We’d like to welcome our friend Kevin Cassels to the Hidden Track team. Kevin was the editor-in-chief of The Pharmer’s Almanac: The Unofficial Guide to Phish, Vol. 6, released in 2000. He is also the former drummer and founder of Asheville-based rock band Mother Vinegar.
A sure fire way to test the knowledge of any Phish fan is to ask them about Trey Anastasio’s old friends from school and their contributions to Phish songs. Aside from Phish lyricist Tom Marshall, there’s Dave Abrahams, a childhood friend of Trey’s immortalized in the lyrics of McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters who co-wrote classics like Runaway Jim, Glide and Fast Enough for You.
There’s Steve Pollack, better known as The Dude of Life, author of Suzy Greenberg and lyricist of Fluffhead, Skippy the Wondermouse, Run Like an Antelope and more. Founding Phish guitarist and vocalist Jeff Holdsworth was the first band member Anastasio met upon his arrival at the University of Vermont in 1983, and the duo would go on to recruit Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman in the following weeks.
However, other than Holdsworth, no one in this group played a more central role in the formation of Phish than former percussionist Marc Daubert, an official member of Phish from September 1984 to February 1985. Like Holdsworth, Daubert’s songwriting contributions such as The Curtain and I Am Hydrogen remained in the Phish’s live repertoire throughout the band’s career. Today, the percussionist is now a guitarist and vocalist who has just released a new album of all original compositions entitled Parlor Tricks.
READ ON to find out why Marc Daubert left Phish, the meaning behind the lyrics to The Curtain, what Marc’s up to now and much much more…
In 1979, Daubert would attend the Princeton Day School, where he met Anastasio and Tom Marshall. “Trey left Princeton Day School in the tenth grade,” recalls Daubert. “His dad sent him to boarding school. He still came home for the holidays and summer vacation. Tom and I formed a group called And-Back. It was experimental music and all of the songs that we played were our own. Soon, there were other members of this group with the addition of Peter Cottone, Roger Holloway, and David Abrahams.” Peter Cottone would eventually play drums on the Phish studio version of Slave to the Traffic Light from the band’s 1986 self-titled album known as The White Tape, and would later join Tom Marshall’s Amfibian as a second drummer in 2000. Roger Holloway would duet with Anastasio on the acoustic instrumental Aftermath from The White Tape.
Anastasio, Marshall, and Daubert would briefly part ways after school. Daubert attended Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach, Florida. “I did not do well in my first year at college and I came home in 1984,” remembers Daubert. This period marked the beginning of the lesser known Phish hiatus, which took place during the first seven or eight months of 1984 as Anastasio briefly left UVM after a prank gone wrong involving a human hand and a goat’s heart. It was during the 1984 hiatus when Anastasio, Marshall, and Daubert would record the now legendary Bivouac Jaun sessions, some of which later appeared on The White Tape.
One of Daubert’s major songwriting contributions from these sessions includes the Phish staple I Am Hydrogen. According to Daubert, the song “was a collaborative effort. Tom Marshall and I wrote the background music for a fantastic lead by Trey. This was a defining moment in these sessions. At the time, Trey had his amp positioned in his father’s basement to give a sort of natural reverb to the sound. This combined with a Mesa-Boogie amp created a Duane Allman-sounding effect.”
When Anastasio returned to UVM in the fall of 1984 and reactivated Phish, he invited Daubert to join the band as a fifth member alongside himself, Jon Fishman, Jeff Holdsworth, and Mike Gordon. The band initially had a tough time filling the three to four hour time slots required by many clubs and bars around the area, but the lack of material might have been the catalyst of the Phish improvisational approach. “We only had about two hours of music,” remembers Daubert. “Soon, we learned that by jamming for long hours, our song endings were becoming elaborate and longer. Often, we would lose track of time and the ending of a song became longer than the song itself. This is where Phish music came from.”
The band used a number of different names before finally using the name “Phish” at the legendary 12-1-84 show at Nectar’s. “That was a defining show for all of us,” says Daubert. “Something just clicked. We felt the first real pulse that night. That show gave us more fuel for further ideas.” For years, this show was the earliest circulated live Phish recording until the band’s 11-3-84 show at UVM’s Slade Hall appeared in trading circles. “This was a multi-media show,” recalls Daubert. “It started with strange sounds that Fish and I had put together.” Daubert explains the show’s sub-par sound quality. “It was a great show, but the guy who did the recording did not realize that he had the meters peaked in the red zone for the whole show. We figured that out after the show was over. During that show I was playing a four foot long, West African wooden xylophone called a ‘balaphone.’”
Of course, the band didn’t have the luxury of giant trucks and a crew full of workers to help break down the gear back then. “Before gigs, we would all have a pow-wow about the list of songs. Then we would break down the equipment at Fishman’s place on the other side of town. This took a few hours. The only working vehicle we had was a small Japanese car. We overloaded it and packed it solid with equipment. The car was weighted down in back so we had to drive slowly to the gig. We would make at least three trips with the car back and forth, just loading and unloading equipment. Almost all of the gigs back then were in Burlington, which was luckily only about three miles away from Fish’s place.”
Just as soon as Daubert was in Phish, he was out, playing his final shows with the band in February of 1985. Details surrounding Daubert’s departure have been sketchy until now. “Playing gigs in Burlington at that time, I was earning very little money,” recalls Daubert. “Trey had the support of his dad as always. Jon Fishman came from a cool family; his parents were supportive. Mike’s dad was also quite positive with him about the band, but school was encouraged over the musical pursuits. The music was considered to be extra wasted time and money, and the real reason that they were up there was to graduate from college. I was doing the band full time and was not attending college, so I did not fit in. The main reason Jeff left the band was simply because he had completed college. The band thing was seen as something to do while he was at college, or so I was led to believe by my conversations with him. So finding a job was a priority for me at that time. I could no longer live off of my friends and their handouts.”
However, it seems as if Daubert may have been forced out of the band. “Trey was becoming increasingly domineering about the band,” says Daubert. “He wanted things to be his way. It may be that he thought I needed to be eliminated so that he could move ahead with his plans for the band. I represented a creative orb and that, to him, seemed amorphous. I was used to this sort of treatment before in my life, so Trey’s animosity towards me was not a surprise. Trey came back in January 1985 from a holiday break. He found that I had not gotten a job over the break and that I had and I had gone on a 36 hour music, alcohol, and drug binge. He was upset that I was still there. Rightfully agitated, he said that I did not fit in anymore. He then began to literally toss all my belongings out on the curb. At that point, Tom Marshall and Dave Abrahams arrived. They had taken the long ride up to Vermont to see Trey and I.”
“After Trey tossed all my stuff on the curb, I went outside to pick it up and take it to somewhere for safe keeping. I was worried about my guitar. I found that a friend of mine had a used VW bug parked behind her apartment. I asked her if I could use it to store my stuff. She agreed after about a day. Her boyfriend was hot-headed. She said that I could not meet with her unless her porch light was on in the back of her apartment. Meanwhile, the vicious Burlington winter had frozen one of my feet to the point at which I could not feel it anymore. It was blistered and bloody. I had to find some shelter fast, or else. Dragging my foot like a weight, I began the long trek up the hill to the part of campus where Mike’s dorm room was. I had hoped he would take me in, but I was doubtful about it. When I finally made it up the hill, luckily, Mike was there. He took me in for a few days. He gave me some of his colored drafting pencils so that I could draw during the day. He told me that it was not everybody’s idea to throw me out of the band. I thanked him for his honesty. I could not stay in his dorm room as it was against the campus regulations. I then went back down into town to find the men’s shelter there. I lived there for about two months and eventually found a job in Essex Junction. After I had worked up enough money for a deposit on an apartment, I began to live on the other side of Burlington.”
Two years later in 1987, despite the messy split, Anastasio combined his music with Daubert’s lyrics to create The Curtain, one of Phish’s most beloved songs. There have been many theories as to the song’s lyrics and the meaning behind them. Is it a song about the downfall of Jimmy Swaggart with the line “chanting words from a psalm?” Or is it more of a biographical song? “When I was much younger, my parents tried to get me to believe in God,” says Daubert. “They forced me to go to church on Sunday. I rebelled eventually and was left at home on Sunday mornings. This was the best time for me to practice music. So, music became my religion. Eventually, that became confused and entwined with the meaning of this song. ‘Chanting words from a song’ is the correct phrase. ‘Please me, have no regrets’ came from the baby’s mouth. The song that the baby is singing is an expression of sacrifice. There can be no love without sacrifice. This is the greater meaning in these words.”
Initially, Daubert did not keep in touch with Phish, but he eventually reconnected with the band over time. “They did come to several places close to New Jersey (where Daubert had relocated), so seeing them was not a big deal. For about the first seven years, the band was not doing that well. They would patch together a tour schedule based on where they had played in the past. They were gone for weeks at a time on tour. They kept touring despite setbacks. It was an important step for them to put out the Lawn Boy CD. Their persistence paid off and they began to become noticed by a wider audience. I went to several shows then and was happy to hang out backstage while the band played. I would never be a fan. I had been on the inside and that is what made me different. As the years went on, I was looked at as a nostalgic figure. Phish fans did not know much about me. Eventually, in 1998, the band decided to acknowledge me for my contributions. Trey described me as ‘one of the original founding members of the band.’ I had helped to plant a tree, figuratively speaking. That tree was to bear fruit later in the band’s career.”
Daubert has spent the last twenty years writing songs, resulting in over 64 hours of recorded music. In late 2006, Daubert released his first official album, Parlor Tricks, which is available by visiting www.marcdaubert.com. So how did Daubert pick the thirteen songs on Parlor Tricks out of 64 hours of material? “After hours of searching my music collectives,” says Daubert, “I came up with the tracks that represent a message that I would like to give. I have developed some fans who know me through my own music, not through Phish. They have always liked these tracks. Those fans wanted me to put out a CD. This is my gift to them. It is also dedicated to those people who have passed away. Both my parents died of cancer in 2001. My uncle died of cancer also in 2003. I saved the essence of who they were in my music.”
Marc Daubert’s “Parlor Tricks” is available online by visiting www.marcdaubert.com.