Historian: Mark Toscano
Possibly one of Phish’s strangest studio tracks, this one was greeted with the same initial confusion as were tracks like “Manteca,” “Lengthwise,” and “Montana” when their respective albums came out. But most mysteries get cleared up eventually, especially with as rabidly fact-craving a fan base as ours.
Hoist producer Paul Fox apparently lived next door to Jonathan Frakes, best known for his role as Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Well, Frakes’s mailbox was quite unusually decorated, and the subject of some discussion during the Hoist sessions. So we know where the song’s title comes from.
The song itself is a different story. It’s a menagerie of trombone bursts, backward yelling, manic banjo, disturbed by various studio effects, creating a sound like an entire barnyard in a blender. Clocking in only at around half a minute, it turns out that the song’s origins are quite unlikely. During fall 1993, while the album was being recorded, the song “Buffalo Bill” was on extended hiatus, but not forgotten. Though it hadn’t been played in public since its 11/21/92 debut, a bizarre version of the song was recorded for Hoist.
Realizing that the fun but absurd song conflicted with the album’s more sober hue, it was decided to leave the track off. Enter “Riker’s Mailbox.” A brief snippet of the recorded “Buffalo Bill” is what you hear beneath and alongside all that other madness when your copy of Hoist reaches track four. The shouting can even be deciphered as something like “Olaffub,” proving the seemingly far-fetched story true. And the trombone: is it Fishman? No, it is Commander Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes, who sat in on part of the recording sessions.