, Johnny. My love and heart goes out to your family. Rest in peace, dear Johnny.

My sympathy goes out to Johnny and his family. Johnny will always be remembered as a great person, a brother, a phenomenal musician and his "wide as the Grand Canyon" smile. I have known Johnny since I first saw and heard him play when he was just 8 years old in a garage at a house on 10th and Page St. Johnny was the first drummer I ever played with in a band (Dangerous Intersection: 1973). I am truly crushed by his loss and I am sure everyone else is also crushed. Johnny will be greatly missed but he has been called home to continue his life closer to God. I am honored to have known Johnny and to have shared the stage with him. Rest in peace Johnny and we will continue to pray for you.


I was privileged to play with Johnny and Dave Grant early in the short career of the FreeWill Savages, and never in my life have I been part of anything more inspiring. Talk about the rhythm section from heaven, it was stratospheric! What a diminished world without these transcendent musicians and friends. Love is real, not fade away..

I'm just hearing about this horrible accident. My memories of Johnny go all the way back to the Charlottesville High School Band. I saw him not long ago and he still looked exactly the same. Truly a remarkable individual.

Does anyone know of a memorial service?

I had the privledge of hearing Johnny play at the Dew Drop Inn in Scottsville numerous times. I feel I was blessed to have heard such talent that he possessed. He also had a smile I will never forget. Johnny, you rest in peace!!! Prayers go out to all his family and his band. God be with you.


Uncle Johnny . . . what will we do without you here. You were always proud of your family, paying special attention to your neices and nephews. This has been a difficult time for all of us, and our lives have been so much richer because we had you. You always made us feel special, never missing a birthday, or a special occassion, no matter where you were in the world. You always came through with a phone call, postcard or a brief note to let us know you were thinking of us. What a great Son, Brother, Uncle and Friend you have been to us all. We will miss you . . . RIP. We love you!!!!!

Final Memorial Service will be planned when remains are returned to the family. Last night was a pre-memorial service.

W. Gibson - I think the article was implying that it was the tenants, not the landlord, who'd disabled the smoke detectors. As a longtime renter and only recent homeowner, I can sympathize. A lot of these places do not have vents over the stove that vent kitchen fumes out of the building, so the result is a lot of false alarms. After a while it's natural to get sick of that, and since the landlord is unlikely to shell out the bucks to install a vent, and since a tenant is normally unwilling to do so for a permanent improvement that then becomes the landlord's property (i.e., picks up the tab for the landlord), the most logical thing (seemingly) is to simply disable the annoying, squawking alarm so as to live a semi-sane life.

I'd be all in favor of adding to Virginia's building code a requirement that all stoves in rental units be fit with ventilators to the outside so that this kind of thing doesn't happen again. Please, landlords, I don't want to hear about how much it costs - I got it done for less than a thousand dollars, much less than the precious life that Charlottesville has just lost. If you want talk about cost, talk about that.

this is sad...RIP Johnny.

A terrible loss.

What exactly happened? Had he gone to sleep?

Please spread the word about a musical tribute to Johnny and fund raiser to help his family -- this Sunday night at Fry's Spring Beach Club at 6 pm.

Date: Sunday, October 25, 2009
Time: Doors at 6:00 PM
Donation: Give what you can.
Bands: TBD but it's sure to be a very special show.
Cash Bar

I first heard Johnny play back in the late 70s; man could he swing! I'll never forget him.

Here's a youtube clip of Johnny playing with Corey Harris back in 2001: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoBqwknGc-g&feature=related

such a tragedy. he was so incredibly talented, and a sweet guy.

it appears from what i'm seeing on facebook that they are organizing a benefit on Sunday night to help cover funeral costs and to help his father relocate. please pass it along to anyone who might be interested in remember Johnny and helping out his family.

here's the details so far:

Hello everyone,

For those of you that have not heard our friend & musical brother Johnny Gilmore passed away last night in a fire. Please go to the Hook story link below for more details. He leaves his father both with out a place to live or any funds to even bury his son. The community is rising up to help his father and remember Johnny with a musical gathering and fund raiser this Sunday night at Fry’s Springs beach Club.

Please forward this to anyone who may be interested. I will update later tonight or tomorrow. Please excuse me if you get a double of this.

This is being done obviously very quickly but currently the details are as follows:

Date: Sunday October 25

Location: Fry’s Springs Beach Club http://www.fsbc.net

Time: 6 pm -?

Donation: ? Give What you can

Bands: TBD but Johnny played with just about everyone in Charlottesville so we are expecting a very special show.

Beer, wine & soft drinks will be available

Contacts: Angelica Schultz angelicaschultz@hotmail.com 434-249-1973

Chris Munson chris@20south.net 434-296-1600

We are still looking for any and all musicians/bands interested in performing and accepting any food / pot luck for all to enjoy.

Come celebrate Johnny’s life with his friends and fellow musicians and help his father in his time of need

Johnny as I always said you were my main man. Thanks for all the joy you giving me, I miss you already this is to sad I can't see
for all the tears love you my man.


Johnny played with the Red Hot Smoothies a number of times at the Omni Hotel. I also played with him at Miller's with TR-3.This is a real loss to the C'ville community and I will miss him very, very, much. He was truly a gentle soul.I never heard a negative comment from him and he was ALWAYS just as nice as he could be to me. Nick Page

Johnny was a great guy and a fantasic drummer. But more than that he was a good friend. I don't remeber ever seeing him without a huge grin on his face. He was always happy to see me and likewise. I wish I could be there Sunday nite ... RIP GILLY!!!! Nobody could pound the skins like you, my friend ...

There was one last night.

The landlord violated several housing codes by removing the batteries in the smoke alarms. The fire department needs to investigate ALL of Smith's rental units and refer him to the Commonwealth Attorney for prosecution.

From Virginia Fire Code

ARTICLE 5. Smoke Detectors Section 61-5-1. Scope.

In addition to the requirements of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC), and in accordance with authority provided by Code of Virginia, Section 15.2-922, the provisions of this Article shall govern the installation and maintenance of smoke detectors. (9-84-61; 29-84-61; 23-94-61; 13-95-61; 16-98-61;5-02-61.)

Section 61-5-2. Where required.

Smoke detectors shall be installed in the following structures regardless of when constructed:

a) All buildings containing one (1) or more dwelling units.

b) Hotels or motels regularly used, offered for, or intended to be used to provide overnight sleeping accommodations for one (1) or more persons.

(c) Rooming houses regularly used, offered for, or intended to be used

to provide overnight sleeping accommodations.

(d) College or university buildings containing dormitories for sleeping purposes.

(e) All local and regional detention homes, group homes, and other residential care facilities for children or juveniles which are operated by or under the Department of Juvenile Justice.

(f) All adult care residences and adult day care centers licensed by the Department of Social Services. (9-84-61; 23-94-61; 13-95-61; 16-98-61; 5-02-61.)

Section 61-5-3. Installation requirements.

(a) Smoke detectors installed pursuant to this Article shall be installed in conformance with the provisions of the VUSBC.

(b) Appropriate permits as required by the VUSBC shall be secured for the installation for the installation of AC-powered smoke detectors; however, no fee will be charged for the permit.

(c) The smoke detectors shall be installed in locations specified in the applicable sections of the VUSBC. (23-94-61; 13-95-61; 16-98-61; 5-02-61; 15-05-61.)

Section 61-5-4. Responsibilities for rented or leased units.

The owner of any unit which is rented or leased, at the beginning of each tenancy and at least annually thereafter, shall furnish the tenant with a certificate that all required smoke detectors are present, have been inspected, and are in good working order. Except for smoke detectors located in hallways, stairwells, and other public or common areas of multi-family buildings, interim testing, repair, and maintenance of smoke detectors in rented or leased units shall be the responsibility of the tenant; however, the owner shall be obligated to service, repair or replace any malfunctioning smoke detectors within five (5) days of receipt of written notice from the tenant that such smoke detector is in need of service, repair, or replacement.


Landlords shall notify deaf or hearing-impaired tenants of the availability of special smoke detectors. New tenants shall be asked, in writing, at the time of rental, whether visual smoke detectors will be needed. Upon request, the landlord or proprietor shall provide visual smoke detectors, which have an effective intensity of not less than 100 candela, to any deaf or hearing-impaired occupant of any of the following occupancies, regardless of when constructed:

(a) All dormitory buildings arranged for the shelter and sleeping accommodations of more than twenty individuals.

(b) All multiple-family dwellings having more than two dwelling units, including all dormitories, boarding and lodging houses arranged for shelter and sleeping accommodations of more than five individuals.

(c) All buildings arranged for use as single-family attached or detached dwelling units. (23-94-61; 13-95-61; 16-98-61; 5-02-61.)

Section 61-5-5. Enforcement.

The Building, Building Maintenance Official and/or Fire Official are authorized to administer and enforce this Article. (29-84-61; 23-94-61; 13-95-61; 16-98-61; 5-02-61; 15-05-61.)

Section 61-5-6. Relation to other codes.

Nothing in this Article shall excuse any building owner from compliance with all other applicable provisions of the VUSBC and the Code of the County of Fairfax. (9-84-61; 23-94-61; 13-95-61; 16-98-61; 5-02-61.)

Johnny Gilmore was a very talented Drummer with a bright future and will be missed by all of of us. Jim Facey Productions

My God-- what a loss!!! I've listened to him in SO many bands in the last 25 years! He was in TR-3, as well as those mentioned in the piece, and several bands I booked @ Trax in the '80's. A tremendous talent that always wowed the audiences but blew the minds of the musicians he played with, also. My heart is out to his father, his family, and to Houston Ross--whose bass accompanied Johnny hundreds (if not thousands) of times.

One of the best drummers I ever met.

A man with great rhythm and nuance. He will never be forgotten!

Johnny will be missed. I have always loved playing with such a talent like him. He will now always be, "in the pocket," in heaven. R.I.P. my man. I can hear you jammin' with Roi now.

I am so heartbroken. Such a sweet soul and incredible drummer with a Cheshire cat smile. We will miss him so. Much love and prayers to his family, friends, and brothers and sisters in music.

What a tragic loss of a very wonderful man!! Johnny's smile warmed my soul every time I saw him. Rest in peace my friend!

I was so shocked to learn this tragic news tonight; I was comforted to see Johnny's friends jamming tonight. Everyone was celebrating his life with great music and sharing stories. Music is so powerfully healing, something which Johnny knew and lived with his huge heart and fierce talent...I've always felt that he was the BEST drummer around..He was one of those people whose humor and joy of life shine a light on everyone they meet. I can't imagine a bigger smile, and his presence is so bright that it hasn't really sunk in that he is gone. I know in this sadness, people will come together and love a little more, laugh a little more, and play music as Johnny would want us to.

Johnny was our paperboy in the 70s and I proudly took over the same route several years later. I enjoyed his playing so much over the years, and he would always give me that huge smile and say how he could still me as a seven-year-old when he came to collect for the Progress. He always asked me how my mother was, too. I will miss you SO much Johnny, thank you for making me feel so special, and I'll practice my guitar more and think of you.

oops....still *see* me as a 7-year old...LOVE YOU JOHNNY!!