Leftover Salmon: 20 Years Down River

By: Nancy Dunham

Editor's Note:

In honor of Leftover Salmon's historic 20th anniversary, we're working with the band to offer fans a unique look back at their legendary career. Pop in an old tape (yup, we've still got our Maxells), catch the band at a festivaaaaaal, or take a look around JamBase and Leftover Salmon's influence on the live music scene(s) we cover and care for so deeply is clear and present. In fact, we're proud to say that Leftover Salmon helped water the very soil that JamBase has grown out of. Maybe you feel the same way.

Yet, as we celebrate what Salmon has given the music world, they want to give us just a little bit more. Leftover Salmon is well aware that they'd never be celebrating 20 years if it weren't for the fans and they want to say thank you. We're honored to partner up with them on this opportunity to bring you two albums worth (28 tracks total) of mostly never-before released live Leftover Salmon that covers the band's entire career. It's packed with special guests, classics, covers, and it tells as much of the band's story as the words you're about to read. And they're all free, like a proper thank you should be. At the end of this story you'll find a track listing, link and more info on Part 1 of our four part free live album download, but you can get started and Download Leftover Salmon Celebrating 20 Years Disc 1 now. You can also stream the first installment with the nifty little audio player to the right. And keep an eye out for the second batch of songs coming soon.

For Part 2 of our Celebrating Leftover Salmon feature go here.

Leftover Salmon vintage press shot
Emmitt, Vann, Garrison, Herman, McKay, Martinez
Ben Kaufmann's life was changed by Leftover Salmon. The Yonder Mountain String Band bass player knew he wanted to be a musician, but it wasn't until he was 19 and saw the Boulder-based "Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass" band at The Wetlands in New York that he had a view of what musical path to take.

"From the minute they took the stage, their music blew me away," said Kaufmann. "I never heard anything like them before. As soon as the show ended, I went over to the VW bus with the merch table and bought the CD and listened to it and said, 'Where does this music come from?' That's what encouraged me to move to Boulder."

Stories about how Leftover Salmon affected various lives abound in all quarters of the music community. Kaufmann recalls that once YMSB formed, Leftover Salmon was instrumental in getting them gigs in the Denver area.

The impact of Salmon is even more interesting when you consider the fact that when the band formed in 1989 – when members of the Salmon Heads joined forces with the Left Hand String Band – it occurred by happenstance.

"Last night I watched [Martin Scorsese's film about The Rolling Stones] Shine A Light and those guys are so much like us," said Leftover Salmon co-founder Drew Emmitt, the group's mandolin player. "It's not that we're like The Rolling Stone but they're just a ragtag bunch of maniacs like us."

In the film, Mick Jagger talks about forming the band in 1962 and thinking he'd try it one year and see if it worked out. If so, Jagger said he'd re-up for another year. Of course, the band is still going strong.

"That's just like us," said Emmitt. "There was no preconceived notion. We never thought we'd go out and play and travel the country. We just wanted to go out and play and have fun."

Looking Back On Leftover Salmon

"Their music is unique. It just makes you feel good," said Wavy Gravy, an activist, comic and all around friend to musicians since the 1960s. "There is nothing like them, with their incredible buoyancy and joy. That's what they do – they make joy."

Drew Emitt & Vince Herman - Leftover Salmon by Eric Abramson
That joy must have been what the fates had in mind when they brought the core of the band together.

Drew Emmitt grew up in Tennessee just outside Nashville. Although his family was musical and artistic – his dad was a writer, his mom a playwright – the family feared that Emmitt wouldn't be able to make a living in music. But Emmitt was hooked from a young age, having grown up on influences that ranged from Gordon Lightfoot to Muddy Water to The Allman Brothers Band and Black Sabbath.

"I was exposed to classic music, rock & roll, and the blues. It was coming from all sides," Emmitt said of his parents and siblings.

At about the same time, Vince Herman was growing up in Pittsburgh where Motown and doo-wop sounds prevailed.

"My first influence, though, was actually polka," said Herman. "I was convinced you couldn't get married without an accordion. I still have a weakness for the accordion."

In high school, Herman became a fan of Southern rock and bluegrass, and those influences deepened when he was in college in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he got into the "bluegrass and old timey scene."

Vince Herman - Leftover Salmon by Eric Abramson
"That really made me want to do that for a living," said Herman, who put his dream on hold after he got married. "I did every kind of work imaginable, from working on fishing boats to construction. I tried the real jobs but they just weren't for me."

Emmitt, whose family moved to Boulder when he was about 10, also tried various jobs - most notably working with children in a daycare center, which he enjoyed - but found himself more and more caught up in the city's music scene.

"In Boulder in the '70s, it was a little more folk. Pure Prairie League, Stephen Stills, and Dan Fogelberg were always around," said Emmitt. "But it was when I saw Hot Rize that everything totally changed for me. I was totally bit by the bluegrass bug."

Although he was in garage bands in high school, the atmosphere surrounding the bluegrass scene was a strong pull for Emmitt.

"I realized there was a whole culture attached to it," he said. "I loved that whole scene of people getting together around the campfire and playing. That's what really got me."

The first time Herman was fully exposed to the bluegrass scene was in about 1977 at a festival at the University of Pittsburgh.

"I had been playing music for years at that point but that's really when I found my musical niche," said Herman. "What a great way to socialize and enjoy music."

Continue reading for more on Leftover Salmon...

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