As the title of this post would suggest, we’re going to take a bit of a break from our usual discussion of seafood and fish information and chat a bit about some of the most famous bands with fish and marine-animal based names. While there are many out there to choose from, the ones we’ll be getting into today are Phish, Oysterhead, Blue Öyster Cult and Reel Big Fish.
We’ll start out with Phish, which is a jam band with a large legion of devoted fans. While classified as a jam band, they’re not limited solely to the confines of what one would consider to be stereotypical hippie music. Phish brings together elements of hard rock, blues, jazz, and even bluegrass into the mix, blending with their jam band backgrounds to create a sound quite unlike any other band out there.
Phish got its start in 1983 when University of Vermont students Trey Anastasio, Jonathan Fishman, Mike Gordon, and Jeff Holdsworth joined forces and started gigging together. At this point, they were mostly just a Grateful Dead cover band, going by the name of “Blackwood Convention”1. They were without a drummer until Marc Daubert joined the band in 1984, who was subsequently replaced by Page McConnell in 1985.
The bandmates soon transferred out of UVM to a much smaller college in a more rural area of Vermont. They began to focus more seriously on their music at this point and began to branch out by experimenting with several different genres of music. Deciding they liked each variety they tried, they came up with the notion of bringing it all together to create a distinct sound and style all their own.
The name of Phish came along around this time, though it is of disputed origin. It has been alternately claimed to have come from the acronym Prep School Hippies in Heaven, stemmed from an abbreviation of the name of Grateful Dead founder Phil Lesh, a play on Jonathan Fishman’s nickname of “Fish”, and the supposed sound made by an airplane taking off. headlining act in every event at which they performed.
By the 1990s, Phish had become world famous and were nearly always the headlining band at every concert and event at which they performed. Several albums and hundreds of performances later, the band felt a bit of inner turmoil and broke up in 2004, much to the chagrin of their fans. Phish decided to say goodbye with a bang, pulling off a very emotional and memorable farewell concert. Winning a Jammy Award in 20081 for their lifetime achievements in the jam band world seemed to rekindle their passion for playing. Phish reunited during that same year and have been going strong ever since, with their latest studio album Fuego hitting the shelves in 2014.The band’s current lineup features Trey Anastasio on guitar and lead vocals, Jon Fishman on drums, Mike Gordon on bass, and Page McConnell on drums.
Another aquatically named musical group with jam band roots was Oysterhead. This was a very short-lived band, running from 2000-2001. Their brief history belies their popularity though, as fans are still clamoring for a reunion. Oysterhead came into being when Les Claypool of Primus and Trey Anastasio of Phish had some downtime from their main bands and were looking to put a side band into action in time for the New Orleans Jazz Fest2. They managed to do this on schedule after recruiting Stewart Copeland from The Police into the band to play drums.
With Anastasio on guitar, Claypool on bass, and all three members providing vocals, Oysterhead was an overnight success. The psychedelic and funk-based influences from Primus, blended jam band twang from Phish, and elements of new wave and synthetic rock music from The Police all came together to give Oysterhead a distinct sound that no band before or since has ever been able to duplicate.
Because all three band members had larger bands that they had to devote a good deal of their time to, Oysterhead became a victim to the other bands’ successes. This led to them breaking up after just one year, but in that time they did manage to craft a studio album called The Grand Pecking Order which was released in 2001. This album was highly successful on a commercial level. It featured 13 tracks, 4 of which had first been played at the New Orleans Jazz Festival2.
There is some debate as to how Oysterhead acquired its unusual name. Some say that it was a result of Les Claypool’s fondness for fishing and all things ocean. Others hold that it was just another weird side band name crafted by Claypool much in the same vein as Col Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade.
A third band with a seafood-centric name is Blue Öyster Cult. For the sake of convenience and not having to continually flip through the special characters menu, we’ll be spelling the name without the umlaut for the rest of this article. We hope any hardcore BOC fan who reads this will forgive us for that one.
Blue Oyster Cult is decidedly different from the two bands described earlier in this article. They are one of America’s all-time most famous hard rock and heavy metal bands. They’ve been actively playing and touring since 1967 and show no signs of stopping, despite some significant roadblocks along the way. They are a band that has featured a revolving door of talent throughout the years, with the current lineup consisting of Donald Roeser on guitar and lead vocals, Eric Bloom on “stun” guitar (a term coined by the band to describe his unique style) and backing vocals, Richie Castellano on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Jules Radino on drums, and Kasim Sulton performing bass and backing vocals.
As we’ve already mentioned, Blue Oyster Cult got its start in 1967. At this time, they were playing under the name Soft White Underbelly. Being that the original members of the band all resided on Long Island, most of their early performances took place there and in and around New York City.
Several musicians entered and exited the band in its earliest days, but by 1971 it had what is now considered to be its classic lineup – one which lasted for a full decade. This group featured Roeser and Bloom in their current roles, along with Allen Lanier on keyboard and rhythm guitar, Albert Bouchard and drums and Joe Bouchard on bass. It wasn’t long before the name Soft White Underbelly was tossed out in favor of Blue Oyster Cult.
As is the case with the other two bands we’ve mentioned, the exact origin of this band’s name is disputed as well. Some claim that it was taken from a line in a poem written by band manager Sandy Pearlman. Others say that it was a takeoff from a restaurant the band frequented that was named the Blue Oyster Cafe. What isn’t disputed however is the reason behind the umlaut (those two dots over the O) in the band’s name. Donald Roeser was amused and slightly annoyed by the trend of random umlauts appearing in the names of metal bands around that time, so he threw them into his own band name in a spirit of humorous contempt.
Their two most commercially successful and most frequently aired albums came during this time period. Agents of Fortune came out in 1976 and Fire of Unknown Origin followed in 1981. These albums feature two of their best-known hits, including “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and “Burnin’ for You” on Agents of Fortune and Fire of Unknown Origin respectively. By the early 1980s, Blue Oyster Cult had become so popular that there was even a Blue Oyster Cult-themed summer camp for adults, complete with activities such as air guitar competitions3.
By the late 1980s, the Bouchard brothers had left the band and the revolving door of musicians made an unwelcome return. This hampered the band’s success until 1987, when they released the album Imaginos and began touring again. However, it would be 11 more years before their next studio album was released.
Injuries, illness, and tragedy all played a role in making the road for Blue Oyster Cult a difficult one after that. The most significant of these events was the death of Allen Lanier from heart disease in 2013. This and many other unfortunate events have left Blue Oyster Cult down at times, but never fully out. As of 2014, the band has remained active with its new lineup, delighting old fans and gaining new ones among a generation of emerging young metalheads.
The last band we’ll be talking about with you today is Reel Big Fish. This is a band that has been placed into many genres by listeners and the music industry. They’ve been tagged as pop, ska, third wave ska, alt rock, punk, and just about everything in between. Part of the difficulty in classifying their music comes from the fact that they don’t stick to the standard guitar/bass/keyboard/drums formula that most bands follow.
In addition to having these instruments, they also employ trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and Moog synthesizers in much of their music. Reel Big Fish initially formed in 1991 but didn’t release its first commercial album Everything Sucks until a few years later. This was considered by many to qualify as an underground album – one that was not heavily promoted yet gained widespread awareness almost completely by word of mouth.
The band’s most famous album to date is Turn the Radio Off, which was released in 1997. This album also contained their most widely recognized song, entitled “Sell Out”. While they were backed by major record label Mojo Records from 2000 through 2005, all of their releases in subsequent years have been on their own independent label Rock Ridge Music.
Albeit unintentionally, every band we’ve discussed in this article has mixed back stories regarding their name and Reel Big Fish is no exception. Some accounts hold that it was named after a tackle shop of the same name, while lead guitarist and vocalist Aaron Bennett has previously stated that it was a completely random name, with the band members just wanted a catchy name that had three syllables4.
Whatever the case, the band is still going strong today with Aaron Bennett on lead guitar and vocals, John Christianson on trumpet and backing vocals, Billy Kottage on trombone and backing vocals, Matt Appleton on saxophone and backing vocals, Ryland Steen on drums, and Derek Gibbs on bass.
1. Author Unavailable
2. Powers, Mike
Frogs and Oysters: A Les Claypool Interview
3. Author Unavailable
Blue Oyster Cult
4. Scotty1418 Reel Big Fish Interview Up to Date Music http://www.guye-s.tripod.com/UpToDate/rbfinterview.html