It has been 15 years now that Dave Matthews came out from behind the bar at Miller’s and assembled the band that got struck by lightning. As they take to the road—their annual summer ritual—see if you remember whom the boys in the band were playing with when they formed DMB.
Probably any fan can tell you that Stefan was 16 and going to school at Tandem. Known as an extremely dedicated musician even at that age, bassist Lessard was recommended to Dave Matthews by John D’earth. Lessard left high school, and put in a short stint at VCU before deciding that DMB was too good a thing to put second.
Before they were hitched and perched on high, Dave Mathews, Boyd Tinsley, Stefan Lessard, LeRoi Moore and Carter Beauford were playing the field in the local music scene.
Carter Beauford, LeRoi Moore and Boyd Tinsley all grew up in the same Charlottesville neighborhood, and Beauford and Moore played together a lot prior to 1992. Drummer Beauford was 3 when his dad took him to see Buddy Rich, and played his first professional gig at the age of 9. In 1978, when he was 16, he joined Aric Van Brocklin’s group Morgan White. The band played jazz/rock a la Jeff Beck, Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder. They even covered the Focus tune “Hocus Pocus” with the yodeling vocal. Talk about big balls. Van Brocklin says that Beauford’s parents approached him once, just to have a talk about keeping Carter out of trouble. But, V an Brocklin says, “he didn’t need it. He was very mature.” Beauford went to The Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, and later played with the Richmond-based fusion band, Secrets, that Van Brocklin and many other musicians say was the best.
Guitarist and fiddle player Joe Mead took both Beauford and Moore on the road with his band The Belligerent Brothers. Mead says they asked to play with him when they heard his Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Dead.” Beauford was also a regular player in the house band on TV station BET out of D.C. Mead fondly recalls an evening when he, Carter, Dave, and Dave’s sister and mom ordered pizza and beer and watched Carter on The Ramsey Lewis Show. “It was the biggest thing ever. We thought the big time had come.”
Mead also reminisces about Moore and Beauford playing with Sal Soghoian and George Melvin in Blue Indigo. “That was the greatest jazz combo ever. They were freakin’ fabulous. LeRoi would stand down at the end of the bar at Miller’s until his solo came up.”
While LeRoi could often be found at jazz sessions in town, his own band, The Basics, with Houston Ross and Johnny Gilmore as rhythm section, played an “out funk” style, according to longtime collaborator Mike Sokolowski. The band was so good that saxophonist John Purcell, who was making a name for himself in New York City, especially with Jack DeJohnette’s band, would come down and sit in. Moore also played regularly with The Uptown Rhythm Kings, a very tight R&B outfit. And even after the formation of DMB, Moore played in a local, all-star classic rock outfit, Alma Madre, that featured Indecision alum, Aaron Evans and Doug Wanamaker, and vocalist Kristin Asbury.
As far as Boyd Tinsley, he went to CHS and played violin in the orchestra there. When I met Boyd, he and Jamie Dyer were the kitchen crew at The Garrett, upstairs on the Corner. Boyd kept a band under his own name, but for three years he also played with guitarist/songwriter Harry Faulkner. Faulkner says he was living at 2 University Cir. when he was a student, and there was a front porch that was big enough to encourage an ongoing jam session. Faulkner and Tinsley met there and started Down Boy Down. The band played blues rock and tunes by The Dead and The Band. Originally a duo, DBD played every Sunday night for three years at the Blue Ridge Brewery. They later added a rhythm section and continued to play around town until 1992, when Tinsley sat in with DMB at Miller’s and was asked to join. Faulkner says, “I think we were both getting married at the time, and we shook hands and walked away.” Tinsley continued to talk to Faulkner about band ideas as late as 1995, when DMB was literally taking off. The last time they played together, Faulkner was playing at a frat party, and Boyd jumped on stage with him. “That was really nice of him.”
In all my years here, I don’t think I’ve ever, not once, heard a single person say that the DMB guys were anything but the nicest guys in the world.