Music world mourns

Head Guano Boy Chris Leva was waiting for bass player Dave Grant at Bobby Read’s North Garden recording studio last Tuesday to do some mixing for a new Guano Boys CD.  That session never happened.

The tragic accident that took Grant’s life has left Charlottesville’s music community reeling– and placed a morbid focus on the life of a man who had quietly touched so many people. “The less said about his death, the better,” says Leva.

Spencer Lathrop, Guano Boy/Hogwaller Rambler and owner of Spencer’s 206, agrees. “I’m surprised at the number of people interested in him now, and I don’t want that to be the reason. His death is something that didn’t reflect his life,” says Lathrop.

What friends prefer to remember is the richness of Grant’s life and his talent as a musician. “He did all the things you think are important in life,” says Lathrop. “He loved being alive in the moment. I’d like to put more of that in my life.”

Lathrop’s favorite memory: “He and I used to drive to New Orleans and spend 17 hours talking.”  

“He was a Renaissance man,” says close friend Bobby Read, who plays saxophone with Bruce Hornsby. “He was full of facts, and at least 80 percent of them were true.”

Leva, too, was impressed with Grant’s vast knowledge in so many areas. “He knew every plant, every tree,” says Leva. On a mountaintop near Barboursville, Grant built his own house–amid a greenhouse and orchards. He was a pilot, a radio show host, and an entrepreneur who, besides his soil testing company, did solar energy installations.

Most of all, Grant was a musician. Leva numbers himself among Grant’s many admirers, and says his story is “shared by 10 to 20 to 100 of his friends.” Leva, who calls Grant “a cult figure in traditional music,” first knew of Grant 20 years ago through his jam sessions playing bass.

“One minute I’m idolizing him, the next minute I’m jamming with him,” Leva says. He credits Grant with bringing a world vision and African rhythms to traditional music. “He really influenced the traditional music movement,” says Leva, naming bands such as Donna the Buffalo and the Horseflies.

Read calls Grant an “omnivorous” musician who played up and down the East Coast. “He was a really humble guy, more so than he needed to be,” says Read.

One project Grant had worked on for seven years was creating reggae versions of traditional tunes with musicians like the Rowan Brothers and Tim O’Brien. “It was a real sprawling project that he worked on when he had the time and the money,” says Read. “He was such a fun center. Musicians of his ilk would stay at his house when they were in town, and then he’d bring them into the studio.” Read plans to finish that CD.  

Best known for his work in the Guano Boys and Wolves in the Kitchen, Grant played with many other musicians in many different genres. He recorded on a soon-to-be released CD with Faster than Walking, a group of old-time musicians already in mourning for the death two weeks earlier of member Gary Hawk. “It’s rocked us,” says John Murphy. “It’s hard to get down what [Dave] meant to us in a sound bite. In the old-time music community, he was broadly and deeply loved.”

Tara Nevins of Donna the Buffalo also met Grant through old-time music and its many festivals. “We’re so shocked, horrified, and saddened by the whole thing,” she says. “I can see him playing at Galax, in the middle of an intense reggae jam at 4am.

The favorite story of more than one of Grant’s friends was his passion for his potato launcher, a device made of PVC pipe and fueled by propane that could fire a spud 400 feet. “He was synonymous with fun,” says Leva, adding that Grant told the “stupidest jokes.”

Read echoes that: “Amid the drudgery of life, he was always looking for a way to have fun.”

And there was something about Dave Grant’s eyes. Leva says that Grant often had “a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.” Lathrop, too, mentions Grant’s  “very kind eyes.”

“He always had his arm out to offer assistance,” says Lathrop. “He showed up at a time of great need to me.”  

Grant is survived by his wife, Darlene Crawford, his son, Ryan, his mother, Adele Karlen, and his brother, Richard Grant, author of the acclaimed novel, Tex and Molly in the Afterlife.

Last Sunday, a brilliant and cold day, hundreds of friends gathered at Grant’s mountaintop home to grieve and to celebrate a life well lived, with Richard Grant offering a eulogy for his younger brother.

“He was so well loved in the community,” says Lathrop. “He worked hard, he loved his wife and son. It’s such a shame.”


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