Vince Herman’s Taxi picks up with ‘America’s sweetheart’ Todd Snider
June 22, 2011
Great American Taxi featuring Vince Herman and Todd “the Storyteller” Snider will perform Saturday, June 25, in the Crown Room of the Crystal Bay Casino.
Great American Taxi has been equated with roots rockers like the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Grateful Dead, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, the Byrds, and Little Feat. Herman also plays with the popular jam band Leftover Salmon. Snider has been on the road doing the gypsy troubadour thing for nearly 20 years. While his audiences are full of folkies and singer-songwriter fans who listen to the likes of John Prine and Steve Earl, Snider’s shows attract a diverse audience.
Lake Tahoe Action spoke this week with Herman as he traveled through Northern California.
Tim Parsons: I understand Great American Taxi has a song about the mountaintop removal to harvest coal.
Vince Herman: They are using nasty, nasty chemicals to break up the rocks and screwing with the water tables, especially in my hometown in Western Pennsylvania. There’s a coal seam 30 feet below the top of the mountain. And they just take the whole mountaintop and throw it over the side to get at that coal seam and they are filling in valleys, over 2,500 miles has been covered in Appalachia, over 50 mountains destroyed. It’s ridiculous that Appalachia has become this natural sacrifice zone. The anti-mountaintop removal people have been looking to get word out about what’s happening. And when they applied to remove this mountain top on Blair Mountain they saw it as if they could take this, they could take anything, so let’s try to stop this.
Q This is Blair Mountain?
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A Blair Mountain was the scene of a fight with labor in 1921 between the coal companies and people bringing unions to southern West Virginia coal fields with 10,000 miners marching at one point. They were met with state police, National Guard, coal company hired guns. Over 100 miners were killed in an ambush where they sat up in the ridge lines and just shot the miners down. They dropped bombs on them to stop the march. It was the biggest labor incident in the history of our country. This place should be sacred to American labor. … So we decided that Blair Mountain is the place to make a stand.
Q Is this a tour you are doing with Todd?
A No. It’s a one-off show. We’ve done probably 30 or 40 shows with Todd over the last couple years. He produced our new record which should be coming out by the end of the summer. We did the Blair Mountain tune on that. And we’ve got a Jerry Jeff Walker tribute record coming out probably next year for Jerry Jeff’s birthday. And we’ve got a live album out with Todd called “The Storyteller” about three or four months ago, so yeah, we’ve been working with Todd a lot.
Q You called him America’s sweetheart?
A (Laughs) Yeah. I did.
Q Do you have screaming girls at your shows?
A It’s like any Justin Bieber show. You know how it gets.
Q How did Great American Taxi get started?
A Somebody asked me to get together a band for a benefit for the rain forest action group in Boulder. They said, “Why don’t you just grab some local players you’ve always wanted to play with for this one-off thing,” and it ended up with eight or nine people for our first gig. But we has so much fun doing it, we did it a couple of more times and eventually paired it down to something we could take on the road, and we’ve been having fun with it for six years now.
Q Well, that’s certainly more than a one-off.
A Having fun leads the way has always been my modus operation.
Q And you always seem to make it to Tahoe every year.
A Yeah, it’s a great place. We’ve been playing there so much over the years since way back in the day.
Q Leftover Salmon. Did you have any idea that that band was going to become so popular?
A Oh man, if we did we’d have thought of a better name. I was actually in a band called the Salmonheads and I had been in the Lefthand String Band before. We had a gig outside of town that a couple of the guys couldn’t make. We did one gig and had 10 gig offers the next day because of the nature of the network in Colorado at the time. So on the way to the gig we had Lefthand String Band and Salmonheads and we thought it over and said let’s call it Leftover Salmon, and, God, had we known.
Q Bluegrass is really huge now, isn’t it?
A Once you see a couple laptops up there doing their thing, getting the ump, ump, whomp, whomp going, you look for something a little more organic. So both trends are existing. You see more and more laptops on stage and you also see more and more banjos. And both are good for those who like it. I know what I like.
Q Where did jam bands start?
A When I grew up in southern Pittsburgh I was listening to southern rock. The Allman Brothers started that jam band kind of thing. Then when I got the bluegrass bug, it sent me in a whole other direction. I moved down into West Virginia and where there’s that old time and bluegrass and that real heavy roots kind of scene down there in West Virginia. It was really, really inspiring to me. And I chased it up to Colorado, following the trail of Hot Rize. They are really the major inspiration for us, Hot Rize and New Grass Revival. I think those guys really laid down the roots for that jamgrass kind of thing. But a little too concerned about alienating their bluegrass crowd to put drums onstage, even though they put drums on their records but they don’t do it live. But coming from a rock ‘n’ roll kind of thing, we saw no problem with that.
Q Do you think Jerry Garcia dying led to Leftover Salmon’s rapid ascent?
A I don’t know if we had one of them rapid ascents (laughs). I remember the day that Jerry died. We were out in North Carolina playing a gig and it stunned all of us. It absolutely left a void in our musical world. I don’t know if one band disappearing necessarily leads to someone looking for something else to replace it because nothing will ever replace the Grateful Dead. But definitely a scene evolved around their social network that expanded into something of its own character completely. Yeah, they definitely laid down a very important part of the social network of people traveling to see music and sharing a band’s culture. That was definitely pioneered by the Dead.