Colorado Jam Vets Leftover Salmon Use New Blood to Keep Things Fresh

Ain't nothing canned about Leftover Salmon's jams.
Ain't nothing canned about Leftover Salmon's jams.
Courtesy of Leftover Salmon

Though Leftover Salmon has been making music for the better part of 25 years, it took a six-pack of beer to inspire the band's latest album. However, not in the typical sense of drinking one in the search for ideas. Instead, Colorado's Breckenridge Brewery tapped the band for a quartet of songs to be included as downloads with special six-packs.

"This is how the whole process started," Leftover Salmon guitarist/mandolinist and founder Drew Emmitt says from his home in Crested Butte, Colorado. "We weren't even sure there was going to be a whole record, but we went and recorded some more stuff. Suddenly, we had a whole record."

One track, composed by guitarist Vince Herman, proved more than fitting: "Finish Your Beer," a call-out to slackers leaving partially finished cans behind.

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"It was perfect for the Breckenridge people to have a song about beer," Emmitt adds with a laugh.

While the song closes out High Country, the whimsical nature of Leftover Salmon is also inherent in the album's other 11 tracks. Formed in 1989, the band always mixed humor with a stylistic blend of Cajun, bluegrass, funk, soul, rock, and blues music, and High Country is no different.

"We play the kind of music we want to play. We've never been pigeonholed. If we want to play a certain style, we do. I think it's interesting for people coming to the shows," Emmitt says. "The main thing is all about the energy and getting people up and dancing. That's always been the focus of this band. The different styles we play are to get people going and to create a party."

Leftover Salmon averaged more than 200 concerts annually for 15 years, but when tragedy struck the band via the cancer death of founding banjo player Mark Vann, the party ended abruptly in 2004 with an indefinite hiatus.

"We've always had a good time, and in the early days it was really exciting. What really happened was that we toured too much," Emmitt says. "I think we got a little burned out."

Returning in 2007, the "Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass" sound remained integral to the band's identity, though the lineup continued to change. Rather than be a drain, however, these changes -- which more recently include the addition of former Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne and banjo virtuoso Andy Thorn -- have filled Leftover Salmon with the vibrancy of the band's earliest days. High Country flows with the comfort and ease of those early efforts. Payne contributes a pair of songs as well, one he penned with Robert Hunter, the other for Little Feat, leading Leftover Salmon further into the rock 'n' roll landscape.

"I feel this band is more exciting and more invigorating than it's ever been," Emmitt says. "[Bill] has just injected us with all kinds of energy and excitement . . . He's one of the best rock keyboard players there's ever been."

Thorn, for his part, has found the telepathic groove Emmitt and Herman once shared with Vann.

"When Andy joined the band [in 2010], he really gave us the energy and the cohesion to really go for it again," Emmitt adds. "It felt like a band again for the first time since Mark passed. I have to credit Andy with a lot of the reason why the band is doing so well."

For Emmitt, this means the band is once again achieving that original goal: making music that moves people to dance.

"We're just happy to keep putting out new music and have people listen to it," he says. "That's all we can ask for."

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