Friends since high school, the members of Phish have rocked the world and it’s millions of fans since 1991. Many who are not familiar with Phish’s music may hear the songs and consider them similar to the Greatful Dead, after all, they do have many things in common. After reading this paper, hopefully the reader will figure out for themselves the distinction, and experience a new insight into world of music featuring Phish.
Trey Anatasio, the lead singer of Phish, had been writing music since high school. A native of New Jersey, Trey failed elementary music class not because he was a bad musician, but because he had poor behavior. That did not hold him back though. Trey completed his high school experience in Connecticut. An avowed Led Zeppelin fan, Trey caught onto the drums very quickly, but still had yet to pick up a guitar. It was not until his junior year that Trey began playing the guitar, but his virtuosity was immediately apparent (Bernstein, 1).
College was where Phish was put together. In his first month at the University of Vermont, Trey teamed up with fellow freshman, Jonathan Fishman (Fish), when Trey heard drumming through his dormitory walls and investigated the source of the sublime rhythms (Bernstein, 3). The next member, Jeff Holdsworth, was found in much of the same way. The three teamed up and jammed together in one of the rec rooms at school. Mike Gordon joins the band next, responding to signs posted around campus.
As it turned out, Jeff knew someone who needed a band for an ROTC Halloween party to be held in the basement of a campus dorm. The band volunteered to take the gig. Even though they had only been playing together for a few months, they had assembled a play list of cover tunes and a demo tape. They played under the temporary name of Blackwood Convention (Bernstein, 4).
Around 1985, the members of the band came up with the name Phish, when horsing around with Jon Fishman’s last name. It stuck and that became the name of the band.
After the name was established, the band started to get more and more gigs. They signed a five week contract with a local bar to play happy hour every Thursday. The bar, although popular, did not attract big crowds, but the band did however, attract loyal fans. One fan, Amy Skelton,
claims to be the first Phish fan, and is now their merchandise manager. Trey and the band managed to do something few in the rock and roll history have ever done. Some of their very first songs were classics?and remain some of the most adored tunes in the bands repertoire, proving that although it would be another decade before fans would hear these songs, the creative acumen was present at the band’s genesis (Bernstein, 5).
By 1988, Phish began playing out-of-state shows. They had their loyal fans, but with each show, more and more faces began to show up and stay with the band. Hot spots such as Greenwich Village, Boston, Colorado, and New Hampshire, were all part of the bands first tour.
The winter and spring of 1989 marked one of the most important periods of the band’s development. They finished recording an album at Euphoria Studios in Revere, MA, laying down six new tracks after putting four on tape in the fall of 1987. The album’s title was Junta. By that summer, Phish had an entire staff in place, which would remain with them through their ascent into arenas in the mid 1990’s (Gehr, 3).
As the staff grew, the band’s following and fans grew as well. Their next album, Lawn Boy, was released that September and the 10,000 copies that were printed sold out
within a short period of time. Unfortunately, the label, Rough Trade Records went out of business shortly after that and the band did not see a dime of the money (Bernstein, 8). Phish’s earnings that year were humble, but consistent. They even managed to find their way onto top-concert earner’s chart. With this little bit of fame, the band still did not have a record label. Elektra Records though, had their eye on them, and Phish saw the deal with Elektra, a definite possibility.
A Picture of Nectar was the next released album. It took them off the road in June, but fans were craving more, so the band was ready to tour again in July. The next spring, yet another album, Hoist, was released. This became the band’s fifth album. Finally, a video was released for the single Down With Disease off of Hoist. The band did not like doing it and they did not like the finished product. Trey told the Washington Post that it was too commercial (Gehr, 11).
Controversy did arise, however not between the band members, but the fans. Many were saying that all of the favorite Phish songs were five years old . Phish heard the criticism and responded with a free benefit concert introducing six new songs. The fans loved the new songs along with the psychedelic abandon, the open-ended jamming,
and the delicate vocalization that they had grown so fondly of.
Their next album was the first live album that they had put on the market. A Live One was released the next June and received respectable air-play. The secret of this little Vermont band was starting to get out and this little band was about to get really big. Phish ended their stellar year with two sold out concerts in Madison Square Garden. Their sales exploded from $200,000 in 1991 to $15.2 million in 1995 (Gehr, 24).
In 1996, Phish had just finished recording their latest album, Billy Breathes. They played at the New Orleans Heritage Festival and so many fans, soon to be called Phish heads took this Mardi Gras town by storm.
The music, similar to the Greatful Dead psychedelically speaking, was and still is something you listen to, not something that you just hear. The fans were made up of college students, teenagers, and hippies who also listened to the Dead. The audience gathered hours before shows and hung out in parking lots. Phish sometimes even made their way to the lots to meet the fans who made them so popular.
Phish did not stop there. Their next album, Slip, Stitch, and Pass, also produced show stopper tunes that the fans craved to hear every show.
All of the Phish shows are different and unique. Since their set lists are always up in the air, each show is comprised of different jams, and unique variations to their songs. Audience participation is encouraged and the fans really get into the whole aura of Phish.
The band has toured Europe many times and has always come back to give an amazing performance at some random spot in the United States. From Indian Reservations to Air Plane landing fields, the band now draws over 65, 000 people at each show. Usually, the same people are seen over and over at shows, however the new fans become drawn to the shows and often come back for more.
The band will continue to make records and will continue to please its followers as long as they stay together. Whenever the band leaves the stage for good, they will have left their legacy behind. The thousands that came to know the band through other means than radio and music videos are living proof that the power of music can operate outside the confines of the modern business that music has become.