Vocals: Mike, Page, Trey
Original Artist: The Mighty Diamonds
Original Album: When the Right Time Comes I Need a Roof (1976)
Historian: Ellis Godard
Please, don't mistake this for the chart-topping country hit of the same title written by Paul Kennerley and recorded by The Judds. It’s a much, much better song and, my lord, Phish would never cover the Judds. (Forgive me if I am proven false. I confess that I have witnessed many surprises delivered by them.) Phish’s “Have Mercy” bows to the writing of reggae trio The Mighty Diamonds.
Phish’s cover is a rare ritual, performed only ten times. Four appearances in 1986 filled the space between omnipotent tunes like “David Bowie” and “Harry Hood.” After a seven-year absence, the prodigal song returned for appearances during several godly jams: the 2/20/93 “Weekapaug Groove,” the 5/8/93 “David Bowie,” the prelude to the 8/14/93 “Antelope,” and the 11/12/94 “Down with Disease” (in which the “Have Mercy” segment alone was nearly six minutes long!). And all was well, and the song rested.
But then the sacred was made profane. After five years in peace, “Have Mercy” was dragged into an arguable letdown (7/17/99), and then part of a moment of band confusion and miscommunication (12/10/99). Then after a ten year and 189 show absence, "Have Mercy" made an unexpected return on 7/1/10 in Raleigh, emerging out of "Fluffhead" and setting up the equally rare "Light Up Or Leave Me Alone."
Or, perhaps the profanity is appropriate: although The Mighty Diamonds sported boyish harmonies, their attitude was otherwise young and brazen, a mix of choir boy and Kingston punk. They were rough reggae, not roots Rastafari, and their sound and appearance began a “rockers” era in reggae. And maybe that’s not such a bad direction to go. “Guide us, Jah man,” as the song say, “oh yeah.”