Thirty-four years into Phish‘s legendary career, the band has only toured with a horn section once. In 1991, the quartet brought together a pair of local musicians and a childhood friend of keyboardist Page McConnell to form the Giant Country Horns. Phish and the Giant Country Horns embarked on the 14-show Phish Summer Tour 1991. The horn section reunited for the first time in the trio formation since 1991 late night on New Year’s Eve 2016 – 2017 as part of the James Brown Dance Party Phish after-show in New York City. After Phish’s first Baker’s Dozen concert on July 21, the Giant Country horns performed with Vermont jam quartet Twiddle at NYC’s Irving Plaza and repeated the feat one week later at the band’s Tumble Down Festival in Burlington. On Sunday, December 31 the Giant Country Horns will again augment Twiddle, this time for their New Year’s Eve concert at the Palace Theatre in Albany.
The Giant Country Horns features alto saxophonist Dave “The Truth” Grippo, tenor saxophonist Russell Remington and trumpeter Carl “Gears” Gerhard. All three musicians sat in with Phish at various points throughout the late ’80s and leading up to Summer Tour 1991. That summer, the seven-piece ensemble played 14 shows up and down the Eastern Seaboard in a mere 17 days. Both Dave and Russ went on to become longtime members of Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio’s Trey Anastasio Band, though each has since left the project.
New Year’s Eve marks the third time the Giant Country Horns will have performed with Twiddle and just their fourth performance as a three-piece horn section since Summer 1991. Only “Orlando’s” was repeated by Twiddle with the GCH between the July 21st concert and the Tumble Down set, so it would appear any and all songs are on the table. Russell, The Truth and Gears spoke with JamBase about their formation, the Phish tour and Twiddle.
JamBase: How did the Giant Country Horns first become a horn trio?
Carl Gerhard: The idea to have Phish tour with a horn section came about shortly after I performed alongside Dave Grippo during a Nectar’s gig with Phish. That show at Nectar’s in January of ’91 was billed as the “Johnny B. Fishman Jazz Ensemble.” Trey asked me the next day if I could join Dave and Russ Remington for what would eventually become the ’91 Horn Tour.
JamBase: What was your most memorable moment on stage with Phish?
Russell Remington: The song was “You Enjoy Myself” on the first Phish tour with the GCH horns. The venue was the Somerville Theater and the horn section had a choreographed set of moves on the mini-trampolines while we were playing and we didn’t even lose any teeth!
There was a cute girl in the audience with whom I had been making eye contact and I was thinking: Man, look at me playing with Phish I must be pretty cool! So In between horn riffs I’d make some more eye contact while I was bouncing up and down on that damned mini-tramp and feeling pretty good about myself and life in general. The song ended with the whole band jumping off the trampolines sideways and landing (like gymnasts after a routine) on the last beat of the song.
Not sure how it happened but somehow I landed on my ass and with it wedged between the speaker monitor and the tramp. I was floundering sort of like a beetle on its back. I couldn’t get out by myself because I had my sax in my left hand. With the assistance of Carl and Dave, I was hoisted out and then Dave held my hand up as one does with a champion was has just succeeded in battle. That cute girl in the audience didn’t make any more eye contact.
JamBase: This summer, the Giant Country Horns played with Twiddle at Irving Plaza and their Burlington Waterfront festival Tumble Down. What is your approach to performing with a band for the first time?
Dave Grippo: My approach to playing with a band for the first time is to listen to them many times and then learn their music. Then, I see how can I fit in with what I do with regard to my sound and style.
JamBase: How would you describe the music of Twiddle to someone who has never heard them before?
Carl Gerhard: A great mix of funk, rock, reggae and jazz. Fantastic songwriting (music and lyrics) and musicianship, also. They have such a tremendous vibe on stage, which lends itself to them really musically communicating with each other, freely improvising and making each show special for the audience.
JamBase: Having been in the live music sphere for 30 years, what do you think about the current scene and the direction it is headed?
Russell Remington: I love the eclecticism of it! The Global Village continues to homogenize, hence the influences from even once obscure regions are felt and heard by more people and sooner. Just when you think everything has been done, someone finds a new way to combine elements musically. Or to paraphrase those who came before me: “Music: the final frontier. We are still boldly going where no man or woman has gone before. Our mission: to explore strange new grooves and seek out new harmonies and new instrumental combinations.”
JamBase: Do you see any similarities between Phish in the early 1990s and Twiddle today?
Dave Grippo: Similarities…rather than stating the obvious about fan base or jam potential, I feel that Phish in the ’90s did not have nearly the technology resources that Twiddle now has, but both groups are very hard working and super creative bands that enjoy performing music to large audiences and certainly give their audiences their money’s worth.
JamBase: What can everyone expect at the Palace Theatre from the Giant Country Horns’ collaboration with Twiddle?
Russell Remington: A tight, grooving and well-rehearsed horn section. We will give 200%! We are very excited to play with Twiddle because they are kickass musicians. I have a ton of respect for Twiddle’s tune-smithing as well as their ability to play really hard music all the while making it sound relatively easy and definitely accessible. Their tunes are very challenging to play because they routinely go into odd meters, change keys and tempos and juxtapose angularity into the mix!
JamBase: Lastly, if you could perform on stage with any band, past or present, who would it be?
Carl Gerhard: James Brown!!!
Twiddle begins their headlining run at The Palace Theatre in Albany on Saturday night, December 30 with support from The Marcus King Band. On New Year’s Eve, the quartet will be joined by the Giant Country Horns.