5 Questions: Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon

by Chris Snyder

You are an original member of Leftover Salmon. How does it feel to be on the road for almost 25 years?

Almost twenty nine. We started in Boulder, Colorado. Vince and I met there. I grew up there so I was playing music in Boulder for years. I was doing a gig in Boulder at a place called The Walrus with Left Hand String Band. It was the first place that Vince came to when he came out. He joined Left Hand String Band for a little and then formed his own band “Salmonheads”. Both bands got together and did some shows and as a joke Vince (Herman) said “Let’s call it Leftover Salmon.”. We started out doing ski towns in the Boulder/Denver area. We got a school bus and started touring.
On your album, “The Nashville Sessions”, you pay homage to some of the best bluegrass players. How did you pick the players on this album?

We knew a lot of those people from festivals. Especially Sam Bush and John Cowan. People like The McCourys and Béla Fleck. All these guys we crossed paths with and gotten to know pretty well. Taj Mahal we had a connection with through the HORDE tour. So that’s how we connected with Taj. JB (John Bell) we knew from doing shows with Widespread Panic. The people we didn’t have personal connections with was Randy Scruggs (producer) along with Chuck Morris (manager) got musicians like Waylon Jennings, Lucinda Williams and Earl Scruggs. We pretty much got everyone that we wanted. We tried to get Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris on the album to some more females but they couldn’t do it so we ended up having Lucinda Williams and we loved having her. It was like a dream coming into the studio and recording with an amazing musician every day. I was like “Is this really happening?” In the morning we would record with Earl Scruggs and in the afternoon we would record with Ron or Del McCoury. That was a pinnacle of the band’s career. People still love that record.

Are there any up and coming bluegrass bands that you enjoy performing with or watching?

They’re not up and coming but I love The Punch Brothers. They are innovators above anyone else. I wouldn’t say they are in the “jamgrass” realm because they are a little heady. What Chris Thile is doing along with The Punch Brothers is phenomenal. There’s a lot of other really good bands out there. Town Mountain, definitely one of my favorites. Of course, Greensky Bluegrass are very good friends of ours. We love those guys and what they are doing on the scene. Aside from The Del McCoury Band, The Travelin’ McCourys, the boys without Del, are just killing it. Even though they’ve been around, they are up and coming, because the thing they have been developing over the past few years is great. Billy Strings is probably my favorite of the up and comers. Phenomenal guitar player and person.

Were there any albums that really resonated with you at any early age that made you want to perform bluegrass?

I got way into David Grisman when I was a teenager and getting into playing the mandolin. Earl Scruggs has an album called “Earl Scruggs: With Family & Friends”. It’s when he has his sons, Gary and Randy, playing with him. They had drums and electric guitar. I was like “This is cool!”. You have Earl, one of the most traditional bluegrass players, playing what would be considered rock ‘n roll bluegrass. When listening to this album I thought maybe you can combine bluegrass and rock ‘n roll. I really wanted to combine both but really wasn’t sure how to combine both. It was the first time I really realized that bluegrass can be something different and doesn’t need to be straightforward and traditional. It can take on another form, a more progressive vibe.

New Grass Revival really inspired me to do this, to take bluegrass to another place. I really enjoy bands llike Tony Rice Unit and The Dirt Band, even though they were country they had a bluegrass feel. I love traditional bluegrass and breaking it down but I really enjoy bands that like to push the envelope.

How would you define success as a musician?

I think success is having a long career. You can be really successful and popular. Then be a flash from the past and be gone. In any genre of the music business which is pretty common. Success is not necessarily how big you get, but how long you can keep it going. I feel very fortunate going on twenty nine years as a band, not only still having a great time and following. It’s great to play all these festivals, we have a record coming out. I feel very fortunate that we can keep this going, and we have the best band they we’ve ever had, in my opinion. Success is enjoying what you do and making people happy, seeing smiling faces in the crowd.


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