Yesterday we talked about Phish and their ability to put their own stamp on a cover song. As was mentioned, this is largely due to the band member’s wide spanning musical tastes. Trey has hinted, in interviews over the years, at some of the influences that led to ideas for Phish songs. And, those that he has not hinted at can be heard just by listening. Phish represents so many different musical genres that it’s almost inevitable that some of their influences will show through in their own music.
This is nothing new, artists have been lifting chord progressions, rhythms, melodies, licks etc. for ages. Some are more apparent than others, and some go as far as copyright infringement. Many will remember the ordeal that occurred years ago when the Stones released “Has Anybody Seen My Baby”, only to find out later that Keith Richards had very obviously lifted the melody from K.D. Lang’s “Constant Craving”. Or as any educated music fan knows, Zeppelin blatantly stole “Whole Lotta Love” from the Small Faces’ “You Need Lovin’”. Or similarily the “Lemon Song”, which is direct lift off both Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor”. Some say that Robert Plant stole his entire singing style from Steve Marriot of the Small Faces.
While Phish are most often compared to the Dead, their music hardly resembles the Dead’s. Instead, Phish cited a much wider, and deeper, source of influences. All of these various artists contributed to Phish’s sound, or songwriting, in some way. We’ve talked about the influence Genesis had on Phish, and as many of you know, it was quite substantial. But there are others who have played a role in developing Phish’s sound, such as Zappa, Ravel, Jimi Hendrix, and even Leonard Berstein (West Side Story). Today, we take a look at some of these major influences, and their specific effects on Phish’s music.
Maurice Ravel, the French composer known for such classic as “Daphnis et Chloe”, “Miroirs” and “Le Tombeau de Couperin”, has played a large role in Trey’s songwriting. Many of Phish’s songs emulate the underlying textures of “Le Tombeau de Couperin” – Ravel’s dedication to those lost in WWI. In an interview with a Japanese journalist in 2000, Trey said he had been listening to Ravel daily, and had become obsessed with him. He goes on to say:
“[Ravel] probably had mostly an influence on a tune like “The Inlaw Josie Wales” or the end of “Dirt” where there’s a little bit more….there’s a piece of his music that’s called “Le Tombeau de Couperin” and that kind of cycling, well, it’s just one of my favorite pieces of music ever. I’d love to write music like that. It’ll never be that good (laughs) – but sort of like that. “
Anyone familiar with Ravel’s music will understand the connection when hearing songs like “YEM”, the orchestrated section of “Fluffhead” or “Guyute”. Ravel’s ability to create these incredible aural pastures is one of his great musical accomplishments, and Trey has attempted to resemble this sound in some of his own writing. Perhaps the best representation of Ravel’s influence on Phish is the introduction to “My Friend My Friend”. To me, “My Friend” very much resembles the third movement in “Le Tombeau de Couperin” called “Forlane”. Listen to Katherine Scott’s rendition below and then listen to “My Friend My Friend” and compare.
“My Friend My Friend” (1995.7.3)
But also, the second movement, “Fugue”, is quite similar to “The Chase” section in “Fluffhead”. Give a close listen below and hear for yourself.
“The Chase” (1989.10.1)
If you want to explore the Ravel connection further, check out the similarities between the intro sections to both “YEM” and “The Curtain” and compare them to the first movement in “Le Tombeau de Couperin”. As Trey has said, when he went off into the infamous cabin he mentioned at Coventry to write “The Curtain”, he was listening to nothing but classical music. So, you can see where a great deal of this comes from.
Every Phish fan knows there’s a huge connection between Phish and Zappa. The quirky lyrics,the humor, the rock compositions, are all a result of Zappa’s heavy influence on Trey and Jon. I won’t go into this one too much, as I’ve already written an entire article on Fishman’s Zappa picks, which talked a lot about the band and Zappa. But it is worth mentioning one song in particular and its similarity to “Reba”. “Dina-Moe Hum” is undeniably, the main influence behind “Reba”. I’m sure you will all instantly realize how familiar these two songs sound. However, what’s even more interesting is that another of Zappa’s song resembles the jam in “Reba”. “Son of Orange County” has the same chord pattern as the one in the “Reba” jam, which Zappa used to grace with an E Lydian solo (Trey uses a D Lydian solo).
“Son of Orange County“
Jimi’s influence is mainly attributable to Trey’s playing, but some of his writing also resemble Jimi’s composed numbers. One of the most noticeable examples, and again you will all instantly recognize it, is in Jimi’s “1983″ off Electric Ladyland. The descending lick you hear at the end of “Bouncing Around the Room” is a direct lift off a similar repeating riff (2:34) in “1983″ – one of my all-time favorite Jimi songs.
“Bouncing Around the Room” (1993.3.22)
We’ve talked about the Genesis connection shortly after Phish covered two of their songs at the Rock Hall of Fame induction, so this one won’t go on too long. But as Trey has said he was obsessed with the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway while he was in highschool, and that it played a large part in the creation of the Gamehenge saga. Trey’s early attempts at recording resemble Genesis a great deal, most specifically with regard to The Lamb. Check out “Waiting Room” off The Lamb and compare it to Trey’s original version of “Fluff’s Travels” off The White Tape, and I think you will hear the connection. Trey was experimenting with all sorts of abstract sounds, which would lead into compositions, very much in the same way Genesis did. And, to further substantiate the connection, Genesis also has a song called “Duke’s Travels” off the album Duke; however, it bares no resemblance to “Fluff’s”.