Why Are They Called Phish
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There are, of course, many explanations for the name.
Fish's whoops: The simplest is that, at an early gig (Goddard in fall of 1984), someone asked Fishman for the name and he (thinking they were asking for his name) gave his nickname, "Fish", and it stuck so they changed the spelling. As Trey explained (in an interview with Pamela Polston for Vox, Burlington, 5/10/95):
"we'd met and started jamming together. We knew about two songs. Jeff [Holdsworth, a previous guitarist who left after he was "born-again"] knew someone who wanted us to play at this ROTC Christmas jormal dance -- black tie. We decided to do it, but we didn't have enough songs for a whole evening. We didn't have mike stands, just hockey sticks with mikes duct-tapes to a table. No name, nothing. "Phish" just kind of got thrown in there because of Fish's name. Anyway, we went to the gig with about 35 cover song, like "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress," "Heard it through the grapevine," stuff like that. They hated us. [Michael Jackson's] Thriller had just been released; they cranked it up on the turntable, and we couldn't compete. So we selected the name for that gig, and it just stuck."
- Phishy whoosh: Fishman reportedly later said that "phish" is the sound of an airplane taking off. (This is the story given in the unreliable, largely fictional book Go Fish, and comes originally from an interview with Fish in Musician in which he also pulls legs by saying, among other things, that he started playing the vacuum when his mother improvised punishment for his swearing.)
- Leshy squoosh: Some have surmised that Phish is a contraction of Phil Lesh.
- Watery wish: The name also clearly draws on water imagery -- note the logo, and that Trey often speaks of "surrendering to the flow", for starters.
- Marketing quiche: May have been an early marketing ploy, a changing of the band's spelling from Fish to Phish sometime in 1988, with the hope that folks would remember the band's name better.
- Practice eats: In one of the captions of Mike Gordon's pictures on phish.com, he said that it was a picture of them eating gold fish (peppridge farm or whatever, the gold fishies), and that when they practiced, that's all they used to eat, hence the name of the band. (Aylon Ben-Ami, 7/22/01)
- Chemical tip: Dev Britto noted (9/11/99) that pH is the chemical term for acidity, and that "there seems to be a lot of acidity at Phish shows."
- Legal trick: A Denver Post article succinctly argued "Phish: Drummer Jon Fishman's college nickname was Fish. The 'PH' spelling was easier to copyright."
- Acronymic: Prepschool Hippies In Seventh Heaven
Thanks also to Dan Mielcarz, Ali McDowell, and Scott Seabass.
F/Ph: There is also lots of fun to be had with the name, many wordplays on fishing themes. Fans of the band are sometimes called Phish Heads (also Glides or "aphishianados"), they congregate on (or in) the Phish.Net, tickets (abbreviated "tix" online) are thus pronounced like "fish sticks", and their jam progressions have been called (and their complex surface might be called) Phish scales, shows are Phish gigs, lyrics are Phish lines, antics are Phish hooks, the first hotline was the Phish Line... You can even play with Phish "stock" on the Rogue Market, and Ben & Jerry's has an ice cream flavor Phish Food. In an interview in the 5/10/95 Vox (Burlington), Pamela Polston asked Trey:
I: You must have a stack of reviews by now. Has anyone ever written about you without making puns with your name TA: You could be the first.
GHOTI: Some have (esp. summer '98) sought a connection between the band name Phish and the forthcoming album Ghost, citing a Washington Post article that mentions spelling Phish with the "gh" from tough, the "o" from "women", and the "ti" from "improvisation" - GHOTI, but "TopCat" posted (8/24/98) that "George Bernard Shaw originated that joke, way back in 1907 or so ... complaining about how irrational English spelling could be." Nonetheless, as a corollary, "Hoystidd" suggested GHOTIN for "phishin" And Todd Neckers posted that "There is a band called ghoti hook. I think they are christian rock though."
Fish: Some have objected to an association of fish with Phish (such as on the cover of The Phish Companion). But besides their homophonic name, official logo, newsletter subtitle, aquarium stage setup, "flow" philosophy, underwater and water-related narrations, and more than a dozen song (in title and lyrics), how much cause do you need for the association :)
The Fish is a nickname for Yes bassist Chris Squire, apparently bestowed upon him in the early 70s by his bandmates due to his marathon stints in the bathtub. It is also a Squire composition on the Fragile album that immediately follows "Long Distance Runaround". Many people aren't aware that these are two distinct compositions. "The Fish" as it appears on Fragile is an incredible multitracked bass solo that was (and continues to be) Squire's live showcase. The 20-minute version on the Yessongs album shows both Squire's brilliance as a bassist and his tendency towards overdoing it. "The Fish" is subtitled "Schindleria Praematurus", a latin name for the world's smallest prehistoric fish. The name is chanted during the outro of "The Fish" and was chosen seemingly at random: Jon Anderson and Chris Squire called their manager Brian Lane from Advision Studios in London at 2 a.m. during the recording sessions for Fragile and said, "We need the name of a prehistoric fish with 8 syllables. Call us back in a half hour." This was the best he could come up with. ... Squire would release a solo album in 1975 called Fish Out of Water. It is a masterpiece and considered by many (myself included) to be the equal of the best Yes studio albums. Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz both guest on it. ... None of this has anything whatsoever to do with Phish. (Syd Schwartz, 10/15/01)
"Spoke your name for many days, pronouncing it in several ways, moving letters all around and substituting every sound. When you heard the end result, I told you it was not my fault. If you were here more of the day, it wouldn't twist around that way." -- Phish, "Twist Around"