Leftover Salmon

INDUCTED: November 25, 2022

Leftover Salmon is as much an idea as a band — and a wonderfully crazy idea it is.

The group christened its sound “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass,” a phrase that at once satirizes the desire of too many critics to put every act into a pigeonhole even as it signals to listeners that these are fun guys worth following anywhere the music takes them.

Jump To Discography

photo credit: Tobin Voggesser

Explore Playlist icon volume

The Boulder-based group has gone through a dizzying number of lineup changes over its long and eventful existence. But a sense of humor was a constant, beginning with its formation in 1989. Vince Herman, Dave Dorian and Gerry Cavagnaro, three players in a Cajun and calypso-obsessed combo dubbed the Salmon Heads, were slated to play a New Year’s Eve engagement at a venue in Crested Butte with the assistance of Drew Emmitt and Glenn Keefe from the Left Hand String Band, a bluegrass-loving outfit of which Herman had once been a member.

The question of what to call the conglomeration was debated en route to the gig, and by the time the five arrived, Leftover Salmon was on the menu.

For Leftover Salmon’s first album, 1993’s Bridges to Bert, the main crew consisted of guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Herman, fiddler/mandolinist/vocalist Emmitt, banjo player/vocalist Mark Vann, bassist Rob Galloway and keyboardist Joe Jogerst, plus Michael Wooten on drums. The latter instrument is a no-no for traditional bluegrass, but it was a must for the five-piece’s inspired hybrid.

Given that the grunge era was in full swing at the time Bridges was built, Leftover Salmon’s brand of acoustic madness would seem to have little appeal for major label executives. But after the success of the outfit’s sophomore recording, 1995’s live Ask the Fish, and a slot on H.O.R.D.E., a national tour framed as Lollapalooza for jam fans, Hollywood Records, owned by Disney, came calling.

Hollywood released Euphoria, the band’s first offering for the imprint, in 1997.

Two years later issued The Nashville Sessions, which was practically a festival on disc. Guests included an astonishing collection of roots superstars: Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Bèla Fleck, Waylon Jennings, Del McCoury, Taj Mahal, Lucinda Williams, Earl and Randy Scruggs, Jo-El Sonnier and Todd Park Mohr from Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductees, Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

The end of the band’s relationship with Hollywood Records didn’t stop Leftover Salmon, as evidenced by Live, put out by Compass Records in 2002. Sadly, that same year, Vann succumbed to cancer, and his death reverberated. The group remained active for a while, most notably with O Cracker Where Art Thou?, an off-kilter collaboration with Cracker, a rock group led by eccentric singer-songwriter David Lowery. In 2004, around the time a self-titled album was distributed by Compendia Records, the musicians announced that they’d go on hiatus at the end of that year.

photos credit: Lockman

Fortunately, it proved impossible to keep a good Salmon down.

Beginning in 2007, the outfit reemerged under its own name as well as Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman and Friends. Aquatic Hitchhiker arrived in 2012, the first new Leftover Salmon album in nearly a decade. It started a prolific period of recording marked by 2014’s High Country; 2016’s 25; 2018’s Something Higher; and 2021’s Brand New Good Old Days. Over this stretch, the band’s personnel solidified, with Herman and Emmitt joined by bassist Greg Garrison, banjoist Andy Thorn, drummer Alwyn Robinson and keyboardist/dobro expert Jay Starling.

In some ways, the band’s moniker is a misnomer.

No matter who was playing in this particular Salmon, nothing was left over. If an ingredient was worthy, the musicians included it. And generations of fans know how good every recipe tastes.

By Michael Roberts

photos credit: Lockman

Explore More