Phish Biography

Comprising Trey Anastasio (Ernest Joseph Anastasio III, 30 September 1964, Fort Worth, Texas, USA; vocals/guitar), Page McConnell (b. 17 May 1963, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; keyboards/vocals), Mike Gordon (b. Michael Gordon, 3 June 1965, Sudbury, Massachusetts, USA; bass/vocals) and Jon Fishman (b. 19 February 1965, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; drums/vocals), Phish was founded in 1983 at the University of Vermont in New England, USA. Anastasio had posted flyers around the campus looking for like-minded musicians. Fishman, Gordon and original second guitarist Jeff Holdsworth responded, but the band only really took shape after the recruitment of McConnell in 1985 and Holdsworth’s departure the following year. A regular venue was found at Burlington’s Nectar’s, before Phish expanded their activities to tours of venues and halls nationwide. The band’s avowedly eclectic music - drawing from jazz, funk, bluegrass, country, punk and pop - introduced them to a large cult audience throughout America, a following that steadily increased in size.

The band’s 1988 own label debut, Junta, captured their free-flowing improvisations, while 1990’s Lawn Boy (on the Rough Trade Records’ subsidiary, Absolute A Go Go) featured improved production and a relatively structured approach to their cross-genre experiments. Their major label debut for Elektra Records, A Picture Of Nectar, saw several critics draw comparisons with the Grateful Dead - as much for their self-reliance and relationship with their fans as any musical similarity. Rift, released in 1993, was just as enjoyable, though a little more restrained than its predecessor. By 1994 and (Hoist), Phish had become both a major live attraction and important figures in the mainstream of American music. (Hoist) duly doubled the sales achieved by Rift, and included two highly successful radio singles, ‘Down With Disease’ and ‘Sample In A Jar’. By this time membership of their fan newsletter had grown to over 80, 000, while their Internet service, phish.net, was one of the most active throughout the USA. Just as importantly, the band’s live reputation had not diminished. In 1994, they achieved a Top 50 placing in Pollstar’s Top 50 grossing acts of the year poll - a testament to the 100 plus shows they had played to an estimated 600, 000 fans. One of the highlights was their 30 December appearance at New York’s Madison Square Garden which sold out in less than four hours. Their Halloween show in Glens Falls, New York, saw the band perform the Beatles’ White Album in its entirety between their sets. The result of these activities was the 1995 issue of a live double album, A Live One, which captured the band in its natural environment.

The studio album Billy Breathes was assured and relaxed (their Workingman’s Dead, it was noted). In further keeping with the Grateful Dead connection, Ben & Jerry the ice cream moguls introduced a Phish Food flavour to go along with their Cherry Garcia brand. The 1998 studio set, The Story Of The Ghost, featured the major radio hit ‘Birds Of A Feather’, and debuted at number 8 on the Billboard 200 album chart in November. The ultimate treat for Phish fans, the six-CD live set Hampton Comes Alive, was released the following year. Anastasio also recorded with an 11-piece fusion ensemble called Surrender To The Air, featuring alto saxophonist Marshall Allen and trumpeter Michael Ray from the Sun Ra Arkestra, and guitarist Marc Ribot.

In a surprise move, the band wound down their operation in 2000 while the members embarked on a diverse range of outside projects (Anastasio’s self-titled 2002 solo collection is of particular note, as is his collaboration with Primus bass player Les Claypool and percussionist Stewart Copeland in Oysterhead). The Phish name proved a durable commodity, however, as evidenced by the popularity of a series of live releases and a guest appearance on The Simpsons. After a two year hiatus Phish announced their return with a New Year’s Eve show and new studio album, Round Room. Despite their continuing popularity, the band finally bowed out in summer 2004 with the studio album Undermind and a final performance in Coventry, Vermont.

Phish, like the Grateful Dead, was a phenomenon, proving beyond doubt that selling records is secondary to touring regularly. Multi-platinum albums were never likely to figure in the band’s plans; multi-million dollar takings at their concerts, however, were an everyday event.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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