Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley
Music/Lyrics: Allen Toussaint
Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Original Artist: Lee Dorsey
Original Album: Yes We Can (1970)
Historian: Ellis Godard (lemuria)
Last Update: 2015-10-02
Robert Palmer (who is mentioned in the lyrics to “Tube”) had more than fifteen albums of his own, plus two more with The Power Station. The ninth brought him MTV fame, accompanied by iconic videos such as for “Addicted to Love.” But it was his first album in 1974, with the hit title track "Sneakin' Sally through the Alley" (as well as one other Toussaint tune), that brought him radio fame (and celebrity more generally) years earlier.
Written by later Feat member Allen Toussaint, it was originally recorded by Lee Dorsey for his Yes We Can album four years earlier, produced by Toussaint and with The Meters backing Dorsey, packaged it in a funky six-song suite buffered by title tracks. (Dorsey also released Toussaint's "On Your Way Down", five years after Feat did, on his 1978 Night People.)
Lee Dorsey, "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley"
Palmer's version is also part of a suite, following “Sailing Shoes” (by Lowell George of Little Feat) and “Hey Julia” in an uninterrupted flow as if the three are one track. It wasn't the original, but Palmer's version is better known and closer to what Phish plays.
Though Feat would back Palmer on his next album, his music beyond 1974 quickly turned from funky rock toward electronic music and then jazz. Phish would later take similar turns, from a blues-rock bar band to a jazzy electronic circus. Their early years included a number of Feat songs, including Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down,” and they recorded “Sneakin’ Sally” as the last song of a six-song demo tape that circulated lightly in mid-1987. Sine then it has helped mark important changes in the band’s history.
In Phish’s earlier versions, the song’s role seemed more defined, helping transition from something heavily orchestrated (“Slave,” “YEM,” “Fluffhead,” “McGrupp,” and “Lizards”) to something silly (“Harpua,” “Makisupa”) or loud (“Suzy,” “Frankenstein,” “GTBT”). During the late '90s, the song’s role became one of broadening the setlists from the funk phase of that era back into the variety that is Phish (and thus followed “Wolfman’s,” “Boogie On,” and “Birds,” but preceded “Ghost,” “Axilla,” “Guyute,” “Tube,” and “It’s Ice”). Despite this stronger role, the song had a weaker presence: played at roughly a fourth of the known shows in 1985, 1986, and 1988, and nearly half of those in 1987, it was then dropped for over a decade. Upon its return, it has become a somewhat rare treat, averaging three appearances a year between the 12/30/97 breakout through 2010.
Phish, "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" – 10/31/98, Las Vegas, NV
Early Phish versions included the band’s first vocal jams (e.g. 3/11/88, 5/25/88, and 7/12/88), and every version through 5/8/89 and since 8/7/09 included a vocal jam. (During the gap, only 1 of 15 versions had one - 4/15/04, returning after 1,150 shows.) Also notable is 2/24/88 that featured an early horn bit by Fishman.
The 10/30/85 version is well known since the recording circulates widely, though stronger versions followed on 10/15/86, 8/29/87, and certainly 12/30/97. The latter actually included two versions, a show opener – after an eight year (920 show) absence – and during the encore, when the band tried to occupy their time after getting caught exceeding the venue’s curfew (the latter benefiting those who got into the show late and missed the opener).
Other strong versions have segued out of “Wolfman’s Brother” (4/2/98, 7/17/99, and 9/28/99) and into “Back Porch Boogie” (10/31/87), “Ya Mar” (5/28/89), “Guyute” (8/8/98),“Chalk Dust” (10/31/98), and “Ghost” (12/11/99). During the post-break-up era Phish laid down one of the strongest versions of "Sneakin' Sally" to date, a 17-minute epic at The Gorge on 8/7/09 and has followed up with strong, vocal-jam infused versions on 6/4/11 at Blossom and 7/6/12 at SPAC.
Phish, "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" – 8/7/09, George, WA