McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters
Historian: lumpblockclod, Mark Toscano
Last Update: 2014-01-28
The lyrics for this song are derived from a Tom Marshall poem that remains more or less unchanged from its original form. Tom had sent Trey an envelope containing only this poem some time during Trey’s fall 1985 semester at Goddard College. Trey was intrigued by the poem and affixed it to his door, where he left it undisturbed for a year or so. The poem occasionally made its way into the live Phish show around this time, though primarily in a spoken-word context. In early 1986 “McGrupp” usurped the music that originally accompanied “Skippy the Wondermouse” when that tune was retired from the band’s repertoire. 1986 and 1987 versions of “McGrupp” sound almost as they do today, although the lyrics were chanted disturbingly and the piano solo section didn’t exist just yet. But there were other, larger plans for this song brewing in Trey’s head.
During Trey’s fall 1986 semester, the poem “McGrupp” – along with a song he had written a few years earlier with Tom Marshall and Aaron Woolfe (“Wilson, Can You Still Have Fun?” a.k.a.“Wilson”) – served as the inspiration for Trey’s Senior Study at Goddard. By extrapolating a detailed narrative from the myriad characters and events found in “McGrupp” and “Wilson,” Trey constructed The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, subsequently known as the Gamehendge saga. McGrupp is Colonel Forbin’s dog, a seldom-mentioned character in the story.
After some tweaking and experimentation with “McGrupp” over the two years following its live debut, the song finally found compositional repose in 1988. The tune’s structure is fairly straightforward: a brief musical intro is followed by all of the song’s lyrics, which lead to a brief 5-part instrumental suite, usually followed by a Page solo (or sometimes full band improv), with an encore of the last part of the suite and (usually) an outro that echoes the song’s intro. With few exceptions this format has persisted to the present day.
One remarkable exception occurred in the fall of 1989. When "Fluffhead" went into the shop for potential retooling (only to emerge three months later with no changes made), several of the components of "Fluff's Travels" were performed on their own. While most of those pieces were performed haphazardly, one segment – "Who Do? We Do!" – immediately found a temporary home appended to "McGrupp." Check out 10/1/89 or 11/2/89 for examples. Was the plan to make "Who Do? We Do!" a part of "McGrupp" or was this simply a pairing of two songs that fit well together? It's hard to say for sure, though they did fit very well together. Unfortunately Trey hasn't returned my phone calls, so it's possible we'll never know.
With that one exception, until 1997 the band rarely did more than spotlight Page during the post-composition section of the tune. Standout versions of “McGrupp” during this period include 3/22/93, 5/3/93, 12/30/93, 7/2/94, 6/26/94, and 12/29/95. Beginning in 1997, though, the band seemed to be eager to communally explore this part of the song, rather than let Page alone show his skills. Some really nice post-1996 versions include 6/25/97, 7/31/97, 12/30/97, and 9/18/00 (the funk and reggae infused 6/25/97 version deserves special mention, as it is a truly unique reading of the song). "McGrupp" made only one appearance during Phish 2.0 (during the legendary 7/29/03 show) and remains rare in the 3.0 era. Two latter day versions are especially vital and should not be missed by serious "McGrupp" fans: the acoustic version from Festival 8 on 11/1/09 and the sublime, “Plinko”-infused 6/28/12 rendition from Deer Creek.
"McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters" – 11/1/09, Indio, CA
Though Trey ended up leaving “McGrupp” out of The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, its importance to the project has been credited – for the 3/22/93, 6/26/94, and 7/8/94 performances of The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Trey replaced “Possum” with “McGrupp.” In the Gamehendge story context, the song is generally understood as a summary of the events of the rest of the story, as seen through the unbiased eyes of a shepherd who tends his flock on the outskirts of Gamehendge.
One more thing: in case you’re wondering about the “Dave” that Rutherford looks too much like – it’s Dave Abrahams, another longtime friend and music writing partner of both Tom and Trey, who wrote and lent his name to the infamous “Dave’s Energy Guide.”
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