One of Charlottesville's Finest Visits Tucson, And It Isn't Dave Matthews.
By Todd McKay
SURELY YOU'VE HEARD of Dave Matthews. His group, the aptly named Dave Matthews Band, is all over the radio, asking you what would you say, and exhorting you to crash into them. DMB is selling millions of records by making the kind of pop music even David Letterman might like. College kids shake their butts to DMB's tight rhythms, VH-1 plays the video for "Crash Into Me" ad nauseam, even my mother has heard of them. All the while Matthews does his goofy ants-in-the-pants dance. The upcoming Dave Matthews/Tim Reynolds acoustic show at UA Centennial Hall sold out in less than two hours. So who is this guy Tim Reynolds?
Reynolds is a mighty fine guitar player and songwriter, a fixture in the Charlottesville, Virginia, music scene, and a guitarist on DMB recordings. Though he grew up on rock and roll, in high school he began listening to jazz, which he "got into as an intellectual extension to learn music." By the time he was 18, Reynolds was playing guitar in various experimental bands throughout the midwest, and eventually passed through Charlottesville and "fell in love with the vibe of the place." Sick of the cold, midwestern weather and not feeling particularly enthusiastic about the state of his musical career, Reynolds moved to Charlottesville in 1981.
Built around the University of Virginia, which provides a strong student fan-base and body of people with disposable income, Charlottesville then had a decent jazz scene and still remains supportive of original and experimental music. There Reynolds had the opportunity to play with some of his jazz mentors--musicians like saxophonist Michael Brecker and guitarist John Abercrombie. He played on a recording for a revolving personnel band, called Cosmology, that featured John Scofield, resident jazz guru John D'Earth, and a couple of other musicians who would eventually make their way into DMB. But the sure sign Reynolds spent quality time in jazz circles is that he refers to other musicians as "those cats."
Eventually tiring of the jazz improvisation scene, Reynolds transitioned into solo textural and experimental guitar work, releasing world-beat influenced records in Stix and Stones, and recording with his own trio, TR3. Reynolds played with the DMB musicians in various combinations long before DMB coalesced: DMB drummer Carter Beauford played a few times in TR3, and he and saxophonist/flutist Leroi Moore played some jazz sessions together. Reynolds worked with DMB bassist Stefan Lessard at a downtown Charlottesville bar called Millers, and DMB violinist Boyd Tinsley met Reynolds at a jazz workshop at the University of Virginia.
None of this was exactly making Reynolds rich. About 10 years ago, he was offered a weekly solo spot at Millers. Recalls Reynolds: "I was so poor, I thought if I could get one gig a week where I could get a meal, it would help me survive. The guy who used to do it just hated it, because nobody ever came on Monday nights. So he quit the gig, I took it, and it became a thing." The thing it became was an experimental format where Reynolds played guitar, tweaking and warping the sound using effects. After extended listening to Ravi Shankar in his sleep, he taught himself to play the sitar. Later, he taught himself to play the violin and cello, all on the stage at Millers.
Keeping that gig proved fortuitous for Reynolds. Matthews was doing a stint as a bartender at the club, and writing songs. The two hooked up and began playing together, Matthews sitting in on the occasional TR3 gig and Reynolds helping on demos made in Matthews' basement. While Matthews pulled together DMB and hit the road, Reynolds continued to experiment and record solo. Reynolds recently self-released Gossip of the Neurons, a solo piece recorded live at Millers, showcases Reynolds' fascination with manipulating guitar sound into spacey, textural compositions. It contains some traditional song structures, but half the recording is improvised, as Reynolds feels "most honest music is off the cuff."
Reynolds and Matthews have a comfortable musical relationship. When DMB gathers to make a recording, Reynolds goes with them. Not an official member of the band, he's nonetheless billed as "special guest" on the two DMB releases on RCA Records. (You can spot a picture of Reynolds in a photo montage in the liner notes for Under the Table and Dreaming. To the lower left of a photo of Matthews dramatically flashing a peace sign, Reynolds grins broadly.) Special guest status is perfect for Reynolds, as it brings him the financial benefits of playing on DMB releases while allowing him to concentrate on his solo projects and TR3. When the band is taking a break but Matthews wants to play on, Reynolds accompanies him, adding solos and texture to DMB songs while Matthews plays acoustic guitar. The duo did the first such acoustic tour in early 1996 while DMB awaited the release of Crash.
The sold-out Tucson show on Sunday, February 23, is the last date on the duo's six-week tour. They'll be performing all the DMB songs the full band plays, plus an occasional Reynolds tune. Though Blues Traveler's John Popper and DMB bassist Lessard joined the duo for a show in the northeast, most of the tour has been just Matthews and Reynolds having fun and playing loose with the DMB catalogue. The format allows for some experimentation, which Matthews encourages. "If we come up with some crazy noise during sound check, Dave is into using it for the show," says Reynolds, quick to add that the basic song structure remains--no disintegration into mindless noodling. Recent shows have also included the occasional cover--John Prine, David Bowie, and even a Marilyn Manson song, "Cryptorchid."
For those lucky enough to have tickets to the sold-out affair, it promises to be a great evening of guitar, played by a musician's musician and real cool cat. Oh, and that Dave Matthews guy is playing with him, too.
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