The way Dave Matthews talked with us made us feel like we had been friends for years. Except I had to explain to him what "jorts" are!
The Dave Matthews Band exploded in the 1990s with its hybrid of jazz, folk, and world music, all of which were channeled through Matthews' distinct pop sensibility. Often associated with the decade's jam-band movement, DMB started as a college favorite. By the end of the decade, Matthews' introspective lyrics and distinctive vocal timbre resonated through stadiums across the U.S. In the new millenium, the band continued to evolve, releasing one of their strongest, most complex studio album, 2009's Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King, after the untimely death of founding sax player Leroi Moore.
The son of a physicist father and an architect mother, Matthews spent his formative years in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Westchester County, New York. After being drafted by the South African military to fight in favor of an apartheid political system at age 18, Matthews retreated with his family to the U.S. for good and soon ended up in Charlottesville, Virginia. There he began writing songs on his acoustic guitar during the day and working as a bartender at Miller's, Charlottesville's premier bar for local musicians, at night. Matthews eventually began jamming with topnotch players who frequently gigged at Miller's: guru trumpeter John D'earth, fusion drummer Carter Beauford, and reeds player LeRoi Moore. By spring 1991, the Dave Matthews Band played its first concert at a rooftop party in Charlottesville with its soon-to-be permanent lineup: Matthews, Beauford, Moore, virtuosic violinist Boyd Tinsley, and bassist Stefan Lessard.
In the tradition of the Grateful Dead and Phish, the Dave Matthews Band built up a fan base by allowing fans to record and circulate tapes of performances. Fan favorites like "Ants Marching" and "Tripping Billies" were revamped nightly as the band opened up ample musical space for improvisation. The band's first album, 1993's Remember Two Things, was an indie success on the college charts and eventually went gold. RCA signed Matthews and released Under the Table and Dreaming (Number 11, 1994), which yielded the hits "What Would You Say," "Ants Marching," and "Satellite." Within a year, Under the Table and Dreaming was four times platinum.
After playing on the jam-band-friendly H.O.R.D.E. summer tour with Blues Traveler and the Allman Brothers Band and headlining a few national tours, DMB recorded 1996's Crash, which debuted at Number Two on the pop albums chart and earned the band a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Perormance by a Duo or Group in 1997 for "So Much to Say." Matthews and company took a break from the studio to get back on the road and released a series of live recordings. Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95 (Number Three, 1997), Live at Luther College (Number Two, 1999) (recorded on one of Matthews' acoustic-only tours with guitarist and longtime collaborator Tim Reynolds), and Listener Supported (Number 15, 1999) all document Matthews' commitment to his ever-swelling, increasingly diversified fan base. Meanwhile, 1998's studio album, Before These Crowded Streets, a series of solemn narratives about a tormented man's yearnings for his lover, debuted at Number One.
The dawning of the new millennium saw Matthews pick up an electric guitar for the first time in the studio on the uncharacteristically gritty Everyday, which was produced and cowritten by producer Glen Ballard. Everyday was actually the fifth studio disc DMB cut: they'd shelved an album recorded in 2000 with producer Steve Lillywhite, much of which made its way onto 2002's Busted Stuff. A year after that, Matthews issued Some Devil, his bow without the Band; it too won a Grammy, for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, in 2004 for the single "Gravedigger." That fall, DMB participated in the Vote for Change tour, usually headlining shows featuring Jurassic 5, Ben Harper, and My Morning Jacket, and the group launched a mail-order concert-recordings series, Live Trax. In 2005, DMB released Stand Up, their seventh studio disc. It was followed in 2006 by The Best of What's Around, Vol. 1, a half-live, half-studio collection. Along the way, the band continued to issue live albums recorded at scenic locales like Washington State's Columbia River Valley (The Gorge, 2002) and Colorado's Red Rocks (Weekend on the Rocks, 2005) as well as in urban settings like New York City's Live at Radio City Music Hall and Atlanta's Live at Piedmont Park.
In early 2008, the band began working on a new studio album with producer Rob Cavallo—best known for his work with Green Day — guitarist Tim Reynolds, a longtime collaborator on Matthews' solo work. In June, 2008, LeRoi was seriously injured in an ATV accident and died of his injuries two months later. The sessions for the new album took on a new meaning, as a tribute to Moore, and the band worked through the end of 2008 and into 2009 on it.
Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King — Groogrux King was a nickname for Moore — grew into a diverse, textured album, at times melancholy or menacing, but just as often festive. Released in June, 2009, the album debuted at Number One, selling 424,000 copies its first week out. The reflective first single, Funny the Way It Is, rose to Number 37 on the pop chart — the band's third highest charting single.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Evan Serpick contributed to this article.