Americana Roots: Leftover Salmon

Americana Roots highlights the freshest and most original Americana and bluegrass from across the pond in the US.  It covers everything from brand-new, just out of the box bands, to cult favourites, to established acts who have yet to reach the UK’s shores.  From the mountains of Colorado is Leftover Salmon who for thirty years have been a crucial link in keeping alive the traditional music of the past while at the same time pushing those sounds into the future with their own weirdly, unique style.  When listening to their music it is easy to draw a line that runs straight from Bill Monroe to the Grateful Dead to John Hartford to The Band to Little Feat to New Grass Revival to Col. Bruce Hampton and ending with Leftover Salmon.

Name: Leftover Salmon.

For Fans of: The Band, Grateful Dead, New Grass Revival, David Bromberg.

Hometown: Boulder, Colorado, USA.

Band Members: Drew Emmitt (mandolin, guitar, fiddle, vocals), Vince Herman (guitar, vocals), Greg Garrison (bass), Alwyn Robinson (drums), Andy Thorn (banjo)


Discography:  ‘Bridges to Bert’ (1993), ‘Ask the Fish’ (1995), ‘Euphoria’ (1997), ‘Nashville Sessions’(1999), ‘Live’ (2002), ‘Leftover Salmon’ (2004), ‘Aquatic Hitchhiker’ (2012), ‘High Country’ (2015), 25′ (2016), ‘Something Higher’ (2018)

Background: “We just said, ‘Let’s take bluegrass, crank it up, add drums, and that will be Leftover Salmon,’” explains guitarist and singer Vince Herman, about the creation of Leftover Salmon thirty years ago.  Salmon was formed in December of 1989 when Drew Emmitt’s Left Hand String Band was short a few members for a run of shows and called their friends in Herman’s Salmon Heads to help fill out the lineup.  The new line-up combined the progressive bluegrass of the Left-Hand String and the cajun-jug band Salmon Heads.  On a long drive to one of those first gigs in 1989, Emmitt and Herman, needing a name for this new band, combined the name of their two bands.  “Had we known it was going to last this long we could have called it Aerosmith or something cool, it might really have made a difference,” jokes Herman, “but what we did do was call our music Poly-Ethnic Cajun slamgrass, and that means we can do whatever we want.”

Since then that is exactly what they have done.  Even though they were birthed from the progressive-bluegrass scene they found at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in their home state of Colorado, Salmon found the addition of drums allowed them a freedom not found in bluegrass.  Within that freedom they became something closer to a modern-day version of The Band with the way they toyed with the fabric of American music.  They have always been centred by their progressive-bluegrass roots, but approach their music with an open willingness to incorporate elements from jazz, blues, country, and rock.  “Growing up we had so much in our heads” says Herman, “not just rock ‘n’ roll and bluegrass, but also folk, cartoon music, jazz, show tunes, and so on.”

This odd mix was best exemplified on their 1999 album, ‘The Nashville Sessions’, which was conceived as an ambitious re-imagining of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s classic ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’.  Like ‘Circle’‘The Nashville Sessions’, featured a broad spectrum of guests, but whereas ‘Circle’ used a roster of legendary musicians to reinterpret a selection of traditional songs and tie two generations together, ‘The Nashville Sessions’ instead used a roster of guests to show just how far the traditional roots of Americana could be stretched.  The album features bluegrass-icons Earl Scruggs, Del McCoury, Bela Fleck, and Sam Bush, blues-stalwart Taj Mahal, country-outlaw legend Waylon Jennings, Lucinda Williams, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna, and many more.

Salmon would further mess with the DNA of roots-music on their 2003 collaboration with Cracker’s David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, ‘O’Cracker Where Art Thou?’.  The album finds Salmon putting their own unique spin on a number of Cracker classics.  ‘O’Cracker Where Art Thou?’ shows just how slim the line between musical worlds can be as familiar Cracker tunes are recast with an odd, bluegrass zeal, yet still sound completely at home in their new skin.

Over their thirty years as a band Salmon have released seven studio albums and three live albums.  The band celebrated their continuing thirty-year career as band with the release of the biographical book, ‘Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival!’, and a vinyl box-set re-release of all of their studio albums.  Throughout their time as a band they have flown just below the harsh glare of the mainstream and been able to do things their own way.  They have become known for high-energy shows that has seen them build a large, passionate, cult-following that has allowed them to pack venues across the US, including everywhere from the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, to Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, to the Caverns in Tennessee, to Tipitina’s in New Orleans.  “I guess we are proof that by showing up as a band consistently it is possible to make a living playing music,” again jokes Herman, before adding, “Getting out and playing music is important for the artist, but it is even more important to society.  In this world you have church, sports, and music to bring us together.  It is important to have interactions in a live setting.  It is what humans do.  We are meant to make music.  I am glad to say that is what Leftover Salmon has done for the past thirty years.”

What They Do Live:

About Tim Newby 59 Articles
Author of books, writer of words, enjoyer of good times. Often found with a beer in hand and barefoot at a festival somewhere. Author of 'Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound & Its Legacy' (2015), 'Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival! (2019). New book 'Pete Browning: The Life & Troubled Times of a Forgotten Legend' due out in 2023. Follow him on twitter @Tim_Newby9 .
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] jokes Herman about the somewhat fishy choice they made.   You can read all about them here, but all you really have to know is that Leftover Salmon are residents of that intersection point […]