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Dave Matthews Shares the Stories Behind "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King"

From "Time Bomb" to "You and Me," lost saxophonist LeRoi Moore looms large on new LP

June 10, 2009 11:28 AM ET

At the Dave Matthews Band's recent two-gig stand at Boston's Fenway Park, the concession stands were packed with Red Sox jerseys bearing saxophonist LeRoi Moore's name and the number "41," the 1996 DMB track that showcased Moore's soulful playing. Moore's ghost hovers over the band's tour behind their new Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King and the fallen musician was the inspiration behind the album, as well.

(Check out photos of DMB backstage and onstage with Willie Nelson at Fenway Park.)

"I feel like I've made a record that, if someone didn't know me and said, 'What do you do for a living?', I won't be sheepish about putting this record down and saying, 'This is what I do for a living,' " says Matthews, who drew the album cover and all of the extensive art in the CD booklet by hand.

As for the title, Matthews explains that "GrooGrux King" is a band nickname for Moore, who died last year. "Carter [Beauford] and Roi came up with the GrooGrux," he says. "It's their word for something that was happening, something that was cool, something that was amazing. It was sort of like a spirit or a musical thing, 'That's the Groo Grux.' And Roi was the King, Le Roi."

Matthews, who graciously details the origins of several GrooGrux tracks below, says there is a definite progression to the track listing. "It's almost in order for how it was written and recorded," he says. "It's starts with this sexy, fun song, ['Shake Me Like a Monkey'] and it falls down until that last song. It goes deeper and deeper until there's this goodbye."

"Grux"
(A a solo sax line from Moore that opens the album)
I liked that line from when Roi first did it, and every time we went back to it, I'd say, "We've got to use this, somehow we have to use this somewhere." We talked about recreating it when Roi was still around, but it's just a perfect piece of music, and it was a spontaneous invention. I wanted to put it on the album, but I didn't know where to put it. When I first brought it up, "We should start the record with that," everyone was like, "Yeah." It couldn't be any other player, the way he plays that. He could gobble, the sound that he had, and the richness of his tone.

"Why I Am"
"Why I Am" fell out of this session where we were really groping. It was just thrashing, and we weren't finding anything, so all of us were frustrated, and then everybody at once just fell on this [plays "Why I Am" riff], and it was crazy. Then Roi came up with that sax line that comes in on the second verse [sings line], it's a monster. The lyric "Why I am" came out of the first jam, too. I think we were just all getting along, "That's why I am." We went into the studio after Roi died and Stefan [Lessard] said, "We have to do that." The problem was, it's just this [plays riff], and no matter how many parts you put on that, for me, it just didn't do it, it didn't go anywhere, blues rock, that whole thing. Then I got the idea of going, [sings half-time bridge, "That's why I am"]. Then it was just an hour. We gave it a chorus, gave it a reason to go to the "Why I am," A musical reason — otherwise, there were lots of reasons. It was a thrill, I was so happy. Roi would have really liked it.

"Spaceman"
"Spaceman" is really peculiar. I think that would challenge a lot of bands, to be able to play that song, but it's kind of the weird mix of our extremes, the oddest side of my guitar playing mixed with the oddest side of Carter's drumming mixed with the oddest way that Stefan plays the bass, especially those three. Fans is staying away from the one, playing this hopping bass that he does sometimes, and Carter playing the really trebly drum groove, and it all fits together really nicely. I was worried about playing that one live, but it just fell out, too.

"Squirm"
"Squirm" was just one guitar and a drum groove that Carter had actually played for the song "You and Me," the last song on the record. Carter played this groove, and it didn't fit with "You and Me" so much, but I loved the way he hit the groove, so I wrote "Squirm" over the top of it, and then we replayed it, and it's changed entirely. It's such a wall on the record, at points. That's what's intimidating about playing it live — it's not the most difficult, it's just the one that's intimidating me the most.

"Time Bomb"
I'm excited about "Time Bomb." That's a real song, I think about different things that it means for me, that deals with the death of God, in a way, just the idea. What would happen to people? Would it be too bad? Not for me, I was already there, but what would happen to all those people who believe, if there was something that happened that made it impossible for God to exist? That's why I like the idea of "If Martians fell from the sky, what would that do to God?" "Wait a second ... everything changes now." So now it's not just this little circle in the middle of the giant universe, now it's the giant universe. That's why I like "Time Bomb," I really like that opening line. That was a song that Roi liked. I was in the studio with Roi, and I always liked this thing. [Plays and sings] "Baby on my way home, I pick you up a bottle of wine." It was a sweet little love song, but it was still sad. Then he said, "You have another bar for it?" I just went into it, and he was really psyched about it, but we never approached it again. Then later on, after he died, we went back to it, and it changed its personality. I like "Time Bomb" because everyone thinks I'm such a regular guy.

"Baby Blue"
"Baby Blue" is about Roi, about a lot of things. I sort of smashed things together, but it's about death, in a way, or loss. It's one clean, simple idea of, "See you later."

"You and Me"
After saying goodbye on "Baby Blue," it's sort of like a birth song, that "We can do anything" song. It's a little pick me up.

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