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.