These days, there's a freshness to the jammy, jazzy bluegrass of Leftover Salmon By Chris Young
Leftover Salmon has spent the last 27-some years amalgamating.
On New Year's Eve 1989, Vince Herman's the Salmon Heads haphazardly joined forces with Drew Emmitt's The Left Hand String Band, a momentous event that merged Herman's old-timey, Cajun-and zydeco-inspired jug band with the progressive bluegrass stylings of Emmitt. Although unplanned, the pair immediately felt an energy that, alongside banjo player Mark Vann, carried them throughout the ensuing decades.
"Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass" is the term the band ultimately used to dub their musical proclivities, and it's an appropriate appellation for the group's melding of disparate musical forces and minds over the years—something the six-piece continues to do.
Fearlessly mashing genres—from bluegrass and folk, to Cajun and calypso, to jam band rock and soulful blues—it's hard to overstate Leftover Salmon's influence on the American musical tradition, especially that of the modern jamgrass scene. Rule-breaking bands such as Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass and many more have all drawn inspiration from the pioneering efforts of these slamgrass forefathers.
Don't let all this lull you into thinking that Leftover Salmon is some kind of dusty antiquity in the rock and roll museum. This exhibit is just as lively as ever. Over the years, the founding members have continued to breathe new life into the band, aided by infusions of fresh talent. There was a particular void to fill in 2002 following the passing of original member Vann, who lost his battle with cancer, and in the subsequent years, there's been a jazz inflection to the group's always-improvisational nature—particularly in the live arena.
"Improv has always played a role in bluegrass soloing, so in that sense there is some overlapping of the two styles," Herman explains. "Bluegrass is an attitude and so is jazz, as I see it. You can jazz-up any song and also bluegrass-it-up. I draw no borders."
It seems neither do the later additions of bassist Dr. Greg Garrison (referred to with the honorific thanks to his doctor of musical arts degree in jazz studies), banjoist Andy Thorn (who holds a degree in jazz guitar from the University of North Carolina), drummer Alwyn Robinson (who honed his jazz and jam skills at Texas Tech), and pianist Erik Deutsch (who christened his 2015 solo album, "Outlaw Jazz"). Mix it all up and it's a sonically succulent recipe for a synchronous live show.
"We've been having lots of fun in the band as it is now," says Herman of the current lineup. "There's a great new energy and a sense of wanting to explore all kind of styles and feels. After 27 years of doing this, feeling this fresh and excited is a real delight for us."
The coming days present opportunities for Leftover Salmon. From a new album ("We've been writing together for this next record that we will be recording in May, and the process is really a great joy," Herman relates. "Lots of ideas flying around with us these days.") to the live stage, "It certainly is a unique time to be writing politically," Herman says. "I think the music really could have more relevance to the culture as a whole as we look at getting safely through this new president. We hope to capture what it feels like in 2017."
So as we move further into the new year, it's now time to gather together in the communal setting that live music provides and experience all the energy and feels Leftover Salmon can supply.
Fri., Feb. 17
8pm doors, 9pm show
The Domino Room
51 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend
$20 advance, $25 door