COVER- Vive LeRoi: 1961-2008
As a soft but steady rain– the first in more than a month– fell on his hometown, friends and family of LeRoi Moore filed into Charlottesville's biggest church to remember the late Dave Matthews Band saxophonist on the morning of Wednesday, August 27. Moore died August 19 in Los Angeles, seven weeks after sustaining serious injuries in a all-terrain vehicle accident on his farm outside town. He would have celebrated his 47th birthday this Sunday, September 7.
Eulogizing Moore was the Rev. Dr. William Guthrie, the former rector of Moore's family church, Trinity Episcopal. Guthrie revealed that the June 30 accident had put Moore into a coma, but that he occsionally awakened to greet well-wishers, both in Charlottesville and in Los Angeles where he had a second home and was to begin a long rehabilitation program.
"In Los Angeles," said Guthrie, "he suffered a fatal embolism that would eventually take his life."
Such was the end of a life that had touched hundreds here in Charlottesville, and millions around the world. It was a life led in a way that Matthews described in the 1996 song "Two Step": "Celebrate we will/For life is short, but sweet for certain."
The man behind the shades
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.
But he also loved football, and he pursued his love of the gridiron from Pop Warner through high school. 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 groups Code Magenta and Secrets, the latter of which included eventual 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 leaned 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."
The love continued on May 11, 1991, the date of the now legendary first concert by the then-unnamed band for a private party atop the "pink warehouse" building on South Street. 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 opening 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 most popular and enduring "jam bands."
With the sound of Moore's horns floating in and out of every track, Dave Matthews Band went on to conquered the music world by nearly every measure. After signing with major label RCA in 1994, the band teamed with producer Steve Lillywhite, whose credits included albums by U2, the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, and Peter Gabriel. That collaboration resulted in Under the Table and Dreaming, an album that spawned the Top 40 singles "What Would You Say," "Ants Marching," and "Satellite," and sold over 4 million copies. But even this could not have anticipated what happened next.
The follow-up Crash sold 7 million copies on the strength of such Top 40 hits as "So Much to Say," and "Crash Into Me." That album also garnered the band its first five of an eventual 11 Grammy nominations and first Grammy win, for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "So Much to Say." The band quickly capitalized on Crash's success with another platinum release, 1998's Before These Crowded Streets, beginning a yet-to-be-broken streak of #1 albums that's lasted more than a decade.
To date, Moore and company have moved over 31 million copies of its albums in the United States alone. That's more than Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Buffett, the Police, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Bee Gees, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tom Petty, or even Frank Sinatra. Put another way, that's a little more than one Dave Matthews Band CD for every ten Americans.
Through 17 years of touring and fame, 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."
Though the sax solos were a longtime favorite of DMB fans, Moore had in recent years begun to step out of his bandmates' shadow. On their 2006 LP Colorblind, longtime DMB friends Robert Randolph & the Family Band sought Moore's services for their song "Love Is the Only Way." Singer-songwriter John Mayer invited Moore onstage to play with him on his song "Gravity" on September 6, 2007 while sharing the bill with DMB at the "Concert for Virginia Tech" in Blacksburg. Rapper Nas enlisted Moore for his 2007 album Hip Hop Is Dead for the track "Hold Down the Block."
Even automaker Honda, when seeking to advertise its new luxury pickup truck the Ridgeline, cast Moore for a commercial this year. In the 30-second spot, Moore stands on the deck of a tempest-tossed fishing boat, playing some signature tenor sax licks underneath the slogan "Rough Meets Smooth."
In the pre-fame DMB days, Moore built his reputation by playing every dive bar and frat house in Virginia in the early '90s with his four bandmates. Fittingly, LeRoi Moore got to play his final show in his native Virginia, at the Nissan Pavilion near Manassas. 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."
The tributes came pouring in from across the world.
Former bandmate Peter Griesar told the Hook, "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."
"Walking on the Mall Tuesday, a friend called from afar and said 'Roi passed,'" says guitarist and Moore protégé Jay Pun. "I was speechless."
Hundreds of fans posted slideshows of their favorite LeRoi pictures on YouTube. Mayer paid tribute by opening his August 20 show in Pittsburgh by singing a few bars of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends" and then pausing to "send this show out to [Moore]" before launching into the first song, "Bigger Than My Body." Country star Kenny Chesney covered DMB's "Where Are You Going," at his August 22 show in Raleigh to pay his respects. And on Wednesday, August 27, nearly 1,000 people turned out to First Baptist Church.
But of all the mourners, only the four men seated in the center, together for over 17 years, knew Moore as they did; and each member of Dave Matthews Band coped with grief in a way oddly metaphorical to his on-stage role.
Drummer Carter Beauford was driving the rest of the band forward with ready smiles and handshakes. Bassist Stefan Lessard was steadily, stoically keeping from succumbing to his emotions. Violinist Boyd Tinsley, whose athleticism and on-stage exuberance have become legendary, was freely expressive, holding onto friends in long embraces.
The only bandmate not wearing the white pallbearer's gloves was the one who voiced their common message for their fallen brother. Though no stranger to performing in stadiums for tens of thousands, the speaker who introduced himself as "Dave Matthews, a friend of Roi's," swayed back and forth, appearing slightly nervous in addressing the hundreds assembled in First Baptist Church on leafy Park Street.
"Roi loved people," said Dave Matthews, "but he had the hardest time loving himself, and that was the most difficult thing about being his friend for me, watching him torture himself."
Matthews said the 46-year-old Moore was "a good soul, but he was a tortured soul."
"But he loved his family and he loved his friends," Matthews said. "He was finding himself, finding the light inside himself, and it was shining more than it had for a very long time."
Matthews credited Moore's fiance, Lisa Bean, for his newfound happiness.
"I believe her unwavering love for him," Matthews said, "and her willingness to stand in front of him, as he was reluctant to love himself, and insisted on it, caused him to eventually see the light.
"It was so bright," Matthews continued, "that we could all see it so much all of the time, when he would put that horn in his mouth and make the most astonishingly honest music that could knock you over, and it would sink right to the middle of you."
Matthews went on to reel off a pack of anecdotes, most of which centered on Moore's propensity to fall asleep anywhere.
"I saw him fall asleep onstage," said Matthews, to much laughter. "He was standing right there, and I'm not sure if I saw him fall asleep, but I definitely saw him wake up. He sort of caught himself, and then he thought he got away with it, but we have a little intercom system, and I said, ‘Did you just wake up?'"
Moore's custom of wearing sunglasses, Matthews noted, sometimes made it hard to tell.
"He also fell asleep next to me in his old blue Volkswagen station wagon driving down 64 once," recalled Matthews, "and I only realized it when he started snoring."
However, not all of Moore's humor was unintentional. While he was soft-spoken publicly, Matthews said, Moore's ability to tell a joke was such that "he could have done that for a living, though it may not have been as lucrative.
"He told them with an honesty the same way he played," said Matthews. "I would tell him jokes, just so I could hear him tell them after me."
According to the Rev. Guthrie, Moore didn't just save his honesty for his friends in the band.
"LeRoi would engage me in animated conversation whenever I would encounter him at home or at church," Guthrie said. "More often than not, he felt that the music in the Episcopal Church left a lot to be desired."
Some of the men who most informed Moore's early musical sensibilities were on hand to pay tribute with their instruments. Trumpeter and early mentor John D'earth performed along with the Trinity Episcopal choir throughout the service and led a trio in "Goodbye, Sweet King."
Moore's jazz theory teacher Roland Wiggins played a stirring, improvised piano rendition of the spiritual "Keep Me From Sinking Down." Before playing, Wiggins shared his last encounter with Moore in the hospital.
"I stood up to leave, and he said, ‘Hang on a sec,'" said Wiggins. "He was in his wheelchair, and he took the better part of three or four minutes to get his wheels locked, and he wouldn't let me leave until he stood up. He stood up and said, ‘Thanks for coming.'"
In a way, Moore got to say that to everyone assembled. Following Matthews' remarks, a slide show chronicling Moore's life from a baby to a bona fide star was accompanied by his gentle sax showcase "#34" from Under the Table and Dreaming.
Following the service, Jamie Dyer, whose Hogwaller Ramblers were as much a part of the Charlottesville music scene as DMB in the early '90s, said the ceremony was in keeping with how he remembered Moore.
"Like all great musicians, he had great timing and a great ear," said Dyer, "and when you heard that piece from his teacher, you couldn't help but think of that."
According to Secileon Lewis, a family friend of drummer Beauford's, she couldn't help but laugh at Matthews' recollections of a somnabulent Moore.
"When Dave was talking about how he always falls asleep," said Lewis, "I thought, ‘He did me the same way!'"
As mourners left the the modern brick sanctuary, they formed an impromptu reception outside under the white-washed concrete loggia, none in a hurry to leave. They were of all ages, all colors, perhaps apropos for a man who touched so many different kinds of people with his personality in the Charlottesville area, and with his horn throughout the world. They were drawn to Moore because of his ability to convey in music and demeanor a fiery passion that Matthews described by quoting a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
"I burn my candle at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light."
LeRoi Moore would have turned 47 this Sunday, September 7.
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER
Since first gracing its the front page in 2001, Dave Matthews Band has appeared on the cover Rolling Stone four times (eight if you count shots of Matthews by himself), including this 2005 shot of the band at UVA's Davenport Field.
ROLLING STONE COVER
Automaker Honda singled out Moore from his bandmates to appear in an ad this year, playing sax on the deck of a fishing boat, exemplifying their slogan "Rough Meets Smooth."
DMB fiddler Boyd Tinsley arrives at Moore's funeral, with manager Coran Capshaw (behind Tinsley's right shoulder) in tow.
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER
Drummer Carter Beauford served as one of Moore's pallbearer, along with Tinsley, and bassist Stefan Lessard.
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER