My first experience with Jeff Moody was the same as many. I was in high school and he was the worship leader at a Christ in Youth (CIY) conference I attended with my youth group. CIY conferences were always a big deal and a big part of that was the worship sessions. A lot of teenagers had their lives changed by the music alone. My previous couple of CIYs were led by a band called “One-5-Oh!” that I really liked. Jeff’s leading was new to me that year.
I was not a fan.
It didn’t have anything to do with Jeff as a musician or as a personality or whatever. The thing that bugged me was that he was doing the “band in a box” thing at the time. He had a live microphone, his guitar, and a live keyboard player, but the drums and other background instruments were all prerecorded and he piped them in through a sound system he kept next to him on the stage. I couldn’t stand that, and I maintain that same position even now. Why play tracks when you could just bring two other guys with you? I was vocal about that to the rest of the group and they got tired of hearing it from me.
I made it through the week. Made it through the next year. Then that summer, he was leading again and I was vocally opposed to it again. Even at the time, though, I was saying that he’s obviously a talented guy–a good guitarist, a good singer. Why not just have a full band? Etc…
I put it out of my head from that point on and figured I’d never hear him again after that summer anyway. Boy was I wrong.
Jeff started leading worship at a local church. My friend Shane was the youth minister there at the time (this would have been around 2000 to 2002…somewhere in there). Jeff was going to be hitting some nearby teen-events, leading worship. A couple of them were pretty big too. It was then that I learned that Jeff and I felt roughly the same about the “band in the box” and he was looking to go out with a full band. He needed a bass player and Shane gave him my phone number.
The audition was brief. He brought me in, I played some of the songs he knew he’d be doing, and he told me which weekends to keep free. I had the gig before I left the room.
I don’t remember where the events were, except for the one at Lincoln Christian College, where I’d previously been a student. One was in Indiana, but who knows what part? I know that I was excessively exhausted at the first one, and I’d fallen asleep in the men’s room before the start of the event. We shared the stage with a group called One Time Blind, who were a drama group. I had struck up a conversation with one of their members (Tony) who took pity on me for being an insomniac and the next few times I saw him he called me, “My sleep deprived brother.”
While we were in Indiana, Jeff was trying to get the attention of a parking lot attendant to ask him if he could park his RV that we were all piled into on the lot. He couldn’t get the guy’s attention from the road and pulled into the lot. The guy ran over and started shouting at Jeff asking what he thought he was doing pulling into the lot, there’s no room for a thing like that, and so on. Jeff was firm, but still basically polite in saying he was trying to get his attention from the street, but no one answered. At that point the guy yelled “get this fucking thing out of here!” and a couple of us started looking for things in the RV to use as weapons in case we needed them. A different lot worker with a cooler head came over and helped us back out. It was insane for no reason…funny how I’m still dealing with lots that have crazy people working for them, but this is a whole other lifetime.
Jeff had a reputation that sometimes preceded him. He was aware of it, so I don’t think it’s inappropriate to mention it here. Jeff was “known” to be a little hard to work with. I’ve heard people say he’s “particular” and others say he’s a “hot head.” I spent real time with him, doing what he did, getting told what to do by him, and cashing checks he wrote me. I also was dismissed from his band, but never really got an explanation–he just stopped calling. (I think he probably just found someone he wanted to work with more and it’s not like I had a contract.) I’ve got a unique perspective on Jeff’s reputation. “Particular” is fair. I see where people get “hot head,” but he was just “particular.”
When I worked with Jeff, he played a lot of songs that every church played. I had played most of those songs a dozen times before breakfast and was a little on auto-pilot for some of them. I know Jeff thought I was over-playing on a couple of them, but there was only one that he wanted me to play something really specific on. (I forget the name of the song now.) Of course, I didn’t remember the specific pattern he wanted–just started playing it the way I usually played it. He turned around in the middle of the worship session and corrected me on stage. Oops. But it was the ONE thing he asked me to do…
And another time I saw him dress down a sound engineer who was a little too sarcastic with him. The guy made some flippant remark when Jeff asked for more or less of something in the mix and although I don’t remember the full speech, I know Jeff started with “Hey, I’ve got a JOB to do…” and leaned on the guy a little harder than I might’ve. I talked with the engineer later and the guy said, “Is he always that high strung?” I think even then I said, “He’s kind of particular about what he wants.” It was easy to mis-read Jeff.
Here’s what I saw in Jeff. He was a guy who knew what he wanted out of himself and out of his band. When something wasn’t going right, he wanted it fixed. When he had an idea, if you disagreed or did otherwise, he didn’t have time to fight about it–just correct it. That can read as hostile. I don’t think he was ever malicious though…I think he just saw the path of least resistance as being the truth. “I don’t like that, play it the way I told you” is a lot easier than “could you maybe try something else?” When you’re in a band named after the guy who’s fronting it, you should probably listen to that guy. If Springsteen wants to play Purple Rain as a Prince tribute, the only question the E Street Band should ask is “what key is it in?”
What I’m trying to say–and I’m sorry if it’s coming out otherwise–is that Jeff wasn’t unfair, he wasn’t unkind, he wasn’t hot-headed. He was motivated, he was driven, and he knew he had one shot to go out there, give his best, and try to change someone’s life. He ran his business as a pretty tight ship…but I genuinely believe he did it that way because he felt the weight of Heaven and Hell on his back, and he knew which one he wanted to point that room full of people toward.
Off stage and off the clock, I saw a different Jeff Moody than the guy who corrected my bass parts and rebuked sound-men. I saw a guy who liked to laugh and like to hear other people’s stories. It’s a shame that some of the people who only saw his business side didn’t know him that way. Within an hour of knowing him, I think he’d heard my entire life’s story. He asked me questions about myself and listened intently to the answers. He liked a good Adam Sandler movie, when I knew him, too–we watched Billy Madison (I think) on the trip to Indiana. Then backstage at one of the events, we were talking about Family Feud for some reason and he did a Louie Anderson impression. It was hands-down the single worst impression of anyone I’ve ever heard anybody attempt. We all laughed hard–Jeff laughed harder. He was a good guy. He really was.
Maybe the best summary of the Jeff Moody I knew was at the Lincoln gig–the last one I did with him. We were warming up in the college’s chapel and a class started gathering to meet in there. The Jeff I met offstage showed up ON stage at that point. He was strumming his guitar gently and movingly. There were probably about 50 students in the room and Jeff walked up to the microphone. To the surprise of the professor he said, “Would you all please rise and sing with me?” Most of them stood up and Jeff grinned–“just kidding!” Big laugh from the students and band alike. Then he told the band to follow his lead and turned back to the mic, “This is a new one…” And he started playing and singing in two different keys. Everybody in the band played something completely different and we made the ugliest noise you ever heard. “No, just kidding, again!” But when the actual set came around, he delivered. We sounded good and people gave their lives to the Lord that night.
I think it’s fair to tell the “some people thought he was abrasive” stories, but only because they communicate a standard that was underlined by joy. That’s the Jeff I knew. I was not a happy person at the time I was working with him, and I think he could see that. I think that’s why he talked to me so much between sessions–or rather why he listened so much. He could be serious about getting a mix or a bass part right, sure… But he brought that same intensity to his listening…
The last time I saw Jeff, I was working at SLCC in the Library. I looked like a very different person from who I’d been in his band. Short hair, wearing a suit, etc… Jeff was doing a Chapel service at the college (I think he was speaking) and he came by the Library with a mutual friend. The mutual friend said, “Derek, have you met Jeff?” I said, “yeah, we’ve met.” I saw a brief pause of, “yes…but when?” on his face and I said, “I actually played bass with you a couple times a few years ago–long hair and a goatee back then…” “Oh…right…didn’t you lose your mom when you were young?” Why would he remember that? Of course after that, I didn’t feel right asking, “So why didn’t you ever call me for another gig, man?”
I’ve heard that in the last few years Jeff’s neck problems got the best of him. Even when I knew him (15 years ago? Is that possible?) he had neck issues. I heard a while back that he’d lost some degree of feeling in one hand and I think I heard he even had to stop playing. That’s a shame to hear… But I also heard that he kept doing youth outreach. That he kept meeting teens where they were and kept listening. He was a gifted musician, sure…but he was an even more gifted listener. I’m glad he kept doing that.
Today, I was informed that Jeff died. I don’t know the cause of death. We haven’t been in each other’s lives in a long time. Even the time I bumped into him at SLCC that day, THAT was probably close to 10 or more years ago by now. I’ve done a little Internet snooping…but I haven’t bumped into a cause of death and I wouldn’t feel right asking people who knew him better. I’m a little conflicted about going to the wake, even… I don’t know his family at all, and the odds are I’d just bump into someone I knew a lifetime ago and then go home after saying, “Yeah, let’s get together soon!” to someone I knew I’d only see at the next funeral. Asking for a cause of death seems out of place for me. If someone tells me, that’s fine, if not, it isn’t my right to press on the family of a man I haven’t seen in years.
I was sad to hear Jeff died. It caught me by surprise. He was still young. And I learned a lot from him. I learned about what it’s like to travel with a band for a big gig. I learned how to play a room with a few hundred people in it, but still make it feel like a small church service. I learned a lot about acoustic guitar tone that’s difficult to describe in a blog post. I learned that if you’re going to pee in a moving RV, you should sit down to do it–and that if the driver knows you’re in there he’ll purposely AIM for the speed bumps (very funny, Jeff).
But most importantly, I learned that if all you know is somebody’s reputation, you might want to look a little deeper. I’m glad I saw the good guy under the businessman. Jeff’s work-ethic was that he didn’t have time to mess around–let’s just get it done. Today, it’s very clear that he really DIDN’T have much time to mess around. I’m glad that I got to see his fun side, but I’m even more glad I got to see his serious side. And I don’t mean the serious side that directs band members and road crews. I mean the serious side that knew how important the Gospel was and knew how important someone’s STORY was. I really do believe that his every act was motivated by that. Even the hot headed ones, ha ha.
I’ve call Jeff a “particular” guy. I’ve also called him a “good” guy. In the end, I’m prepared to say that Jeff was a particularly good guy. I’m glad I got to know him. Today I am very sad that we lost touch.
I don’t know if this post is what I had in mind at all. Jeff was one of the most human people I ever met. And I’m sad to see him go…but at least he knew where he was going. I’m sure there’s plenty of room for him to park there, too.