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Published: 1999/12/15
by Dean Budnick

Breakin’ Thru: Drew Emmitt & Leftover Salmon Enter New Realms

In 1984, Colorado resident Drew Emmitt founded the progressive bluegrass ensemble, The Left Hand String Band. Six years later, Vince Herman’s serendipitous scramble for musicians to fill in a gig with his Salmon Heads yielded a glorious amalgam: Leftover Salmon. Emmitt’s mandolin prowess and songwriting gifts are two particular sources of the group’s success. Leftover recently released the Nashville Sessions, which pairs the quintet with a number of legendary players from within the bluegrass community and beyond. Some of these musicians will be joining Leftover when the quintet initiates some requisite New Year’s Eve revelry at Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium (the doors open at 4:20 and the musical action will commence at 6). For additional tidbits, visit the group’s website, leftoversalmon.com.

DB- You grew up in Tennessee?

DE- Until I was about twelve or so. Then I moved to Boulder when I was a teenager.

DB- Did you begin playing when you were down south or after you came to Colorado?

DE- I started playing when I was living down south. Then when I was out in Boulder I started going out to see bands like Hot Rize and getting into bluegrass. I started doing some bar gigs when I was a teenager in Boulder.

DB- To what extent do you think either environment impacted on your musical development?

DE- In Tennessee for one thing everybody played music. There are some places where everybody plays sports or skis. Well in Tennessee it was a given that you would play an instrument. There were always instruments around the house when I was growing up. Then we moved to Boulder, which had a really great music scene in the seventies. There were all kinds of cool places that you could go and stay up all night and jam with people, coffeehouses and things like that. There were a lot of really influential musicians floating in and out of Boulder at that time, like Firefall, Human Prairie League and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Joe Walsh too, all these people were just hanging out in Boulder. It was really booming. Then in the eighties it kind of went through a drought where there wasn’t that much going on.

DB- Was mandolin the first instrument that you played?

DE- No, guitar was. I started out on guitar when I was twelve. I first picked up the mandolin when I was about 18, so it’s been about 20 years now.

DB- What inspired you to make that switch?

DE- Actually my mom bought me the mandolin. She kind of thought I should be playing the mandolin. She had been telling for a while that she was going to get me one, and she finally did it. I was immediately taken with it, sat down and just played with the thing. I knew nothing about it but was able to get some sounds out of it. I just really got into it.

DB- What made your mom think that you’d have a connection with the mandolin?

DE- That’s a really good question (laughs) I don’t know. I used to listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page played the mandolin. So that was always kind of intriguing to me.

DB- I notice that on the Leftover web site, your pantheon of musical heroes includes Lowell George, Steve Morse and Duane Allman. I’m not sure if many people would immediately associate those players with your style and sound.

DE- I love Lowell, his singing especially but also his slide playing and his songwriting. Steve Morse, I got into the Dregs early on and I was completely blown away by him, and kind of discouraged at the same time. As far as the Allmans, I go way back with them, and as far as slide playing, Duane was the best ever. Until Derek Trucks came along (laughs)

DB- Let me ask you, the Nashville Sessions, how did that come about?

DE- I kind of all began because over the past few years we’ve been playing all these festivals, meeting and playing with a lot of our heroes. I think the idea came up, why don’t we make a record with all these folks? The record company was real excited about this, so our manager contacted Randy Scruggs, and he flew out to see a show. He said, “Sure, I’d love to produce a record,” and it just took off from there. We had a big wish list of people we wanted to play on the record and just started calling them.

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