A Real Phish Story
It was just before Christmas. A fresh, clean snow blanketed the world outside my window, a fire crackled in the woodstove and the warm glow from the oil lamp colored the room with varied orange hues. The scent from a large, simmering pot of freshly-made butternut squash and parmesan soup wafted throughout the room, mingling with faint suggestions of woodsmoke. I was alone in my head, draped on my recliner balancing a warm bowl of popcorn and an old cat in my lap. (It wasn't lost on me how times had changed: it used to be that I balanced a cold drink and a warm woman in my lap, but...nothing stays the same!)
Behind my eyelids, in full technicolor, was playing a re-run of an old movie featuring rock 'n roll days gone by...starring me! It was a time long ago, before acoustic guitars had pickups in them and you had to tape cheap-o Radio Shack mics inside, plug into the ol' Fender Bandmaster and hope that the feedback didn't rip the top off the guitar (or your head!). A time of padded, gold-flecked naugahyde Kustom PA columns loaded not-always-so-carefully into the back of a '65 Chevy van lined with multi-colored shag carpet and a glove box full of rolling papers, gum and incense.
I wandered the mind's backlot, finding myself lost in the late 60s and early 70s and my formative years in the music biz. At age 16, I had made my first tour: a local music store sponsored my 6-piece horn band on a tour of the 1967 Montreal World's Fair where we floated around on an island in a lagoon in front of the Russian pavilion...two shows a day. I suppose this is when I caught the "tour bug" that continues to infect me to this day.
Fast-forwarding a few years, I am there at the 1971 birth of Max Creek and those halcyon days when all we wanted to do was stay buzzed and rock it loud 'n proud out in the country. Rider and I met at college in Hartford in '68 and began working out our own folk-rock songs together. Bob G. was my old high school bud who laid out a pretty solid drum groove so I asked him to make us a trio. We all moved into a country house together in Feeding Hills, MA (it really was country in those days) and built our sound. Rider eventually asked his frat-bro and keyboard genius, Mark M. to add his perfect pitch, sparkle and color...and keys, too. Now we were a quartet. We played frat parties, local bars and even the regional strip-club circuit where we met some ladies who introduced us to professional show-biz. When I learned that my long-time music student, Scott M., was secretly a monster guitarist (all this time I only thought he played the trumpet!), I invited him to sit in. This Max Creek band was freekin' awesome and lots of fun for a few years, until...
They wanted to be more and more like the Grateful Dead. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but the Dead were already the Dead! I was curious about different musical cultures, their rhythms and instruments; I wanted us to be "diverse". I mean, we had FIVE songwriters, we had three trumpet players, everyone played at least one or two other instruments (including percussion), and I was dabbling with drums, banjo and steel guitar. Just think of the permutations and possibilities! Why did we have to do another version of Casey Jones and Not Fade Away? I was outnumbered and it was decided I should fade away. I did, but not before I'd contributed a few tunes and helped co-write others with the band.
The band went through its various phases and transmogrifications over the years, and most of my contributions were eventually forgotten. But one tune, a countrified, bluegrass-style barn-burner instrumental called "Back Porch Boogie Blues" (not a particularly creative or inspirational title, I grant you!) seems to live on, even today, in the band's repertoire. The band recorded it on it's first, eponymously-titled recording and on the occasion that I sit-in with Creek for a reunion concert or festival show, we'll always do this tune. Did I copyright the work? Nah. Didn't think of that kind of stuff in those days. Besides, who'd a-thunk the song would have had a shelf-life much longer than that of a pretzel?
Energized by all the reminiscing about my ancient music history, I polished off the popcorn, tossed off the dozing cat and roused myself from the recliner. I wandered into my office and fired up the computer, fine-tuned the "unreality control" and dialed up the Max Creek website, just to see what the ol' crew had been up to. It was kinda fun to learn that Scott M. now plays with the Dead's Bill Kreutzman and the Allman Bros.' Ottheil sometimes! Seeing the set lists, gig listings, etc. was a nice post-script to my earlier, private reverie. I was then steered towards some youTube sites that had concert footage of Max Creek anniversary reunion shows that I played in (including the 30th!)...jeez, we could still rockit!
And then I saw it: amateur youTube concert footage of indeterminate date featuring "Phish Covers Creek"...and what tune do you think the world-reknown jamband was kickin' around? None other than "Back Porch Boogie Blues"!
At first I was alarmed...who authorized that?!? Then I caught my breath and grinned..."Very cool!" How many of us unsung songwriters get to have major acts cover our songs, even if they don't know they're doing it? Copyright? Nah. So what. It's been so long, and I don't know how I'd prove it anyway. It's been said that "possession is nine-tenths of the law" and Max Creek has now "possessed" that song far longer than me, I suppose. I like the song alright, but they're welcome to it. So is Phish if they ever decide to swim upcreek again.
I guess it doesn't matter who wrote it...it belongs to everyone now.
(The above Max Creek photo was taken post-gig sometime in 1971 or '72 at the Rocking Horse on Franklin Ave. in Hartford, CT. L to R: Bob, David, Mark, Rider)