Remembering Lance Tilton, The Inspiration Behind Zac Brown Band’s Lance’s Song

In a time where mainstream music seems to rule the airwaves, it is hard to find musicians who stay true to themselves.  The Zac Brown Band are one of the few music acts who do just that, but have found commercial success along with their honest approach.  And through their incredible talent and beautiful songwriting, fans were introduced to a song entitled “Lance’s Song” off their latest album, “Uncaged”.  I had written a review, back in July of 2012, on this blog about that album (see http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2012/07/zac-brown-band-uncaged-track-by-track.html) in which I discussed each track individually. In my post, I had written:

9. Lance’s Song

I need to learn the real meaning behind this song, but it is clearly dedicated to a musician who has passed away. The lyrics tell a story about a man who obviously lived his life engulfed in music, but apparently was not given the credit and respect he deserved until he passed away. Zac sings, with love and pain in his voice: “But they don’t know what they got, until its gone, like it or not. You live on life, you try to do what’s right, we’re all here a-waiting for our silver invitation to the big band in the sky”. It is a beautiful dedication to someone the ZBB obviously admired.

After seeing my blog, Troy Tilton, the brother of Lance Tilton, and the subject of ZBB’s “Lance’s Song”, reached out to me.  Troy has truly done a service to his brother’s memory as he has discussed many facets of his life, music career, and tragic passing.  With Troy’s permission, I have created this article so that Zac Brown Band fans and the entire music world can discover who Lance Tilton was and the true story behind the lyrics in Lance’s Song.

Troy explained to me that his brother, Lance, was a self taught drummer who started playing drums when he was about six years old. Lance was well known, in the Atlanta, Georgia area, as a skilled drummer who sat in with numerous bands in countless live sets.  Lance’s relationship to Zac Brown and the ZBB was through his friendship with fiddler, Jimmy De Martini. Before Jimmy had joined ZBB, he was in a tribute band with Lance called Dave Mathews Cover Band better known as DMCB.  When DMCB broke up, Jimmy began playing in ZBB and Lance formed a band called Jade Hollow with the former bass player of DMCB, Jon Morrison.  Lance free-lanced for several Atlanta based bands and, at one point, was a temporary fill-in drummer for some of the shows that Zac played.

In speaking with Troy and reading various other website’s articles in which have discussed “Lance’s Song”, it is evident that no one has taken the time to really learn about Lance or the true meaning behind the lyrics that Zac and Nic wrote.  In an effort to clarify the song and help fans understand what the true story is, Troy has stated to me, “I believe what gives Lance’s Song an air of mystery is that the lyrics never really explain the circumstances around Lances death. Lance and Jon Morrison, on Cinco De Mayo (in) 2010, accepted a small gig in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After the show, around 2:00 a.m., Lance and John decided to drive back to Atlanta (approximately a two hour drive). While driving through Dalton, Georgia, Lance fell asleep behind the wheel, drove off the road and into a tree, instantly killing Lance and seriously injuring Jon.
At one point in the song, Zac sings:
“Rollin down the windows
Trying hard to fight the sleep
Money’s never much for a band in Tennessee
Another night of playing
To a crowd with no ears
Wanna hear the songs they know
And fill their bellies full of beer”
Troy interpreted those lyrics for me: “the gig John and Lance played in Chattanooga was small and didn’t pay much (money).   It didn’t make sense to them to pay for a hotel that night and that is why they decided to drive home.”
As you can see from the picture above, Lance is playing the drums with Zac Brown and Jimmy De Martini. “Lances Song” was co-written by Zac Brown and Nic Cowan, a musician on Zac’s Label, “Southern Ground”. Occasionaly, Lance played drums in Nic Cowan’s band at local shows. The photos you see on this post are found on Lance’s webpage (http://us.myspace.com/lanceondrums/photos), including those with Zac, the Band, Willie Nelson and numerous other artists.

From listening to “Lance’s Song” countless times, researching who Lance Tilton was, and my conversations with his brother Troy, it truly is apparent that Lance lived his life engulfed in music, with honesty in his craft.  He had played the drums with a plethora of talent in his life and inspired one of the great bands in music today to create a beautiful dedication to him.  I hope this article finally allows the truth about the song to come to the forefront and allows people to discover who Zac got his inspiration from.

LYRICS TO “Lance’s Song”
Doing what you love has a high price to pay
Some put on a suit, but he ran the other way
Drums drown out the yuppies
And the one’s who couldn’t dream
Cause the freedom music gave him was worth more than anything

They don’t know
What they got
Until it’s gone
Like it or not
You live on love
You try to do what’s right
We’re all here waiting for our silver invitation
To our big band in the sky

Rollin down the windows
Trying hard to fight the sleep
Money’s never much for a band in Tennessee
Another night of plain’
To a crowd with no ears
Wanna hear the songs they know
And fill their bellies full of beer

But they don’t know
What they got
Until it’s gone
Like it or not
You live on love
You try to do what’s right
We’re all here waiting for our silver invitation
To our big band in the sky

And when he closed his eyes
Fell into a dream that never dies
And when the thunder comes
You can hear his kick drum in the sky
Feel the rain
Fall from our eyes

Cause we don’t know
What we got
Until it’s gone
Like it or not
You live on love
You try to do what’s right
For him there’s no more waiting
Got his silver invitation
To do a little playing
For the big band in the sky

ZBB Live Video Performance of “Lance Song”