There’s a great, great interview at Salon tody with Phish guitarist, singer, songwriter Trey Anastasio, a discussion between Trey and fellow musician and journalist Ross Simonini (aka Roos Shamanana).
I’m not even a Phish fan, but I love reading about the craft of music, and whatever I might think of Trey and his band, I do have enormous respect for the fact that he is a true student of music and has a deep reverence for his musical ancestors. That Simonini is also a musician and appears fairly knowledgeable about music history, allows for a gloriously detailed exploration of the topic.
So, what’s to nitpick?
Well, Simonini, despite being able to quote Charlie Parker and John Coltrane with seeming ease and relevance, writes:
A highly divisive band, known best for its obsessive, vagabond following, Phish remains a baffling success in the music industry. Since it began, the group’s musical style has continued to be a fluid spate of genres, most of which have very little in common with contemporary music, and some of which are laughably silly. A typical live show will include streaks of calypso, ’70s hard rock, jazz fusion, salsa, labyrinthine prog-rock, old-timey music, new wave and barbershop quartet…
Phish — and Anastasio in particular — is often cited as the musical heir to the Grateful Dead and leader of the new generation of so-called jam bands, but while the audiences may overlap, the band’s music bears little similarity to the bluegrass rock of the Dead…
Conclusion: Ross Simonini doesn’t really know the music of the Grateful Dead.
To generalize the Dead by labeling them “bluegrass rock,” whatever the hell THAT is, is a gross misscategorization. And, given that the music industry is plagued by genre pigeon-holing, Simonini really betrays his impressive credentials as a contributor to The Believer and The New York Times.
Truth is, the Grateful Dead was a blueprint for Phish in just about every way you can name, from a “vagabond following” (Deadheads), to a highly improvisational approach to performance, to a repertoire that crossed a wide variety of genres.
Simonini has his Phish genre list, so here’s my Dead list, off the top of my head, not meant to be exhaustive:
- Blues: Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
- Rhythm & Blues: Turn On Your Love Light
- Psychedelic: Dark Star
- Psychedelic Folk: Box of Rain
- Ragtime: Dupree’s Diamond Blues
- Country: Dire Wolf
- Gospel: And We Bid You Goodnight
- Folk: Uncle John’s Band
- Early Rock & Roll: Johnny B. Goode
- 100% Unique Good Old Grateful Dead: Truckin’
- Mariachi: Mexicali Blues
- Jazzy: Eyes of the World
- Baroque: China Doll
- Symphonic: Terrapin Station
- Prog Rock: Blues for Allah
- Disco: Shakedown Street
- Calypso: Man Smart, Women Smarter