In early April, I received what I thought was a casual inquiry on Facebook that turned into a snowballing tragedy.
Renee Solis, vocalist and guitarist for the progressive local band Equinox, asked if I knew how to get in touch with Corey Dwyer, the Boynton Beach-based musician who sang and played nearly every instrument, who was a longtime owner, operator and engineer at the Dream Factory Recording Studio, and who had been a guitarist and vocalist for veteran area Grateful Dead tribute band Crazy Fingers (www.crazyfingers.net) for more than 20 years.
I sent her back his contacts, not realizing that they were longtime friends. She responded that Dwyer was missing, and that they hadn’t corresponded since late March. Practically everything he owned other than his car was still at his house, and a trace of his cellphone records indicated that he hadn’t placed a call for several days.
Dwyer’s family, friends and band mates had begun a frantic search, including listing him on the Missing Persons Of America website with a description of his 2010 Honda Element and the last digits of its Florida license plate. The site updated his profile on April 9 to offer the good news that he’d been found.
The bad news was the condition he was in.
“Corey was involved in a near-fatal high-speed collision where he allegedly hit a box truck, then got plowed into by a semi,” said Crazy Fingers drummer/vocalist Pete Lavezzoli. “It was on southbound I-95 near Ives Dairy Road, just south of the Broward/Dade County line, between 2 and 3 a.m. on April 2. Although no one else was seriously injured, Corey suffered an impact to the head that resulted in a traumatic brain injury and loss of consciousness, and was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. And apparently his last name was initially misspelled as ‘Dyer’ for some reason, which caused a delay of several days in verifying his identity and contacting his family.”
While in the ICU, a comatose Dwyer caught pneumonia, complicating his recovery and causing his family to guard his hospital location from the general public.
“We currently have a no visitors request,” wrote younger sister Lori Dwyer in a mid-April e-mail, “as he needs to recover from this before further testing can be performed.”
Though Dwyer’s condition ebbed and flowed over five-and-a-half weeks, and improved enough to offer hope, the brain injury eventually proved too much to overcome. He died at Jackson Memorial just after 8 a.m. on May 10 at age 45.
The New Mexico-born musician and sound engineer had lived in South Florida since 1987, and was in his horrific accident just days after his 45th birthday on March 31. He’s survived by his sister, who lives in Orlando, their mother Barbara Burgess, who lives in The Villages in Central Florida, their father Paul Dwyer, who lives in New Mexico, and his 20-year-old daughter Harmony Rose Dwyer, who lives in Atlanta.
“I’d like to think I helped to inspire Corey’s musical talent,” Paul Dwyer says. “His mother also has some musical ability. I don’t play out, but rather for my own amusement and meditation on guitar, fiddle and keyboards, and always enjoyed jamming with Corey.”
Crazy Fingers had become Dwyer’s main musical outlet in 1993, when he and fellow guitarist/vocalist Rich Friedman joined (although Dwyer was playing keyboards at the time). He switched to guitar as keyboardist Josh Foster worked his way into the lineup during the mid-to-late ’90s. Those three, along with Lavezzoli and bassist Bubba Newton (both with the band since its 1990 inception), would be the lineup on most of its 2,500-plus shows and the CDs Come On and Dance and It’s a Strange Life.
Dwyer and Newton had also formed a Dead-themed bluegrass band called The Grass is Dead that released two CDs.
“I know that Corey’s spirit is, and always will be, with us,” Friedman wrote after his death on the GoFundMe site he’d put together to help Dwyer, who wasn’t yet insured under the Affordable Care Act. “There are no words that can possibly express how deeply saddened we all are.”
The www.gofundme.com/8870w4 link is still accessible on the Crazy Fingers website to help offset Dwyer’s hefty hospital costs. In the first month, the site received more than $22,000 toward its $75,000 goal from 303 people, a testimony toward his wide circle of friends and admirers.
Friedman has also started a “Remembering Corey Dwyer” memorial page at www.facebook.com/groups/789996617691459, where hundreds have already sent in remembrances, videos and photos of the uncanny multi-instrumentalist working in the studio, singing, and playing guitar, mandolin, keyboards, saxophone, violin, bass, and drums.
“Our circle has been broken,” the Crazy Fingers site announced after his death. “Our dear friend and brother Corey Dwyer has passed away after his long struggle to regain consciousness from a tragic car accident. We love him and will miss him more than words can say, but his spirit and his music will live forever, especially in the Crazy Fingers band. We ask everyone who knew Corey simply to keep him in their thoughts, and to send prayers for his peaceful transition into the light of the next world.”
The first time I remember crossing paths with Dwyer was in 1998. I’d recently joined local band Inhouse, and we played one of the infamous “Farm Parties” with Crazy Fingers in a large open field in Loxahatchee. And while we went over well, Crazy Fingers was made for such occasions, inciting the large, tie-dye-clad crowd to undulate as one through a smoky haze. It’s a common scene at festivals now, but Crazy Fingers was ahead of its time more than 15 years ago.
In 2013, I played my last show with Dwyer at the Bamboo Room in Lake Worth, which staged a memorable Dylan-and-The Dead double-bill of Crazy Fingers and my Bob Dylan cover band Big Brass Bed. That group had recorded its second CD at the Dream Factory facility in Boynton Beach.
“Corey’s immediate friends might not know it, but he really helped us a lot,” says Big Brass Bed frontman Rod MacDonald, who also rented the studio to record solo CDs and engineer sessions by other artists.
Dream Factory was a joint venture between Dwyer and area singer/songwriter Jerry Leeman, and featured an excellent mixing board and a large, warm-sounding main recording room. Dwyer engineered and co-produced Jason Colannino’s 2004 CD Piece of the Sun there, capturing drum sounds that are among the best I’ve ever recorded. Every instrument, in fact, sounded pristine — including Dwyer’s own Hammond organ parts on one track. I was lucky enough to also record solo projects there with MacDonald, Kare Ranae, Andy Stein, and Tracy Sands before the studio closed in 2011.
Both Crazy Fingers CDs were recorded and engineered by Dwyer, who was also a principal songwriter for the band, which focused on original material on recordings. Audio tastes of his compositions are available at www.reverbnation.com/coreydwyeratlantis.
“For a variety of reasons, we never completed our third CD,” Lavezzoli says, “but that may change.”
The main surprise involved in Dwyer’s death may have been that everyone who could get in to visit or was otherwise closest to him seemed to think that his condition was on an upswing.
“Corey is in ICU,” Solis updated me via email on April 18, “in fragile but stable condition, but has good vital signs.”
“I just visited Corey, and his eyes had opened,” said singer and guitarist Pete Weintraub, bandleader of local Frank Zappa tribute act The Merry Fransterz, on May 8, two days before Dwyer’s death. “He even seemed to be following what people were saying.”
The members of Crazy Fingers honored their regular Sunday slot on the day after Dwyer’s death at Boston’s On the Beach in Delray Beach, playing a show that was equal parts solemn and celebratory. Weintraub, Leeman, drummer Keil Brand and pedal steel guitarist Billy Gilmore sat in on a special dedication of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.”
“It was an incredible night,” Lavezzoli says. “It was basically Corey’s wake. A lot of musicians who’d known him for a long time spoke during intermission, myself included, and his dad was there and spoke as well. We also played some of Corey’s original songs. It wasn’t easy. We’re all still coming to terms with the fact that he’s gone, and the incredible void it’s left. We were running on adrenaline, and energized by the crowd. In a way, the day after proved much harder. We had no show, and nothing to prepare for, and had to wake up and really face the loss.”
“I didn’t say much at Boston’s,” says Dwyer’s father. “I could only get about 10 words out before I could no longer speak. But I’d intended to request that the guys play ‘Ripple,’ my favorite Dead song, before forgetting to ask amid everything that was going on. Yet as I was standing near the stage and talking to some people late that night, I heard the opening chords. It was the last song they played before the encores.
Touring Colorado jam band The Motet also honored Dwyer’s memory with a version of the Dead’s “Fire On the Mountain” at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, a regular stop for Crazy Fingers, on the night of his death.
“There’s no date set for his funeral yet,” Dwyer’s father said in mid-May. “Only some memorials, including one at his mother’s church in The Villages scheduled for June 22.”
“Crazy Fingers is considering doing a special memorial concert to Corey in late June at Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale,” Lavezzoli said, “although nothing has been finalized yet. The band will continue as a four-piece, with either Billy Gilmore or Jerry Leeman filling in on shows in the near future. But pretty soon we’ll have to undergo the search for a full-time replacement.”
Whoever it is will need sizable feet to fill those Jerry Garcia-sized shoes.
See Crazy Fingers at 8 p.m. on May 22 at the Funky Biscuit, 303 S.E. Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton (561-395-2929), at 9:30 p.m. on May 23 at Maxi’s Lineup, 103 S. U.S. Highway 1, Jupiter (561-741-3626), at 9 p.m. on May 24 at Hurricane Grill and Wings, 10125 Glades Rd., Boca Raton (561-218-8848), at 7:30 p.m. every Sunday at Boston’s On the Beach, 40 S. Ocean Blvd., Delray Beach (561-278-3364), at 9 p.m. on May 30 at Maguires Pub, 535 Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale (954-764-4453), and at 10 p.m. on May 31 at The Dive Bar, 3233 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale (954-565-9264).
The Corey Dwyer Memorial Benefit, featuring his friends from the bands The Heavy Pets and the Funky Nuggets, plus a jam with members of various area jam bands, runs from 2 p.m.-midnight on May 25 at the Backyard, 511 N.E. Fourth St., Boynton Beach (561-740-0399). A $10 donation is suggested.
Funds raised will go toward Dwyer’s funeral expenses, with any additional money donated to his daughter Harmony.