When a few members from Vince Herman’s Salmon Head band could not make it to a New Year’s Eve music gig in 1989 at the Eldorado Café in Crested Butte, he called his good friend, Drew Emmitt, to spare some players from his band, Left Hand String Band, to help him fill out the sound for his gig. The show must go on, right? A little shocked by the combined sound and overall energy and vibe from that night, Herman and Emmitt realized that this new blend of spectacular music could turn out to be something wonderful, and consequently, Leftover Salmon was born.
Though they’ve been around for a little more than a quarter of a century and their melodies are nothing less than extraordinary, Leftover Salmon’s music isn’t something you’ll hear on the radio and their vinyl records won’t line the walls at your local Urban Outfitters store. Their music is something that needs to be experienced rather than just listened to.
The band considers its style to be “jamgrass” – a nontraditional bluegrass style with bluesy undertones, a little bit of a rock and roll and folksy influences that is spontaneous, progressive and unrehearsed, which breaks the rules of any mainstream music. Leftover Salmon is often described as a “pioneering band” because it was one of the first to experiment with the original jam-grass style.
“A lot of bands (if you’ve seen them more than one time) will probably do the same show. The cool thing about jam-bands is that different musical styles happen every night and the shows are always different even though we might be on the same tour. Some of our songs last for twenty minutes and people that come to our shows do whatever they feel, a hippie dance thing, the Irish jig or whatever,” said Leftover Salmon banjoist Andy Thorn.
Complete with an accordion, guitar, mandolin, banjo, keys, fiddle, electric guitar, and other guest instrumentalists, Leftover Salmon’s Cajun-jug-inspired songs have featured artists such as Waylon Jennings, Earl Scruggs, Taj Mahal, Lucinda Williams and more.
Leftover Salmon is now equipped with six members, but the lineup has drastically changed over the last 30 years. Only two of the “Big Three” original members from Boulder, (Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman) are still in the band. Mark Vann, the original banjoist, played for Leftover Salmon from 1989 until he lost his battle with melanoma in 2002. Despite their wild success with multiple released records, concert ticket sales, their award-nominated documentary film, Year in Your Ears, and their music being featured on Discovery Channel’s hit television show Deadliest Catch, it obviously always hasn’t been like that.
“When the guys started the band, they really toured hard for years. They played over 200 shows a year for probably the first 10-15 years of the band. They toured in a school bus. Now the bus is just sitting on Vince’s property in Oregon and it’s full of old memorabilia,” Thorn said. “I’ve been in the band for eight or nine years, but I’ve been seeing the band since I was a teenager out in North Carolina.
“They might have been 10 years into being a band when I saw them at MerleFest when I was a young banjo player and I was like, ‘these guys know what’s up.’ So it’s very cool to be in the band now.” These days, Leftover Salmon is getting ready to release its new record May 4, “Something Higher,” and still putting in a lot of hard work and touring over 100 different gigs a year nationwide.
“Our new album is completely original,” Thorn added. “We kind of wrote it collectively. The current band members had been together for two years when we decided it was finally time to document our new band’s sound.”
In Tucson, Ariz., at Wavelab Recording Studio, “Something Higher” was recorded to something called analog tape – which Thorn describes as a unique way to capture an unproduced and raw sound.
“Instead of recording straight to a computer hard drive, you’re actually printing the music onto a piece of tape,” Thorn said. “This process doesn’t happen too often these days. The finished product sounds a lot fuller and more real, and we will have a vinyl that came from analog.”
Since the ages of the band members in Leftover Salmon span over 30 years, the lyrics on the new record describe stories and experiences from all walks of life, and the music is just as diverse. But you don’t have to wait until May 4 to hear it. “Southern Belle,””” Places, and “Show Me Something Higher” are three singles that are out on their website now.
Be sure to check out Leftover Salmon at its Something Higher album release show at eTown Hall in Boulder, and then grab tickets to the band’s first “Something Higher” tour show at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison. The band’s new record can be found on vinyl in local record stores and on its website at www.leftoversalmon.com.