Boyd Tinsley Biography
Wanted to Learn Guitar, Impressed Dave Matthews at Frat Party, Promoted Music Education, Selected discography
A member of the acclaimed Dave Matthews Band, Boyd Tinsley has earned accolades for his innovative work on the violin. Critics have marveled at his ability to move from the traditional to the avant-garde, stretching the limits of an instrument not often associated with contemporary rock music. Tinsley has also recorded a solo album, and has become an impassioned and dedicated advocate for music education in public schools.
Wanted to Learn
Boyd Calvin Tinsley was born on May 16, 1964, in Charlottesville, Virginia, and grew up in the same neighborhood as saxophonist Leroi Moore and drummer Carter Beauford, who would later be his bandmates with Dave Matthews. Music was a big part of Tinsley's childhood: his father, George Franklin Tinsley, directed the church choir; his uncle played in local jazz bands; and tunes from Motown records filled the Tinsley house.
In sixth grade at Walker Middle School in Charlottesville, Tinsley signed up for a string music class, hoping to learn to play guitar. To his initial dismay, the class was in classical orchestra. Rather than withdraw, he decided to attempt the violin, which he learned relatively quickly. By his teens, Tinsley was an accomplished classical musician. He co-founded the Charlottesville-Albemarle Youth Orchestra and studied under the concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Isador Saslav. Indeed, Saslav urged his pupil to apply to the Performing Arts School in Baltimore to further his studies. Tinsley decided against this step, however, and chose to enroll at the University of Virginia in 1982, where he earned a BA in history.
At the university, Tinsley joined the Sigma Nu fraternity. He participated in various activities with the fraternity, including a series of all-night music festivals. He also expanded his musical awareness by listening to innovative violinists such as Stephane Grappeli. "Stephane Grapelli was the first violinist I heard outside of classical or bluegrass or country," he commented in an interview for VH1. "He was a huge influence [on me]. He showed a whole different side of the instrument I didn't even know about.… The more I dug, the more I realized there were a lot of other guys doing unconventional stuff with the violin, like Jean-Luc Ponty, Jefferson Starship's Papa John Creach, and It's a Beautiful Day's David LaFlamme."
Soon Tinsley began thinking of creating a rock band featuring violin instead of electric guitar. Though it was tricky at first to slough off his classical training and learn to improvise, Tinsley persisted and, in 1987, formed the duo Down Boy Down with guitar player Harry Faulkner. The group later expanded to include drummer Andrew Weaver, and renamed itself the Boyd Tinsley Band.
Impressed Dave Matthews
at Frat Party
Tinsley first met Dave Matthews in Charlottesville, where Matthews was working as a bartender and playing in small clubs. "I knew [the Dave Matthews Band] was something special," Tinsley said in an interview for Defy Magazine. "This was some of the most powerful music I'd heard in a long time." One night, Matthews attended a fraternity party where Tinsley was playing solo. Matthews was so impressed with the sounds that Tinsley coaxed out of the instrument that he invited the violinist to play with the Dave Matthews Band on the demo of "Tripping Billies," recorded in 1991. Tinsley became a permanent member of the band the following year.
Playing with the Dave Matthews Band has allowed Tinsley to continue his exploration of his instrument. As VH1 interviewer C. Bottomley observed, since joining the band, Tinsley has put rock violin in the spotlight, "mounting wild Hendrix-style solos as often as concocting weepy Appalachian melodies." Guitar Player critic Kevin Ransom described Tinsley's playing as "Celtic-cum-country fiddle lines" that contribute to "some wild improvisations" onstage. "It's not really a competition," Tinsley explained in the VH1 interview. The point of playing with the other Dave Matthews Band musicians, he said, is to push each other to achieve something better each time they perform. "The greatest gigs from DMB," he noted, "are gigs when I play stuff I didn't even realize I could play."
In 2003 Tinsley released a solo album, True Reflections. The title song had been familiar to Dave Matthews Band fans for several years. Tinsley wrote it around 1989, when he was with the Boyd Tinsley Band; the tune went on to become a staple at Dave Matthews Band concerts. "I planned on doing it again," Tinsley told VH1, "but it took 10 years before I got the opportunity to sit down and spend a lot of time writing."
A writer for Defy Magazine described the album as a recording that "walks an unmistakable inner-directed path." The songs, Boyd said in an interview for the magazine, reflect his deep awareness of "what's important in life, what I appreciate about life. So the songs are basically about love and relationships." Among the tracks that critics found especially notable were the title song, on which Dave Matthews contributed vocals, and a slowed-down cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl."
Promoted Music Education
A firm believer in the importance of music education, Tinsley has supported several initiatives that provide music classes in public schools. In 2003 he became the official spokesperson for the 'Blue for Save the Music Campaign,' a joint endeavor between Blue from American Express and the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. The campaign aimed to raise funds and awareness to support music education. "I joined the Blue for Save the Music campaign because I understand first-hand the powerful impact that music can make on young people's lives," said Tinsley in a press release from the campaign. "As a child, I quickly learned to play the violin through the encouragement of my teachers, and have since turned my passion for music into a career.… I look forward to providing the same hope and opportunity for kids across the country."
Tinsley has also privately supported music education in his hometown of Charlottesville, where he resides with his family. He has provided public schools in the city with scholarship money to pay for private music lessons for low-income students. In its first year, the program provided scholarships to 26 student orchestra members. Additional scholarships are planned for future years.
When not playing music, Tinsley enjoys frequent workouts at the gym. He has also embarked on a side career as a model for such designers as JanSport, Tommy Hilfiger, and Gucci. Modeling, Tinsley explained in a quote on the Dave Matthews Band Web site, offers him a break from the intensity of the concert stage or the recording studio.
Reflecting on his musical success, Tinsley told Defy Magazine that he loves taking his playing to ever-new heights. "There are no limits to it," he said of the violin. "I like playing pizzicato, rhythm, playing with a wah-wah pedal. Mostly, it's really cool to see kids playing air violin in the crowd. That's something new. I hope some kids will take what I've done and expand on it."
True Reflections, RCA Records, 2003.
Guitar Player, February, 1995, p. 19.
New York Times, January 28, 2004; September 25, 2004.
"Blue From American Express and Infinity Broadcasting to Launch 'Amplify Tomorrow' Tour," For Release, www.forrelease.com/D20030610/002/ (January 17, 2005).
"Boyd Tinsley," Defy Magazine, www.defymagazine.com/artists/Boyd_Tinsley/ (January 17, 2005).
"Boyd Tinsley Sure Can Pull Some Bow," VH1, www.vh1.com/artists/az/tinsley_boyd/artist.jhtml (January 17, 2005).
Dave Matthews Band, www.dmband.com (January 6, 2005).
Charlottesville High School Orchestra, http://avenue.org/chso (January 6, 2005).
"True Reflections: A Profile of Boyd Tinsley," The Delta of Sigma Nu, www.sigmanu.com/documents/DeltaW0304.pdf (February 7, 2005).
—E. M. Shostak