Jon Fishman Talks Phish’s Early Years In New Interview

By Scott Bernstein Oct 23, 2019 7:15 am PDT

Phish drummer Jon Fishman discussed the band’s origins and an incident that led Phish to stop covering the Grateful Dead as part of an interview with Maine Cannabis Chronicle. Fish also recalled a meeting with famed author Kurt Vonnegut, his family’s move to Maine and various other topics.

“Two months into being on campus [at the University of Vermont], I was practicing my drums in my dorm room when [Phish guitarist] Trey [Anastasio] walked in and said, ‘Oh my god, it’s you!’ which was funny because I didn’t know him and I didn’t know how he knew me.,” Fishman explained. As Trey recalled during an appearance on Phish Radio, Anastasio spotted Fish on campus during orientation and laughed at the way he looked. “‘That guy doesn’t belong here. At all,’” the guitarist remarked to his friend about Fishman.

The drummer noted Trey grabbed his guitar and short-lived member of Phish Jeff Holdsworth for a jam session. “We just immediately started playing. We never even had any conversations about ‘what kind of music do you like?’” Fish said. “He and our bass player Mike [Gordon] met at the same pole hanging up signs. Mike had signs looking for a band,” the Syracuse native added about how Gordon wound up joining the band.

Fishman told an interesting story about Phish’s decision to stop covering the Grateful Dead:

“I remember the exact moment it happened. We were playing at a venue in Burlington sometime between ‘86 and ‘88; there were probably five people in the room. And there’s this guy. He’s fucking huge, like this bear of a man. The stage was about a foot high and incredibly small. That whole set, regardless of what we were playing, that guy was standing right in front of Trey just screaming, ‘Jerry! Jerry!’ The guy was high and screaming Jerry Garcia’s name in Trey’s face. Trey was so fucking mad.”

Jon laughs while recalling the story. “So we get off the stage, and Trey is fuming. He goes ‘That’s it! We are never playing another Grateful Dead song as long as we live. Never.’”

Phish went from the time of the incident Fishman recalled to a 1998 performance of “Terrapin Station” in Virginia Beach without covering the Dead. “It was all in honor of this great musician who we loved, one of the most musical guys who ever lived,” the drummer explained of the decision to cover “Terrapin Station.”

Phish – Terrapin Station Shared by Character Zero

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Another story Jon told the interviewer was a meeting he had with Kurt Vonnegut. “I don’t remember much of the conversation because the whole time, I was like ‘Oh my god, oh my god, I’m talking with Kurt Vonnegut’ – I was a total groupie!,” Fishman recalled. “It was a good experience because it put me in the frame of what it must be like for some people when they meet me. I don’t think there’s any big deal about meeting me, but I’ve got to honor the fact that for some people, they’re probably going to have a hard time getting words out, and I need to be nice about that.” Vonnegut went on to create album artwork for Hook, Line & Sinker, a Phish album that didn’t actually exist, upon the request of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

Head to Maine Cannabis Chronicle for more from Fishman about dealing with fame, how his family wound up in Maine and additional topics.

[H/T – @rphish]

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