On May 8, 1989 a fledgling Burlington, VT quartet officially released their debut album “Junta.” Besides being Phish’s first album, “Junta” also set the clock ticking for an important milestone: Phish’s eventual candidacy for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Reason being, is that the way eligibility for the Rock Hall works is that a candidate officially becomes eligible 25 years after their debut album. Since “Junta” was released in 1989, this would mean that Phish would be eligible for Rock Hall induction in 2014- ie, this year!
Sadly, as was announced late last week, Phish didn’t make the cut in their inaugural year of eligibility (I guess the Facebook page could only do so much). In light of this disappointing news, I wanted to take a closer look at the Rock Hall’s requirements for meriting induction to the Rock Hall, and see if Phish meets this criteria.
The process and selection of nominated artists for the Rock Hall is complicated and murky (as detailed in this incredible NYTimes article ). Thus, I’d instead like to focus on the single paragraph for eligibility listed on the Rock Hall’s website that spells out the criteria needed for enshrinement.
The Rock Hall website states:
“[the artist must] have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence. We shall consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.”
Let’s analyze each one of these lines and see if it pertains to Phish.
“unquestionable musical excellence”
This first requirement is a breeze. I mean, have you ever heard “Fluffhead?” How about “It’s Ice?” Maybe “David Bowie?” You know what? After thinking about it, this question is such a no-brainer that I’ll just let a 13 minute “Reba” answer it.
“an artist’s musical influence on other artists”
Phish also easily meets this criteria. While the Grateful Dead gets credit for being the original jamband, Phish should get the lion’s share of credit in influencing today’s modern jambands. Bands such as moe., The Disco Biscuits, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Benevento/ Russo Duo, and Umphrey’s McGee have all been directly influenced by Phish. It doesn’t get more influential then basically spearheading an entirely new genre of music.
Even Mainstream Artists!
But if this isn’t enough, mainstream mega-acts such as Vampire Weekend, Justin Bieber, John Mayer, and Dave Matthews Band also attribute Phish as an influence. If even that isn’t enough, music royalty such as Sir Paul, Peter Gabriel and David Byrne are also into Phish!
“innovation and superiority in style and technique”
Throughout their career Phish have gone through many different eras and techniques. There was Machine Gun Trey, People for a Louder Mike, Cow Funk, to name a few— and even the 3.0 era introduced Plinko and the Storage Jam styles of music.
Furthermore, Phish’s evolution can be seen in their extensive and ever evolving catalog of songs. Let’s take “Tweezer” for example. None of the 335 performances (as of this writing) are the same. A ‘93 Tweezer is worlds apart from the ‘94 Bomb Factory version, and the funky McNichols ‘97 version is nothing like 2013's Tahoe Tweezer masterpiece. Every single version is innovative in style and technique... and we’re only talking about one song!
“length and depth of career and the body of work”
Concert-wise, Phish has played an astonishing 1,641 (and counting) concerts. While these numbers might not yet be on par with the Grateful Dead (2,318 concerts), The Who (2,125 concerts), or the Rolling Stones (2,241 concerts), Phish has a unique trait that none of these bands possess: having the original lineup intact for the entirety of their career. Outside of a handful of shows in the early days, every single Phish show has been played by the original four members.
Of the many accolades that can be said about Phish, this longevity and consistency(31+ years with only the original members!) is perhaps their most unique quality. In fact, the only other band in the history of music that comes close to this feat is U2.
“…but musical excellence shall be THE essential qualification of induction”
There is absolutely nothing like Phish. No band sounds like them. None. If you play a Phish fan a drumbeat or a riff from a song, it’s immediately and instantly recognizable. There’s no “Eddie Vedder” knockoff, no “Van Halen” shredding, etc— just original, brilliant and innovative music. Phish is truly one of a kind: just listen to them and you’ll agree.
Of course Phish will make it into the Rock Hall
Phish is a singular phenomenon, the likes of which will never be seen again. Their legion of diehard fans, quarter billion in ticket sales, and legacy as one of the greatest touring acts of all time make it a no brainer that Phish will be future Rock Hall inductees. They’re about as much of a lock as locks get. The only question is what year they’ll be inducted.
2015 anyone? ☺