Vince Herman grew up in Carnegie, the youngest of seven children in a music loving family. He played piano, guitar, and mandolin growing up, soaking up mostly soul sounds as a kid. He cites Motown, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, STAX records, Junior Walker, and Cat Stevens as early influences.
But his first gig was with Eddie & The Nightriders, a country band that hired him as its guitar player. Vincent still remembers playing at Archie's Gone Country on Route 51.
As a high school freshman, he caught the bluegrass bug and attended the first Smoky City Folk Festival (a local outdoor folk-music jamboree sponsored by Calliope that ran from 1977-2000). Herman fell in love the folk scene in general and the off-stage jamming in particular. But he was more interested in performing on a different stage after he graduated from Carlynton HS in 1980.
He studied acting at the University of West Virginia ("I like to say I'm from Pennsyltucky," Herman told Backbeat Magazine, "I grew up in Pittsburgh and then went to college in West Virginia. I'm always happy to adopt the state of West Virginia because the music scene there was so good"), earning his sheepskin in 1984, and moved to Colorado, where he's still based, to work on his graduate degree.
That goal didn't last long; he dropped out to join the Left Hand String Band, one of the seminal groups in the progressive bluegrass movement of the late eighties. Well, maybe it wasn't much of a movement here, but it sure was out West. Go figure.
He next hooked up with a Cajun jug band called the Salmonheads. It merged with the LHSB, playfully combined names, and became Leftover Salmon in 1990.
Leftover Salmon quickly became an influential Americana jam act and hugely popular tour draw, performing at nearly every major North American festival during their heyday.
They were on stage at High Sierra Music Festival eight times, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival eight times, and the All Good festival three times, as well as gigging at Bonnaroo, Wakarusa, Dunegrass, Snowmass Mountain, Austin City Limits, Jazz Aspen, Beale Street Music and the H.O.R.D.E tour.
They teamed up with other bluegrass, country and the odd bluesman like Tim O'Brien, Jim Page, Paul Barrare, Bill Payne, Bela Fleck, Waylon Jennings, Taj Mahal, Lucinda Williams, John Bell, Todd Park Mohr, John Cowan and Earl Scruggs. And they weren't just a festival act. Leftover Salmon had a reputation as road dogs, booking 150 shows or more every year.
But reality interrupted. In 2002, the band's banjo player Mark Vann died from cancer, and by 2004, after a fifteen year run, the band went "on hiatus." Since 2007, they get together to perform a few reunion gigs every year.
In March of 2005, Herman joined the Spirit of Guthrie Tour, playing 13 dates with stuff drawn from newly discovered notebooks of folk legend Woody Guthrie. He also went solo, doing a stage act featuring a great folksy stage rap between tunes. In fact, his gig persona is so popular among rootjammers that he's emceed many of the top festivals in the country.
Today, he fronts Great American Taxi, a jam band that formed when the members were thrown together during a Rainforest Action Group concert in 2005. GAT has two albums under its belt, “Streets of Gold,” and "Reckless Habits." They're also road warriors, playing spots like The Independent in San Francisco, the Night Grass in Telluride, String Summit, Hookahville, the All-Good Music Festival and the Opera House in Telluride among other venues.
Compared to roots rockers like the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Grateful Dead, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, The Byrds, and Little Feat, GAT will be in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, April 20th, at the Rex Theater on the South Side, to support "Habits."
Their show is a mix of covers - they do songs by guys including Jackson Browne, Buddy Holly, The Band, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, and even the Talking Heads - and their own compositions. Herman and the band's interaction with the audience is an integral part of the gig. And it's part of the local BurghSTOCK shows.
The BurghSTOCK Concert Series benefits area non-profits that help homeless and disabled vets. It was put together in 2008 by local bar owners and band musicians to combat the homelessness that affects the local veteran population. They'll be passing the hat during the show to aid the cause. Hippies helping vets...who'd thunk it?
So hey, if you've finally give up on waiting for Phish or the Wallflowers to show up in Pittsburgh, and get easily bored on Tuesday nights, then go catch native jam artist Vince Herman and the Great American Taxi.
Great American Taxi - "Appalachian Soul"
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival '09