On Mardi Gras, Tuesday, February 17, 2015, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of my biggest jamband icons – Vince Herman, of Leftover Salmon – to ask him about how things are going, 25-plus years down the road.
Was there ever a time when you just threw up your hands and said, “It’s Over?” Or did you always have a sense Leftover Salmon would live on, somehow?
Yeah, we threw up our hands and said it was over for about 2 ½-3 years.
After Marc passed?
We went on for a couple of years after Marc, had all kinds of great banjo players with us and did another record, and after that it was just time to give it a pause and do some other things. And slowly we kept doing more gigs and just let it rip; its big fun, it’s a big pile of tunes, it’s a great cast of characters to play with, and going into 2015 it feels fresher than ever.
I first saw Andy Thorn with the Emmit-Nershi Band in Santa Fe – when did Leftover Salmon get a sense he was “the guy?”
When we did our first gig after taking the pause for a while, we played the Telluride Bluegrass Festival as Vince, Drew & Friends. Andy did that one, it fit perfectly and he did the next couple ones, and it was obvious he was the missing link.
He fit right in?
He sure did.
What about Bill Payne? What can you say about how he came into the fold?
We’re just delirious that Bill Payne has been able to join the band he’s just been ridiculous. No one would ever dream of such a good, lucky thing happening. Bill is an incredible player. He’s probably one of the most recorded players in rock’n’roll on the keyboards. Stylistically he’s all over the place; he can really take a tune and open it up, sonically, to a million different places in a couple seconds time. We’re pinching ourselves all the time getting to play with Bill.
And he’s officially a member of the band?
That’s right. Bill’s with us for a hundred gigs a year.
You’ve always incorporated Little Feat songs from time to time, but this is now Bill Payne’s gig, pretty much?
Of course we do a lot of little Feat songs now that Bill’s in the band, and songs that he’s writing currently with Robert Hunter. We’re getting prepped to do a New Orleans record next fall, writing tunes for that and getting our New Orleans boogie-woogie on.
You’re bringing the Cajun back?
You betcha, man.
I was listening to “Bridges to Bert” on the way up and I realized the Cajun flavor was a lot more prevalent then.
We started off with a button accordion player, then went to a keyboard accordion player.
Is Bill playing accordion on the keyboard?
He’s got an accordion patch on there, yeah.
The recently-deceased Bobby Keys once said [in a Rolling Stone interview], “I’ve played in bands with A-team players around, but unless they can play together it doesn’t do any good.” Since you’ve recently been integrating new players into the mix, what have you noticed about the differences and similarities in how you go about “being the band,” writing, performing, recording, than before?
It’s a lot of great new influences. Alwyn Robinson on drums is bringing a lot of different perspectives. Bill Payne, of course, is an amazing person to write with and play with; just an endless realm of possibility. Greg Garrison, the bass player, has a great melodic sense and great sense of arranging. It’s really great that Drew and I after 25 years of doing this have ourselves surrounded by such great a great crew of people. Andy Thorn just writes great tunes and brings a great energy.
I love the “Thornpipe,” I totally do.
Yeah, it’s a good thing to be playing with Andy, that’s for sure.
What were some of your earliest sources of inspiration, 25 years ago?
Probably the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. And Poco.
Who’s among your biggest sources of inspiration now?
A band out of Denton, Texas, called Brave Combo.
I’m guessing you have a favorite Grateful Dead show.
’83 is the one I saw. That was my favorite. I know the legendary one is ’77, but you know, you have personal relationships to shows and that was the one for me.
pictured l to r - Drew Emmitt (guitar), Alwyn Robinson (drums), Vince Herman (washboard), Greg Garrison (bass), Andy Thorn (banjo) - not pictured, far right, Bill Payne (keyboards)