Leftover Salmon Interview.
Leftover Salmon is a bluegrass institution. They formed in Colorado in 1989. The band’s latest release is the album Aquatic Hitchhiker. Leftover Salmon are playing a late-night show during Jazz Fest, April 27th at the Howlin’ Wolf. Guitarist, vocalist and washboard player Vince Herman recently wrote in to discuss his songwriting process, his passion for Cajun music and playing with Ernie K-Doe. For more info on Leftover Salmon, check out http://www.leftoversalmon.com/
Did you come from a musical family? Were your parents musical?
As the youngest of seven kids I absorbed all that my siblings were listening to. Motown. Doo Wop. British invasion. Herp Alpert. I was the Bly one in the family that played, but my grandfather was a great singer when he had a beer or two. Mom sang at home all day and dad sang in church but I came from a musical family, it’s just that I’m the only one who played. Everybody listened though. As the youngest of seven kids I listened to everything my siblings were listening to, from Motown and doo-wop, British invasion, live polka bands at weddings and a ton of early public radio. Mom sang around the house and dad sang in church but my grandfather would sing on holidays when he’d had a drink or two. He was the real musical inspiration when it came to entertaining.
How did you become interested in bluegrass?
I was first exposed to bluegrass by a high school buddy after school one day. Doc Watson’s old post office record was the thing that blew my mind. Soon after that it was a live show with the David Bromberg big band that set the hook hard. My first festival was in Pittsburgh at the smoky city folks fest. Once I saw perfect strangers playing old time music together I knew that was what I wanted to do a lot of.
What was the first instrument you learned how to play?
My brother made me a plywood guitar with rubber band strings when I was three. They would dress me up like a hippy and I’d do shows for mom’s card club. Wish I had a YouTube video of one of those gigs.
What made you want to take up the washboard?
I was lucky enough to be exposed to Cajun music by Dewey Balfa himself at the Augusta heritage festival in Elkins, WV in 1982. Dewey did more to expose Cajun music to the world than anyone. I learned that you laugh and cry when the music gets in you deep. He was an amazing musician and a profoundly heartfelt guy. That’s how the washboard got my ear.
Leftover Salmon’s music has been described as “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass.” Who are some of your favorite Cajun musicians and why?
Dewey, of course, is the king. Can’t beat Canray Fontenot. DL Menard is also an old school favorite. Love his whole style of singing. Beausoliel really hit all the bases at once for me though. They rocked, the had a deep ear for the tradition and deep Cajun pride to bring to the world. Great band. These days the Redstick Ramblers are doing good things to my ears. Mercy Brothers are blowing up. The music just keeps growing and is in good hands for the next generation.
How did Leftover Salmon get started?
Leftover started when I asked some members of the Left Hand Stringband to fill in for some missing members of my band the Salmon Heads on a new years date in 1990. We’ve been at it ever since
How does your creative process work when crafting songs?
Songs can come from anywhere. I’ve been trying to get more disciplined about getting into the process more often. First thing in the morning seems to be best for me. It usually starts with some words and a melody seems to materialize from the ether. Things people say can inspire me. A real world event can do it. Mountain top removal really bugs me, that sent a few songs to me from the ether. These days I’m scheming on how to be entertaining while speaking of how evil Monsanto is. I’ll let you know how that works out.
What do you enjoy most about living in Colorado?
I love hanging with my kids in Colorado. They have a great band called Gipsy Moon that’s ripping it up there. After 27 years of almost 9000 ft of elevation I’ve traded Colorado for the woods of Oregon this past fall. It’s an amazing environment where you can grow everything. Quite a bit different than Nederland, CO. I do miss the big music scene there but I’ve been finding some great pickers in Oregon now.
You are playing a late night set during Jazz Fest. What have been some of your favorite memories from playing in New Orleans over the years?
My absolute favorite jazz fest time was having Ernie K-Doe sit in with us at Tipitinas Warehouse one night. What a legendary embodiment of all things new Orleans. Ain’t nobody in the world like Ernie K-Doe. There was a girl on the railing that night, reaching out for Ernie. She climbed up on top of the railing and lifted her shirt. Ernie says “good god girl, you gonna put all that up on the railing” yep. . Loved Ernie and Antoinette.
You’re constantly touring. What have been some of your strangest times on the road?
I was just playing on the Boulder mall today with my kids today when a fellow approached and told us we needed a chicken in the band. That was pretty weird.
Aquatic Hitchhiker is your latest album. What inspired Leftover Salmon to get back together and record?
Leftover had done a few reunion shows a year when we thought we should dive back in. It was just too fun to say no.
What was the first track you wrote for Aquatic Hitchhiker?
“Liza” was the first song written for Aquatic as we hung at a mountain cabin for a few days.