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Members include TreyAnastasio (born Ernest Anastasio, September 30, 1964, in Fort Worth, TX. Education: Goddard College), guitar, lead vocals, songwriter; JonFishman (born February 19, 1965, in Philadelphia, PA. Education: Goddard College), drums, vocals; MikeGordon (born June 3, 1965, in Boston, MA. Education: University of Vermont), bass, vocals; and Page (born May 17, 1963, in Philadelphia, PA. Education:Goddard College), keyboards, vocals. Addresses: Record company-Elektra records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019 E-mail: Email- info@phishnet.
Phish calls Burlington, Vermont its hometown. The rock quartet of Trey Anastasio , Page McConnell, Mike Gordon, and Jon Fishman have become one of the most successful rock groups ever. Phish has sold well over three million albums and have earned over $10 million on tours alone in 1997. The band is a modern anamoly in the rock music scene, growing to stardom without the assistance of MTV or commercial radio. The fans and the music of Phish are most often compared to the Grateful Dead. Like the Deadheads before them, Phish Heads grew in number as a result of the group's live shows, as the band toured constantly in the mid 1980s to mid 1990s. Phish Heads fill the venue's parking lot a day before the show, establishing a temporary community, selling tie die t-shirts, playing hacky-sack, juggling, playing music, and dancing. True Phish Heads will live this carnival life and follow the band from city to city until tours end. Musically, the band's shows are mostly improvisational jam sessions, and Phish Heads will never hear the same show twice. Their musical menu serves up a wide range of styles including rock, jazz, blues, funk, Latino, classical, calypso, and folk. The often fantastical lyrics that accompany the myriad of rhythms are influenced by J.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Kipling's The Jungle Book, Dr. Seuss, and Sesamie Street. Phish's drummer, Jon Fishman, described the band's style of music to Parke Puterbaugh of Rolling Stone magazine; "We all have a certain desire to honor the roots and traditions of music, but there's also this persistent desire to find out what else we can do rather than the common forms, the things you always hear."
Phish came together in 1983, when two University of Vermont students, freshman Trey Anastasio and sophomore Jeff Holdsworth, began playing their guitars together in dorm lounges. They both shared an interest in the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, Frank Zappa, and Led Zeplin. The two fledging band members found their first recruit in University of Vermont freshman Jon "Fish" Fishman. Fishman told Puterbaugh, "He [Anastasio] and a friend were having a conversation about who looked like they belonged there and who didn't. I came walking by, and they both fell down laughing. They pegged me from a hundred yards in a crowd of people, going, 'He doesn't look like he belongs here"." A few days after their first meeting, Anastasio would burst into Fishman's dorm room, after following the sounds of his drumming, and encourage him to join the group. With two guitarists and a drummer, the band needed a bass player. A few days later Anastasio posted a sign for a bass player and Mike Gordon responded. They derived their name from Fishman's nickname. Fishman's appearance made him a regular campus character that the band enjoyed. One journalist described Fishman after meeting him for the first time as "something out of the Lord of the Rings." (Go Phish; Dave Thompson). Subsequently, Fishman's short, bearded, and bespectacled appearance helped identify the bands offbeat persona.
Holdsworth got the band their first gig after seeing a flyer for an ROTC party on campus. They used hockey sticks for mike stands. The band was given the boot after their fourth song. The DJ blasted Michael Jackson's Thriller, and the once empty dance floor quickly filled up. The band took the not so subtle hint and left the stage. However, the band's first show was not a complete loss; they gained their first official fan, Amy Skelton, who now works as the band's merchandising manager.
After a year of playing in campus dorms, the band felt they were ready to hit the city of Burlington. They became regulars at Nectar, a popular downtown restaurant and bar. It was at Nectar that the band experimented with their music and put together an original stage show. Fishman told Puterbaugh, "Basically, the crowd was our guinea pig." The band slowly developed a community with the audience. They interacted with the audience, allowing fans to read poetry or perform strange acts on stage. "All music is conversation," Fishman explained to Charles Hirshberg and Nubar Alexanion of Life. They would signal the audience to rise or fall, or shout a line in a song. It was this early inside communication the band developed with the audience that linked their fans to them so dearly.
For the next two years, the band plays regular gigs at Nectar and various Burlington bars. In 1985, Phish picked up a fifth member after performing at the Goddard Springfest at Goddard College. Page McConnel, a student at Goddard College, was the organizer of the event. McConnel not only convinced the band they needed a keyboard player, he also managed to convince Anastasio, Holdsworth, and Fishman to transfer to Goddard College. He lured them with Goddard College's more liberal academic policies. The college rewarded McConnell with fifty dollars for recruiting each of the band's members. Gordon, however, remained at the University of Vermont to study film.
In 1986, the band lost one band member when Holdworth became a born again Christian and followed the tele-evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Despite the loss of Holdworth, the band continued playing and developing their music and stage show. From 1988 to 1990, the band had two independent releases, Junta and Lawn Boy.
Rumblings Came From the Underground
The band's big recording break came while playing a show at Manhattan's Marquee club. A Talent Scout from Elektra Entertainment, Sue Drew, caught their act and was intrigued not only by the sound, but also by the strange community that surrounded them. Drew gave her pitch outlining the great success to come with the band's signing to Elektra Entertainment. The band just listened, politely disinterested. She told Hirshberg and Alexanion, "They could not have cared less." Phish members did not want to become tied to commercial success. The band enjoyed their freedom to experiment and create unpredictable music. Phish encouraged fans to tape their shows and would even set up sound boards to give their fans high quality recordings at their shows. Elektra was not pleased with the bands policy of allowing fans to tape the show, but relented.
A Picture of Nectarwas released in 1992. Their first major release was a tribute to the old venue in Bulington. The single "Chalkdust Torture" was distributed to radio stations to support the album sales. Although the album was more structured than their previous independent releases, critics felt the it was too scattered and did not fit together well. The album show cased the band's wide musical taste with tracks covering bluegrass, jazz, Latin, and casual instrumentals to furious punk. The album received moderate success.
On the road in 1992, the band was gaining exposure. Phish played four shows on the first HORDE tour. The radio play and large outdoor amphitheaters gave the band a much wider audience, which began to cause some stirrings from their once underground fan base. Phish Heads were concerned the band would be discovered, and the community would be destroyed.
In 1993, Rift was released by Elektra. Legendary producer Barry Becket assisted with the album. It was the first time the band had ever worked with a producer. Beck's production credits included Bob Dylan's Slow Train Coming and Dire Straits' Communiqu. The addition of a producer helped give the album more focus and achieved Elektra's goal of increasing album sales. Oddly, the ballad "Fast Enough for You," was selected as the single for radio play. The song received play mostly on adult-contemporary formats.
Appeared on MTV
Things really began to move when the band released Hoist in March of 1994. Gordon, the film school graduate, directed the bands only studio-style video release for the single track "Down with Disease." Phish called on Paul Fox to produce the third Electra release. Paul Fox's previous credits included tracks for XTC, 10,000 Maniacs, and the Sugar Cubes. Phish invited some friends to the recording sessions-Bela Fleck, Allison Krauss, the Tower of Power horn section, the Ricky Grundy Chorale, Rose Stone, and Jonathan Frakes. Album sales doubled for Elektra, and the video received play on MTV. Again Phish Heads were not happy with the growing success, and the band was concerned about being chained to hit songs and losing there spontaneity.
In the fall of 1994, a new tradition was established. Phish played the entire Beatle's White Album in costume for their second set of a three set concert in Glen Falls, New York. Later, the band would continue these costume sets at various shows. At the end of 1994, Phish was one of the top 50 grossing acts of the year as ranked by Pollstar. The band played over 100 shows to over 600,000 fans.
Four Albums and a Book
In 1995, the band released a double album, A Live One, which was recorded live at the Clifford Ball, in 1994. The album reached number 15 on Billboard 200. It captured the spirit of their show and received the approval of true Phishianados. The band's 1996 release, Billy Breathes, peaked at number 7 on the Billboard 200. The band released Slip Stitch and Pass in 1997, another live album that was recorded at a show in Hamburg, Germany. The album peaked at number 17. In 1998, Phish released their ninth album, The Story of Ghost. Phish also published a book, The Phish Book, in 1998. The book is as unconventional as the band's music, covering a year in the life of Phish on the road from 1996 to 1997.
With the growing commercial success of their albums and sell out concerts, Phish is not afraid of becoming imprisoned by record companies or new fans. Anastasio told David E. Thigpen of Time magazine, "It's too late for commercial success to ruin us."
by Tige Cosmos
Group formed on October 30, 1983, in Burlington, VT; played in bars and small concert halls for five years; self-released debut album, Junta, 1988; reissued on Elektra, 1992; released, Lawn Boy,Absolute A-Go-Go Records,1990; signed with Elektra, 1992; released Picture of Nectar, 1992; Rift, 1993; Hoist, 1994; A Live One, 1995; Billy Breathes, 1996; Slip Stitch and Pass, 1997; The Story of Ghost, 1998; first studio produced video produced in the spring of 1994.
- Selected discography
- Untitled Studio Session , unreleased, 1985.
- The White Album , unreleased, 1987.
- The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday , unreleased, 1988.
- Junta , original release, 1988, reissued, Elektra, 1992.
- Lawn Boy , Absolute A-Go-Go Records, 1990, reissued, Elektra, 1992.
- Picture of Nectar , Elektra, 1992.
- Rift , Elektra, 1993.
- Hoist , Elektra, 1994.
- A Live One , Elektra, 1995.
- Billy Breathes , Elektra, 1996.
- Slip Stitch and Pass , Elektra, 1997.
- The Story of Ghost , Elektra, 1998.
May 25, 2004: Phish frontman Trey Anastasio announced the band's plan to split up following a pending summer tour. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, May 27, 2004.
June 15, 2004: Phish's album, Undermind, was released, including a bonus DVD. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_5/index.jsp, June 20, 2004.
- Dean Budnick, The Phishing Manual , Hyperion, 1996.
- Dave Thompson, Go Phish , St. Martin's Griffin, 1997.
- Amusement Business , July 27, 1998.
- Billboard , October 3, 1998.
- Entertainment Weekly , November 1, 1996.
- Guitar Player , May, 1996.
- Life , June, 1996.
- People Weekly , November 27, 1998.
- Rolling Stone , February 20, 1997.
- "Phish: The Official Web Site," http://www.phish.com (January 7, 1999).
- "CD Now," http://www.cdnow.com (January 22, 1998).
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