Silenced sax: DMB's Moore remembered as enthusiastic friend
One song into his band's set at the Los Angeles Staples Center on Tuesday, August 19, Dave Matthews managed to silence the nearly 20,000 fans.
"We got some bad news today," he told the crowd. "LeRoi gave up his ghost."
Hours before Matthews had uttered the words, Dave Matthews Band saxophonist and founding member LeRoi Moore passed away in a hospital bed at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, just six miles from the Staples Center, from complications from an accident. In June, Moore suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung in an all-terrain vehicle accident on his farm outside Charlottesville. He was 46 years old.
The news hit his native Charlottesville hard, especially those who knew Moore well.
"It's been an incredibly difficult couple of days," says Peter Griesar, keyboardist and original bandmate of Moore's in DMB. "He was my brother, and I loved him like a brother, and it's just an incredibly sad thing."
"There is an extreme amount of sadness in my heart," says Ambha Lessard, sister of DMB bassist Stefan Lessard. "He was an amazing man, and he will forever touch our souls."
"I'm still in shock," says longtime friend Olivia Branch, who said it was too soon after Moore's death for her to comment further.
"Walking on the Mall Tuesday, a friend called from afar and said 'Roi passed,'" says guitarist and Moore prot©g© Jay Pun. "I was speechless."
LeRoi Holloway Moore was born September 7, 1961 in Durham, North Carolina, but moved to Charlottesville with his mother, Roxie, and father, Alvin, early in his childhood. Moore's musical prowess was evident from an early age, earning the family nickname "Bop Bop" for his childhood habit of scatting jazz riffs as he walked around the house.
He grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan and pursued his love of the gridiron as an offensive lineman for the Charlottesville High School Black Knights football team. But soon it became clear that Moore's calling was on the stage, and he soon parlayed his musical gifts into a career, sitting in with local jazz stalwart trumpeter John D'earth in the fusion group Code Magenta, where he performed with DMB drummer Carter Beauford.
It was around that time that Moore caught the ear of a young bartender and aspiring singer-songwriter at downtown pub Miller's.
"The stage was right near the cash register," Matthews told the Staples Center crowd last Tuesday, just before the encore, "and he just leapt up on top of it, because standing was becoming something of a chore at that point. He got his elbows free, and played the most beautiful version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' I ever heard in my whole life."
Said Matthews, "That's the night I fell in love with him."
Moore was on hand to play for a private party atop the "pink warehouse" building on South Street on May 11, 1991, the now legendary first concert by the then-unnamed band. The 29-year-old saxophonist was already a heavy hitter in the local jazz community and far better known than the 24-year-old front man.
Along with Boyd Tinsley's fiddle and Matthews' unconventional vocal delivery, Moore's sax would become a trademark of the Dave Matthews Band sound.
It was Moore who played the instantly memorable riff on one of the band's first hits, "Ants Marching." He went on to co-write Top-40 singles like "Too Much" and "Stay;" and his extended live solos on saxophone, flute, and pennywhistle helped build DMB's reputation as a successor to the Grateful Dead as one of America's greatest and most popular "jam bands."
Through the years of fame and touring, Moore remained a soft-spoken individual who preferred to let his music do the talking. But those to whom he did open up say he was a warm man, not shy about boosting the mood of his friends.
"He watched me grow up, and I feel like he was family," says Lessard. "He always took a minute out of his hectic life to give me a bear hug and catch up for a second."
"He called me the day after I graduated from Berklee College of Music," says Jay Pun, referring to the prestigious Boston conservatory. "He kept saying 'congratulations, congratulations, congratulations,' without letting me interrupt him. He kept saying to me that I did something that he only dreamed of and that I was on a great track. I couldn't believe a musician I had grown up listening to since I was 12 years old had called me to congratulate me on graduating from music school."
While the exact circumstances around Moore's accident are unclear (neither Moore's family nor representatives for the band returned the Hook's calls for comment), band management did report that on June 30, taking a break from the band's North American tour, Moore was injured while riding an all-terrain vehicle on his farm.
According to Karl Woerner, a salesman with Virginia Tractor who has both owned and sold ATVs, accidents involving the four-wheelers can be broken down into a few categories.
"If you’re going 60 mph and you go into a sharp turn, you could lose control and go into a tree,” he says. “If you accelerate too quickly, these things have such good traction that they’ll do a wheelie and come over on top of you. If you’re going downhill too fast and try to stop, you could go over the handle bars. If you’re going up a hill and you turn too quickly, it could roll over on you.”
What Moore's death means for Dave Matthews Band's future remains to be seen. Jeff Coffin of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones has filled in for Moore since the band's July 1 show in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Coffin's slated to continue playing with the remaining four members through November.
While the band did postpone two shows this week to attend Moore's funeral, they played three shows before pausing to mourn their fallen brother. There is precedent for a band of DMB's stature to take more immediate breaks to mourn the death of a band member.
On June 27, 2002, John Entwistle, bassist for The Who, died the night before his mates were to begin a long North American tour. The band postponed the tour opener in Las Vegas, but took the stage four nights later in Los Angeles and went on with the rest of the tour as scheduled.
More recently, Danny Federici, longtime keyboard player in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, passed away from skin cancer on April 17. While Federici had not been on tour at the time, Springsteen postponed two shows in Florida and then made them up the next week, five days after Federici's death.
Still, Matthews told fans in Los Angeles that he would rather not stop touring at this difficult time.
"There's nowhere I'd rather be than with my family onstage," he said.
Moore's final appearance in the band took place not far from Charlottesville, at Nissan Pavilion near Manassas. It was the last time Ambha Lessard saw Moore, who says they shared a common bond.
"We talked about both being engaged and getting married," says Lessard, and Moore's obituary cites Lisa Bean as his fianc©e.
Though there was no way of knowing it was the end of an era for Dave Matthews Band, in a way Moore did get to say goodbye to his fans. The last song at the Nissan concert was a blazing cover of Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You."