Nitpicking Ross Simonini

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

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