A Year After LeRoi Moore’s Death

leroi-mooreOne year ago today, Dave Matthews Band co-founder and saxophonist LeRoi Moore passed away in Los Angeles following a June 30, 2008, ATV accident outside his Virginia home. Adding to the tragedy was that Moore’s bandmates and friends thought he was on the road to recovery after the mishap, thereby making his death especially shocking.

On July 1, 2008, the DMB road crew posted optimistically following the band’s first show without Moore. “Dave and Carter spent a few hours at his [Moore’s] side this morning, laughing together and talking,” they wrote. “He’s alert and cracking jokes already. They commented on how much they were heartened and excited after leaving the hospital, knowing that he’s going to be alright. Dave announced to the audience tonight, ‘He was beat up real good, but he’s going to be fine’.”

And the shows went on, thanks to Mr. Jeff Coffin.

Coffin – who also performs with Bela Fleck’s Flecktones; leads his own project, the Mutet; and hosts jazz workshops throughout the year – dropped everything on extremely short notice to fill in for Moore. Coffin had some big shoes to fill, with many fans aware of the ins and outs of the band’s music better than the saxophonist himself.

At first, having a new musician onstage with the DMB seemed like just the sort of fresh creative injection the band needed. Coffin offered a new take on some of the classic tunes Moore helped arrange, and most of us assumed Coffin’s gig was only temporary. As the summer carried on, so did the band, along with optimistic reports about Moore’s recovery.

Then suddenly, during a carefree August evening, I received a phone call from a close friend who broke the news to me. At first I didn’t believe it. Focused on packing up and moving back to school for my final semester, the last thing on my mind was that my favorite band was losing an original member for good. But it was true, and truly devastating.

The band soldiered on and finished the tour, because that’s what Moore would have wanted. On the day of his passing, DMB performed an emotional set at Los Angeles’s Staples Center, opening the show with “Bartender,” a song which, if you know the lyrics, was more than fitting for the moment. The road crew posted the following on the band’s site after the show:

As we sat this afternoon contemplating the loss of our brother, we wondered how we could possibly do a show today. Dave put it into perspective stating, “There’s no place I’d rather be than here with you guys right now.” We cherish special memories of our lost friend. Tonight, Dave told a story about LeRoi at a bar in Virginia where the cash register was near the stage and LeRoi leaned on the register because “standing had become a chore.” Roi proceeded to play the most beautiful version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Dave said, “that was the day I fell in love with him. And I’m still in love with him.” It’s safe to say we all were in love with him. “It’s always easier to leave, than to be left.” –DM

In the year since Moore’s passing, the band has paid tribute to the late sax player in many ways—the most obvious being their latest studio release, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, whose title comes from a band nickname for Moore. The album art, which depicts a cartoony New Orleans-style funeral, centers on a portrait of Moore drawn by Matthews himself. The band also released a Live Trax installment of Moore’s final show with the band from June 28. Indeed, nearly all of Moore’s fifteen years of smooth sax playing can be accessed on demand.

The DMB recently completed a leg of its summer tour in West Palm Beach, Fl., and has about two weeks off before its next show at the Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco.

The video below was screened at the September 2008 Gorge shows to honor Moore’s life and work.

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