If we were to travel back 18 years in time this week, we would find ourselves in July of 1991, right in the middle of Phish’s famous summer tour with The Giant Country Horns. Spanning only sixteen shows, Phish took local musicians Dave Grippo (alto sax), Russell Remington (tenor sax), and Carl Gerhard (trumpet) on the road for what was an exciting and musically divergent few weeks.
Taking their moniker from Giant Country White Bread, a brand of bread from New Hampshire, The Giant Country Horns were born. Spicing up many standard compositions with horn arrangements that sounded completely natural- like they were meant to be there- the horns gave songs like “Gumbo,” “Cavern,” and “Suzy Greenberg” new life for this summer run. In more open improvisational pieces, like “Tweezer,” “Mike’s” and “Stash,” the horn ensemble lent a darker feel of fusion to the jams, enhancing the band’s interplay and adding another layer on top of the textured jams. This well-loved tour of early-era Phish started in their home town of Burlington, and culminated at Amy Skelton’s Farm in Auburn, ME for what would be the earliest foreshadowing of the Phish festival.
In addition to enhancing songs already in the band’s rotation, the addition of The Giant Country Horns also allowed Phish to break out some jazz tunes that had been shelved such as “Caravan” and “Flat Fee,” some new covers in The Doors’ “Touch Me” and Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooch,” and breakouts like “Frankenstein.” The horn lineup certainly lent a jazzier feel to Phish’s early music, which was rooted in jazz tradition, itself.
Largely contained to the Northeast corridor, Phish’s 1991 Horns Tour did stretch all the way to Atlanta during a four-show southern dip between the festival-like weekends at Arrowhead Ranch in Parksville, NY and their finale at Amy’s Farm. Though the members of The Giant County Horns would reappear in various incarnations come 1994 and beyond, it was this sixteen-show collaboration that was the central focus of Phish’s experiments with their horn section.
With Grippo, Remington, and Gerhard on the bus for the tour, the band’s onstage dynamic took new form. Trey and the horns played off of each other dynamically, and the band, as a whole, took on a new sonic shape for these shows. Often adding rhythmic lines as well as complementary lead melodies and psychedelic backdrops, the horns brought a whole new element to Phish’s music. Trained in the jazz tradition, Phish easily blended with their guests, playing off of their musical ideas amidst jams as well allowing space for their composed accompaniment. What resulted over the abbreviated tour was some of the most memorable music of Phish’s early years.
The Giant Country Horns appeared as a six-piece ensemble with Phish for a couple more shows in 1994 at Burlington’s Flynn Theatre (4.4) and New York’s Beacon Theater (4.15), and the band periodically featured different horn lineups through the years. The Cosmic Country Horns- a six-piece lineup led by New Orleans’ Michael Ray, included Grippo, Gerhard, and some of his own Cosmic Crewe- joined the band for a few shows in 1994. This lineup gave the music a more free-jazz / Sun-Ra feel rather than the more classic swing style of accompaniment of The Giant Country Horns. Additionally, individual members of both groups have appeared with Phish over the years, including their landmark Remain In Light performance in which Grippo and Cosmic trumpeter, Gary Gazaway, joined the band for their defining set. Grippo and Russell Remington would go on to become integral members of Trey’s solo band in later years, and friendships between the musicians still exist. Will we ever see the return of the horns- who knows? But just as always in this Phishy world- anything is possible.
Below is an all-SBD compilation of highlights from Summer ’91 with The Giant Country Horns. Check it out to hear a wholly different vibe to our favorite band.
1. “The Landlady” 7.23 Washington, DC II
2. “Tweezer” 7.21 Arrowhead Ranch, NY II
3. “Cavern” 7.23 II
4. “Magilla” 7.14 Townshend, VT II
5. “Split Open and Melt” 7.14 II
6. “Bathtub Gin” 7.14 III
7,8. “Oh Kee Pa > Suzy” 7.23 I
9. “Stash” 7.15 New Music Seminar, NYC, NY
10. “AC/DC Bag” 7.21 II
11. “Flat Fee” 7.23 I
12,13. “Dinner and a Movie > Gumbo” 7.23 II
14. “Frankenstein” 7.15
15,16,17. “Mike’s > Hydrogen > Weekapaug” 7.21 I
18. “Contact” 7.11 Burlington, VT E
19. “Caravan” 7.15
20. “Touch Me” 7.21 E
21. “You Enjoy Myself” 7.20 Arrowhead Ranch, NY II
22. “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars” 7.14 E
Jam of the Day:
“Tweezer” 4.21.92 Eureka, CA SBD
If you know this “Tweezer,” you love it, and if you don’t, take fifteen minutes of your time with some headphones and fall in love. One of the most unique and sublime jams to come from the band’s amazing west coast run of Spring ’92, this “Tweezer” is musical nirvana- all surrounded by redwoods in Northern California. This is an impeccable soundboard recording of one of my all- time favorite jams.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Here we have a three setter from the Summer of ’91, showcasing Phish and The Giant Country Horns in all their glory. The horns joined the band for most of the second and third sets of this marathon show. While the compilation gives you snapshots of the era, this is a portrait of the band during a very special tour.
I: Reba, Llama, The Squirming Coil, Golgi Apparatus, Guelah Papyrus, My Sweet One, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Famous Mockingbird, The Sloth, I Didn’t Know, Possum
II: Suzy Greenberg, Caravan, The Divided Sky, Gumbo, Dinner and a Movie, Bouncing Around the Room, Split Open and Melt, Magilla, Cavern, Run Like an Antelope
III: AC/DC Bag, The Landlady, Esther, Chalk Dust Torture, Bathtub Gin, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, HYHU > Touch Me, Harry Hood
E: Contact, Big Black Furry Creature From Mars
With The Giant Country Horns for most of set II and III
“Golgi” 7.20.91 Arrowhead Ranch, Parksville, NY (partial)