Lonesome Cowboy Bill
Music/Lyrics: Lou Reed
Vocals: Fish (lead), Page, Trey (backing)
Original Artist: The Velvet Underground
Original Album: Loaded (1970)
Albums: Live Phish 16
Historian: Elayne Best, Mark Toscano
Last Update: 2012-07-05
“Lonesome Cowboy Bill” was first teased by Page during "Love You" on his 29th birthday show, on 5/17/92. Almost three years later, on 5/16/95 at the Voters For Choice benefit, Phish put a whole clothesline full of new laundry out to dry, among which was this seemingly random Velvet Underground track. As a Velvets’ song, it’s not very notable. In fact, it’s sort of a joke and a throwaway track, really. However, the band covered it as a Fish song, which sometimes calls into question Phish’s respect for the particular tune. At any rate, Trey manned the drums for this one as Fishman took the energized lead vocals, with the piano taking the instrumental foreground rather than the standard guitar.
Of course, Phish is always full of surprises, and when it performed the Velvets’ Loaded on 10/31/98, this song was a radical departure from the versions offered in 1995. Likely to encourage more group improvisation and stretching out on the tune, Fish sang it from his drum seat so Trey could remain at the guitar. Throwaway song, indeed – the band faked an ending, then tore into an end chorus reprise that led to an experimental, extended jam making the song about ten minutes long, all said. This unexpected embellishment shouldn’t go unnoticed – up to this point, no other Phish Halloween cover had departed so far from its original composition, indicating that the band was finally getting comfortable playing other bands’ songs without worry of bastardizing or defaming them.
Of all songs from the original album, this was the last track fans thought would yield an interesting jam, but Phish ran away with it and blessed it with the most unusual and provocative playing of the set, eventually segueing perfectly into “I Found a Reason.”
“Lonesome Cowboy Bill” remains a rare cover, but is always a fun addition to the Phish rodeo (see 7/30/03, 6/12/11, and 7/1/12). Fish’s vocals and Trey’s intricate guitar work on this rockabilly will leave you shouting “yee haw!”
Phish, “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” – 10/31/98, Las Vegas, NV