I suppose in this day and age it was appropriate that I received the news via text messages; they came pouring in last Tuesday evening. As I scrolled through one after another, all with the same flash, I couldn’t believe my eyes - LeRoi Moore was gone.
Unless you are one of the millions of Dave Matthews Band fanatics, you probably don’t know who Roi Moore was. But because I am one of those psycho fans, I certainly did. My favorite group for nearly two decades, I’ve probably been to more than 150 DMB concerts over the years - that’s not a typo and I readily concede that fact is totally frightening. Beginning with twice-weekly shows in Richmond and Charlottesville (the band’s early stomping ground) during my college tenure in the early 90s, I have been following Dave, LeRoi, Carter, Stefan, and Boyd all over the country for some time now.
From my favorite town of San Francisco, California to my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island; from the Columbia River to the Hudson River; from tiny bars to massive stadiums, I have traveled thousands of miles and visited incredible places seeing my musical heroes.
The first time I ever experienced DMB’s music was at a club/bar then-called ‘The Floodzone’ in downtown Richmond. I remember going there with some friends not paying much attention to the musical act in the background. After hearing a song that began with 15 solo snare-drum taps and an unforgettable three-note refrain from a soprano saxophone however, things changed.
‘A band with a saxophone and I’m not at a wedding or a hotel bar,’ I thought, ‘is this for real?’ I expressed my amazement to my friends, most of whom thought the soprano sax was a clarinet. Not so much I explained. For the rest of that night, I was won over by the sounds of the Dave Matthews Band and in particular, its incredible reedsman LeRoi Moore.
LeRoi endeared me to the music for one simple reason - I grew up playing saxophone. I was that dorky kid in the school jazz band and orchestra, I went to jazz improvisation camp (insert your favorite band camp joke here), and I even played in a DMB-styled band after college. Jazz was always my favorite genre of music. Growing up, I listened to Sonny Rollins and David Sanborn, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, Spyro Gyra and Duke Ellington. While kids my age were going to Metallica and Tiffany concerts, my dad was taking me to see Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck.
As a result, when it came to music, I always felt like a bit of an outsider, or maybe like I should’ve been born in the 50s. Let’s just say when I arrived at my dorm room freshmen year, I hid in the proverbial musical closet by jamming Black Crowes and LL Cool J CDs for fear of being ostracized. So when I discovered a band that had a sax player the following year, and in fact was cool and popular to the mainstream, I couldn’t believe my ears. I was hooked and the rest as they say is history.
Due to some luck, the fact that DMB’s genesis literally occurred in my collegiate backyard, and through the help of some friends, I actually had the honor of hanging out with LeRoi on a few occasions. The thing that impressed me during those encounters and continued to impress me in the interviews I saw and read with him over the years was that he was always focused on the music. Always the music. After the release of the band’s album Crash, in 1996, I remember him expressing his passion and excitement to me not about the incredible success the band was experiencing, but about … “all the cool sax parts. I rolled out the baritone on this one.”
Roi was kind enough to then spend the better part of a half hour that night telling me about his musical influences and how much respect he had for all his bandmates. That admiration was reflected in an interview I saw with him a few years later where he said drummer Carter Beauford “is always on the one.” That’s musical lingo for “Damn that guy is unreal. He never misses a beat, literally and figuratively.” What an awesome way to describe a friend, man Roi was cool.
In May of 2001, a friend and I ran into him in San Francisco riding on a golf cart through a thick crowd of fans at PAC-Bell Park. For me it was like Ronald Reagan going by and I immediately let out a “Roi Moore, you are the MAN!” in a tone usually reserved for pre-pubescent teens seeing the Jonas Brothers. He could have rolled his eyes or ignored me but he didn’t. Instead, he lowered his trademark sunglasses, reached out his hand, and with a big grin, gave me a high five as he went by.
That was the coolest thing about Roi - it seemed that his focus wasn’t on sold-out shows or awards, but rather on his craft and the people who appreciated it. He was that rare consummate musician who was also a reluctant rock star. Never the flashy showman that violinist Boyd Tinsley is, Roi didn’t come across as someone who craved the spotlight. In fact, he seemed more than willing to share it. Over the years I would get angry when Tinsley or former-keyboardist Butch Taylor or some guest musician would take a solo usually reserved for Roi (which never lived up in my opinion). I imagine though that the person who in fact suggested the change, most likely to mix up the monotony that can come from playing the same songs over and over, was Roi himself.
Onstage, I admired how he often stepped to the background when he wasn’t playing and offstage, I appreciated his willingness to verbalize his frustration with the grind that comes from being in one of the world’s most successful rock bands. He told a concertgoer in 2005, “I get tired sometimes of all the things that are not music. But I never get tired of, you know, the two or three hours that we have each night when we we’re actually playing and doing what we do. I could do that every night and be fine. It’s all the other bullshit that sometimes gets hard to deal with.”
To a musical purist like Roi, I imagine that the bullshit of interviews, appearances, and autograph sessions took away from being a musician and were almost tedious. For him, it seemed like he was all about being on the stage and making music. That’s the thing I loved about him and the thing I will miss most - his humility in the face of unparalleled ability. That, and his unbelievable gift to play the most beautiful sounds which put me in the best of moods. For proof of that, please check out some of my favorite Roi contributions - the jam at the end of Warehouse, #34, Proudest Monkey, his whistling in Let You Down,Lie In Our Graves (before Boyd took over the solo), Lover Lay Down, and the intro of Ants Marching.
All of these, and really every song on which he played serve as a lasting testament to an idea that transcends music - you can be successful, talented, humble and grateful all at the same time. “We’ve been very fortunate and very lucky, all of us, in our lives and our careers,” he said, “So we want to keep this going.” It’s still hard for me to fathom that DMB will keep on going, but without him. And while I will always go to see Dave and love the music, it just won’t be the same.
On June 28, I got see Leroi one last time and as a friend pointed out it brought great comfort that I was there to see his last show. It was an amazing night of amazing music, and my attention was always focused on the sax player from Charlottesville. The third song the band played that night was appropriate - So Damn Lucky. I was just that to be there, to know LeRoi Moore through his music, and everyone who ever attended a DMB show where he played was too.
So thank you Roi Moore for bringing genuine joy to my life. Thank you for always being on the one. Through your life we saw the power of optimism, beauty, and selflessness. And to honor that legacy, celebrate we will, cause life is short but sweet for certain.
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