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The History of DMB: Chapter I

By Jake Vigliotti
May 20, 2007

We pick up our story of the Dave Matthews Band a few months prior to January 1991. Dave actually got up enough gumption to play his demo tape for two of C’ville’s finest players, Roi Moore, and Carter Beauford. Carter had recently moved back to C’ville after a stint on B.E.T.’s Jazz show and a few failed try-outs for TV shows in Hollywood. The story goes that the duo liked what they heard, but it was the song Recently that convinced them that they could make something of the songs.

Roi, Carter, and Dave practiced in either Carter’s mom’s basement, or Dave’s mom’s basement, depending on who would put up with the noise. And, quite honestly, they sucked at first. The major problem was they needed a bass-line. Dave asked old friend John D’Earth to recommend someone. D’Earth offered a 16-year old bassist with unlimited potential; Stefan Lessard. The Trio quickly became a quartet, and practiced the 4 songs they had by Dave and some cover songs. Even on the earliest recording of DMB as an actual band, you can hear the potential in the recordings.

The original idea was simply to play the songs for the purpose of selling them to another performer. But that idea quickly blossomed into the actual formation of a band. After a few months of practice, the band secured studio time, and planned on recording their now 5 best songs – I’ll Back You Up, Song That Jane Likes, Best Of What’s Around, Recently, and Tripping Billies, which was completed after Dave met up with Roi and Carter.

To add a bit of spice to Billies, Boyd Tinsley, of the popular Boyd Tinsley Band, was asked to guest on the song. During that session, Boyd only appears as a ‘special guest’ on that track. The band also recorded The Song That Jane Likes, Recently (obviously their strongest song), and I’ll Back You Up. That demo was recorded around March of 1991.

April 20, 1991 would be their first ‘true’ concert. Boyd agreed to appear with the quartet, and the unnamed band played in downtown Charlottesville for the Earth Day Festival. There is no known recording of that performance (only rumors of tapes of it), but the traditional history tells that the band opened with a DMB original, ‘Recently’. Even from the very first show, fan reaction was very positive; band members even recalled seeing people dancing to the music despite the fact that they hadn’t heard the songs previously (1).

DMB’s first paid performance was on the rooftop of the Pink Warehouse building in downtown C’ville. Lydia Coner had a party, with 2(!) bands. Stefan actually did double duty performing with the opening band, and DMB on the nitecap. Again, no recording of the event exists (2), but that night DMB played for hours, so they most certainly performed a number of cover songs.

The band had about 5-6 songs, plus they were covering The Maker, Sympathy For The Devil, All Along The Watchtower, Exodus, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, You Won’t See Me, and Dave would perform Redemption Song. (3)

The first gigs the band had in C’ville were at the Eastern Standard. Dave’s old friend Mark Roebuck helped set up the gig (he bartended there). As you are looking west (down) the mall, the Standard was the 1st building on the left (now an Italian restaurant). The old story in C’ville was that bands had to start at the end, and work their way down the mall to the more prestigious venues.

DMB began to change that notion. They were very popular from the start of their weekly Tuesday night gigs at the Standard. From around June until most likely early September, the band performed weekly, with a variety of guests stopping by to join in – mostly Boyd or Tim Reynolds.

Surprisingly, for the great wealth of DMB live recordings we have, we have only two songs that most likely were recorded during an Eastern Standard performance, a portion of One Sweet World (4), and You Won’t See Me(5)

After two shows in Colorado (both not in existence in fan-trading circles), DMB returned to play at the larger Trax nightclub, west of the downtown mall. Part of the move was related to Eastern Standard’s letting go of band-friend Roebuck. That move helped launch DMB to a larger crowd, and put them on a path to regional fame.

One of the earliest and best known recordings of a DMB show is from 10.22.91. What most fans don’t realize is that the recording is incomplete. Historically, Ants Marching debuted that evening (6) but there are no known copies of the recording. But still, the show is a great look into what made DMB so dynamic: from the song choice, to the interaction with fans, to the great musical competition. It’s easy to see why the people of C’ville took so quickly to the band.

By the time 1991 ended, the band was growing, slow but speeding.

(1) Dave confirmed the fan reaction during a 2001 interview promoting Everyday.
(2) for years, a tape circled traders claiming to be ‘5.11.91’. In 2000, research proved that tape to be from at least September 1991.
(3) The only known recording of Sympathy For The Devil is from the “8.21.91” disc (the date is probably a guess). All known versions cut out about a minute or so into the song.
(4) On the mix-tape labeled “10.21.91”, Dave introduces a track as ‘brand new’, and the song is One Sweet World. We know from the Rutabega tapes that the date of the song should be between June and August 1991, so that performance most likely came from an Eastern Standard show.
(5) The version of You Won’t See Me, discovered by Andy Svenson as filler on a tape he had, is a different version of the more common “8.21.91” version, and is the only recording that we can confirm of the 4-man DMB band, prior to Boyd’s membership (or a show with Boyd guesting full-time) or Peter’s joining the band.
(6) The song was called “No New Directions” at that time, and was vastly different according to unconfirmed reports. Dave actually changed the lyrics

DMB practice demo (Granny’s demo)
You Won’t See Me (7.91)

The views and comments expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of antsmarching.org.


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