A Rockstar Among Us

Did you know that we have an accomplished percussionist with over two decades of performing experience with us, daily, at Collegiate?

Collegiate’s Director of Performing Arts, Mike Boyd, was born in Elmira, New York in 1969. During his childhood, Boyd’s family moved first to South Carolina, then North Carolina, before officially calling Richmond home in 1978.

A dedicated three-sport athlete in his younger years, Boyd’s musical talent did not reveal itself until sixth grade, when he chose to audition for a spot in the middle school band. With no openings for the trumpet or saxophone, the band director suggested Boyd try his hand, or hands, on the drum kit.

On his third day of high school, Boyd joined his first rock band, the “Edicats,” named after the rockabilly ‘80s group The Stray Cats. Performing mainly ‘50s and ‘60s rock hits, the Edicats played gigs at night clubs, house parties, and some local fraternities (at UVA and University of Richmond). The early exposure to the life of a musician had Boyd hooked.

At Virginia Tech, Boyd entered college as a business major, but his attention soon shifted towards the various bands he joined, including the jazz band, punk-rock groups, and (then) “progressive” rock bands. The most influential of these groups was the jazz band, where Boyd met violinist and Director of Jazz Studies Joe Kennedy, Jr. Cousin to with legendary jazz musician Benny Carter, Kennedy grew up alongside the most talented jazz musicians in the nation. He also became one of the first African-Americans in the Richmond Symphony Orchestra.

Asked about his experience playing under such an accomplished musician as the director, Boyd recalled, “It was the hardest experience of my life, and I fell into severe depression trying to meet his [high] expectations. He yelled at me for playing something wrong every minute. No exaggeration.” Boyd also shared that he would never forget the first compliment he ever received from Kennedy, which occured on the first day of his second semester, while playing “I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You.”

Crazy George and the Lobotomies in 1987. Photo credit: John Roberts.

Developing into a skilled drummer, Boyd started to attract attention from the university’s well-known private music groups. So when local ska band Boy O Boy called for drummer auditions in November 1987, Boyd’s classmates and friends encouraged him to audition. Reluctantly, he agreed. The night before the audition, Boyd performed with his current band, Crazy George and the Lobotomies, through the night and into the early hours of the morning. At 10 a.m., Boyd was awoken by a knock on his dorm room door. The bassist from Boy O Boy dragged a groggy, exhausted Boyd to his audition, where he managed to impress the group, despite running on less than four hours of sleep, and “without sufficient preparation,” Boyd admits.

The next morning Boyd received a call. Boy O Boy was impressed with his ability to rally after a late night gig, which factored into their decision to offer Boyd the position. Not completely thrilled, “Well, I guess I accept,” he answered.

Boy O Boy gaining recognition. Photo credit: Mark Gormus.

This was the beginning of a new era for Boyd. Just prior to their performance on the television show Star Search, Boy O Boy became Fighting Gravity. The band consumed all free time and energy, with the group performing, according to Boyd, “upwards of 200 nights per year and only taking leave for Christmas and one vacation week in August.”

In signing with Mercury Records, Fighting Gravity encountered logistic difficulties due to contract minutiae, but not before the group took the opportunity to record in the Bearsville Studios in 1998. At its peak, Fighting Gravity was featured in a Rolling Stone article, in addition to appearing regularly in local magazines and papers in Richmond. Unfortunately, the band separated when, for some unknown reason, the amazing talent of Fighting Gravity could not capture national attention.

At this point, in considering his future, Boyd began planning. He took a part-time position at Collegiate in 1999, giving drum lessons and directing the school Pep Band. Enjoying his time teaching, Boyd also toyed with the idea of becoming a college-level music professor. Preparing to begin a new chapter in his life, Boyd played his last show with Fighting Gravity in April 2007. Leaving the band meant, “Twenty-four years of playing five days per week, came to a close just like that. I got a new phone number and a new email address, because that was the only way I could truly move forward.”

Fighting Gravity. Photo Credit: Danny Clinch.

In August 2007, Boyd began his training for the Director of Performing Arts position at Collegiate, a position which he holds today. Boyd admits that the temptation to start playing gigs again was difficult to suppress, so he has sought a balance by playing in local musical pit orchestras April through January.

Boyd served as the Director of the Upper School Jazz Band for fifteen years. Zach Moelchert (‘17) testified that, “through Mr. Boyd’s teachings I have not only improved my level of musicianship, but I also gained a trusted mentor.” Kieran Cottrell (‘18) reinforced Moelchert’s statements, claiming that “Yes, [Boyd has] a knowledge of everything music, but he also created a fun classroom environment that was very welcoming during my freshman year.” Recently, Boyd concluded that, “in the best interest of the US Jazz Band, [he] had to be willing to let go a little bit.” Local trombone master Bryan Hooten, of NO BS! Brass Band fame, took over the Upper and Middle School Band Director position in fall 2015.  

Today, Boyd can be found around Collegiate involved with various activities. He plays integral roles in organizing peformances around campus, including the Winter Jazz Jam, and he works extensively with SPARC, including helping put together that arts organization’s Live Art show each year. Boyd believes his most important job at Collegiate is to “build community partnerships,” and that is exactly what he does.

To hear audio from a Boy O Boy concert back in 1994, click here.

To watch the only publicly available footage of Fighting Gravity playing, click here.

About the author

Destana Herring is a senior at Collegiate.