Lamb at the Newport Folk Festival in 2011. [Photo by Richard McCaffrey]
Our local music community was dealt a devastating blow with the announcement that Brown Bird’s David Lamb had succumbed to his second bout with leukemia, at age 36. Lamb passed away at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket last Saturday while surrounded by friends, family, and longtime musical partner and wife, MorganEve Swain.
In May 2013, Lamb felt ill while on the road in Texas and was diagnosed with leukemia. Fellow musicians and fans around the country chipped in more than $70,000 to assist with Lamb’s medical bills. He underwent chemo and a bone marrow transplant over the fall and winter, and positive news came when Swain reported that Dave was in good spirits and ready to begin work on the next album. On March 25, Lamb was informed of the dire news.
David and MorganEve shared an apartment in Warren, where David had previously worked his “fingers to the bone” at a local shipyard before deciding to go all in with Swain and spread their wings full-time as Brown Bird in 2011. Swain and Lamb quit their day jobs, hired a booking agent, and steadily filled rooms behind their breakout album, Salt For Salt. They toured overseas with dear friends the Low Anthem, played sold-out rooms across the country with the Devil Makes Three, Trampled by Turtles, and Joe Fletcher, and a jaw-dropping set at the Newport Folk Fest in ’11 garnered a main-stage invite the following year. Two of the best shows I have ever attended were courtesy of headliners Brown Bird — a sold-out at Firehouse 13 in ’09, and a wild one at the Met in 2011. Lamb was all smiles behind his woolly beard, simultaneously operating a kickdrum, tambourine, and banjo, with Swain by his side adding warm tones with deft cello and double-bass skills.
A week before Christmas, Brown Bird released a new song, “Weathering,” with a bittersweet and heart-wrenching passage: “And when the storm it does subside/this flood of roller coaster rides/we’ll lick the wounds and learn to live with this new blood/and on the other side of tears we’ll build our strength and face our fears.”
We checked in with a number of locals who offered thoughts on David and his musical legacy. The outpouring of support has been tremendous and we thank everyone who took the time to share remembrances and tributes.
‘We had an army behind us’
MorganEve Swain made this post on Facebook on Saturday, April 5.
Over the past year, and especially this past week, I have been so overwhelmed and grateful for the amount of love that has surrounded Dave and me throughout our life and career together. You all have posted so many beautiful stories about Dave — how humble he was, how gracious, how talented. . . He certainly was all those things.
Four days after Dave and I met we became bandmates, lovers and business partners, and set the tone for what our life would be for the next six years. We never imagined the amount of success we would enjoy in those years, how many incredible friendships would be forged, the experiences we would share, and nothing could have prepared us for the events of this past year.
Dave entered the battle with leukemia as only Dave could — determined, steadfast, smiling and always with his mind on our future. His incredible ability to continue writing through his struggle is something I’ll forever aspire to.
This week was the toughest in the battle, as Dave’s body began to shut down under the stress of a year-long fight and a sudden and aggressive leukemic relapse.
Today, surrounded by his family and so many friends, Dave peacefully let go.
Thank you for all the love you’ve all shown us. It helped so very much to know we had an army behind us.
Love and gratitude, MorganEve
‘We were always making plans for the future’
My two favorite memories of Dave are both business meetings that we had in Warren. It might sound strange to say, but it’s true — my favorite thing about every meeting with Dave and MorganEve is that we were always making plans for the future. Last summer, we went to dinner at a restaurant down the street from their house — it was the first time in a few months I’d seen him outside of a hospital. At the time we thought that the worst was behind us and getting back on the road was just a few months away. There was a lot of laughter and so much excitement about the future. About a week later, I got the call that a bone marrow transplant was necessary, and that meant at least a year at home recovering. It was sad, but that meant they would have time to write and record a new album.
About a month ago, we had dinner again — Dave had felt the best he had in months, and was spending hours every day writing music and recording demos. His beard was coming back strong! Plans had been made for recording, and we had just started thinking about the first few “comeback” shows for the fall and winter. Dave had been playing the drums again (did you know he is also an amazing drummer?), and all the new songs he’d been working on had full drum kit parts that he had recorded. They had started practicing with our friend James Maple, who had learned the parts that Dave had recorded and was going to be a crucial part of Brown Bird’s live show. Dave had mentioned wanting to try his hand at shooting a music video with a Super 8 camera he’d bought. I was so impressed that he had all these ideas for continuing to create and had so many different outlets for being creative. It was an incredibly rough year, but the music Dave was writing reflected on his experience and was so powerful. I was convinced that Dave and Brown Bird would come back stronger than ever before.
It was a total honor to work with Dave — he approached his career the same way he approached his personal life, with integrity and kindness. It’s not surprising how far their music spread in the past few years — once you hear Brown Bird, you become a supporter and evangelist. Every band that took a chance on bringing Brown Bird on tour was rewarded with professionalism and friendship — that’s why so many bands brought them out on tour multiple times.
I knew him first as a fan, and then a business partner, but ultimately as a friend. This week has been so rough, but incredible to meet so many friends of Dave that knew him long before I did. I learned so many funny, weird things — did you know he was a Deadhead? A Black Crowes fan? Did you know he went to South Africa and the Philippines? Did you know they called him and his group of friends on Star Island Berserkers? Dave was only 36 but after hearing so many stories this week, I am certain he had several lifetimes worth of experiences.
I love you, Dave. Thank you for letting me be on your team. I love you, MorganEve. Thank you for letting me be on your team.
_Tom Weyman, Brown Bird's manager