T LAVITZ April 16, 1956 - October 7, 2010
T and I met back in the mid-70’s when we were students at the University of Miami. 35 years ago is a long time, and my memory of that day when we were first introduced, beyond being a nice memory, is fuzzy at best. However, I think if T were here today, he would probably remember the exact date and place of our first meeting, AND he’d throw in some interesting, and perhaps some not-so-interesting, tidbits of information about that day, like specific conversations we had, where we had lunch, what each of us ate for lunch, how dirty his fork was. You see, T had an elephant’s memory, and he could remember some of the most obscure, minute things about gigs, places, people…. you name it. His memory was so incredible that Steve Morse used to say –‘T, you could be a very wealthy, successful man - if only you could remember anything of importance!’
When T joined the Dixie Dregs in 1979, his playing and his personality brought a renewed energy to the band. He also became the hands-down funny-man of the group, making the often long journeys on the road not only bearable but fun, keeping all of us in hysterics for hours with his dry sense of humor, funny stories, clever one-liners, and his quick, off-the-cuff assessments of situations.
One of his funniest stories, which actually turned out to be a life-changing musical event for T, dates back to his very first rock concert, when his Temple arranged to take a group of its teenage and pre-teen members to NYC to see what the adults thought was going to be a G Rated, fun-for-the-entire-family concert by a musical group called The Mothers. Turns out The Mothers were actually Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. Not exactly what you would call a G rated family show!
T was a proud, schooled musician, sometimes to a fault. This pride, on occasion, could lead to frustration, irritation, and complete and utter exasperation. When he joined the jam-band Widespread Panic back in the 90’s, one day at rehearsal they were teaching him one of their songs, and T said to the guitarist ‘Hey what are the chord changes during your guitar solo’. The guitarist replied, ‘How should I know, I’m soloing?’ Anyone who knows T can just imagine the excruciating mental anguish he must have experienced in that moment.
And then, when they were showing him another song, one of the band members said, ‘T, it’s just a blues progression, you know, a 1-3-5’. So, making every effort to contain himself, T diplomatically tries to educate him and says calmly, ‘Oh, you mean a 1-4-5’. So the musician loses it and fires back ‘There you go again T Lavitz. I don’t care what you high and mighty schooled musicians call it. We call it a 1-3-5!’ T, always the proud, schooled musician would often respond in these trying moments with exasperated gasps.
Andy West reminded me of a memorable, funny T moment when the Dregs drove across the US border into Canada for a fun, band, day trip. This was many years ago when the borders were much more relaxed. Going into Canada actually was easy, a Winnebago filled with a group of long-haired hippie-looking rock musicians waved through into Canada no problem. Coming back later that day, when the band approached the US border, Andy said ‘ok guys, hand me your drivers licenses so I can give them to the US border patrol agent. T said, ‘I don’t have my license, I left it back at the hotel, why should I need it?’. And so, when the border guard approached the van and T had no ID, he was asked to step out of the vehicle and please follow the officer into the customs office. After several exasperated gasps, an outraged T exclaimed ‘I am an American citizen! What, do you think I’m trying to sneak into the country? I’m from New Jersey!’ And with that, he was taken away. Fortunately, a couple of hours later, he was released and we were free to go.
The stories are endless, the memories precious. T was my Dixie Dregs and Jazz Is Dead band mate, he was my friend, a great guy, really smart, incredibly funny, exceptionally talented. I think one of the highest compliments a musician can be paid is by the instant recognition of his or her playing. And T most certainly resides in this category. His sound is undeniably T Lavitz. He leaves us with a vast, eclectic musical discography, the respect of musicians and fans the world over, his beautiful daughter Dylan, who he treasured with all his heart, a wonderful family, good friends, his wife Cheryl whom he adored, and a boatload of priceless memories - a legacy anyone would be proud of. Rest and jam forever in peace T