Three years ago today, saxophonist LeRoi Moore, a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band, died. He was joined earlier this summer by a fellow saxophone player, Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. On the anniversary of Moore’s death, we reminisce and think about the similarities between these two rock greats.
Born on September 7, 1961, LeRoi Moore grew up in Virginia. As a young man, Moore played with the John D’earth Quintet, performing weekly at Charlottesville bar Miller’s. That’s where he met South African-born Dave Matthews, who was tending bar there in 1991. Matthews was blown away by Moore’s sound and approached him to play on some demos. Skeptical at first, Moore eventually agreed to give it a shot. It was a great decision and the beginning of a beautiful friendship – within three years, the band would release Under the Table and Dreaming and catapult to fame.
Moore’s sax work was an integral part of the Dave Matthews Band’s layered, multi-instrumental sound (rounded out with Boyd Tinsley’s fiddle and Peter Griesar’s harmonica, in addition to the standard rock-band instrumentation). Moore wasn’t limited to one instrument, either, playing bass, baritone, tenor, alto and soprano sax, as well as other wind instruments like flute, pennywhistle and oboe. And he wrote, too – many of the band’s songs were arranged by Moore, and he took co-writing credits on songs like “Stay (Wasting Time)” and “Too Much.”
LeRoi Moore stayed with the Dave Matthews Band for 17 years, missing his first show the day after being injured in an ATV accident on June 30, 2008. Just days before his accident, he had played with the band at the Nissan Pavilion in his home state of Virginia. Moore’s injuries would lead to his death fewer than two months later.
Clarence Clemons, born on January 11, 1942, also grew up in Virginia. By his early twenties, he had moved to Newark, New Jersey, but it would be a few years before he met New Jersey’s favorite son. Though the story plays out a little differently than Moore’s and Matthews’, it too starts in a bar: The Student Prince in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Bruce Springsteen was playing there with his band. Band mythology says that Clemons, having been encouraged to check out the young rocker’s music, burst through the doors mid-set and declared “I want to play with your band.” Springsteen, perhaps a little shaken by the dramatic scene, said, “Sure, you do anything you want.” Another smart choice, and another beautiful friendship was born.
That was 1969, and four years later, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. was released. Clemons played tenor sax on the album, and he stuck with Springsteen as he formed the E Street Band. But it was on 1975’s Born to Run that Clemons really showed the world what he could do. The smash hit record included legendary solos from Clemons on the title track, “Thunder Road” and “Jungleland.”
The E Street Band was disbanded and reformed over the years, but Clemons didn’t stop playing. He recorded solo albums, yielding the 1985 hit single “You’re a Friend of Mine.” He collaborated with big names from Aretha Franklin to the Grateful Dead to Lady Gaga. After more than 40 years of success in the music world, Clarence Clemons died of a stroke on June 18, 2011, just a few days after recording with Lady Gaga.
Two sax players from Virginia – both were big, imposing men, beloved by friends, fans and fellow musicians, who added depth and magic to the music of their respective bands. And both were remembered with joy and sadness by their bandmates upon their deaths.
“…He would put that horn in his mouth and make the most astonishingly honest music that could knock you over, and it would sink right to the middle of you.” –Dave Matthews, speaking at LeRoi Moore’s funeral
“He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music.” –Bruce Springsteen’s statement after Clarence Clemons’ death
Written by Linnea Crowther