Music/Lyrics: Cyril Ferguson
Original Artist: Cyril Ferguson
Historian: Craig DeLucia; Mockingbird Staff
Last Update: 2016-01-12
"Ya Mar" is the cover song most likely to be confused with a Phish original. Given the obscurity of the original and the amount of time it has lived in the Phish catalog, many fans are unaware that it was not actually written by the band. And, until just before the hiatus began in the fall of 2000, most fans had been under the impression that the song was originally written by a calypso band called The Mustangs. As the story went, Mike Gordon heard them play the song while on vacation in the Caribbean, came home with a tape, and taught Phish the tune.
Yes, a band called The Mustangs recorded a version of Ya Mar. It appeared on their album The Wonderful Side of The Mustangs, and has been included in music compilations from the Bahamas. And it was this Mustangs’ version that Mike brought home with him. But the original was actually written and recorded by an artist named Cyril Ferguson. In fact, the song helped Cyril earn the “Most Potential Recording Artist Award” at the 1974 Music Maker of the Year Award Ceremony in the Bahamas.
"Ya Mar" – 5/23/00, New York, NY
Cover or original, “Ya Mar” resides as a favorite in the hearts of many fans. It represents one of Phish’s few forays into calypso and is among the most playful and danceable songs in the band’s repertoire. And anytime Trey screams for Page to take the reins (“Play it, Leoooooo!”), the crowd is apt to go wild. Page’s nickname actually comes from this line in the recording by the Mustangs, who urged their own piano man to step into the spotlight.
The title seems to reference the slurred interpretation of “your ma,” as the singer recounts the disdain his lover’s family has for him. Phish put their own unique stamp on it by often changing the “no good pa” lyric in the chorus to mimic their own “oh kee pa” phrase. But what is that mystery lyric that Mike wails toward the end? Though it surely varies somewhat from time to time, pick up 8/24/93 to hear Mike slow it down and explain slowly how you have to look at it from his side.
Over the years, renderings of “Ya Mar” have employed a little bit of everything but the kitchen sink. Special guests are common. Its calypso roots were expanded with vocals by Jah Roy on 5/24/88 and 6/20/88. For horns, see Dave Grippo’s contributions on 3/9/90, and Carl Gerhard and Michael Ray on10/10/94. For pure percussion thunder, grab Bob Gullotti’s guest appearances on 10/23/96 and 7/25/97. The latter is notable for another reason, as it is sandwiched inside of an exploratory set of jamming and free flowing segues. Other examples here include 7/10/97 and 11/30/94 (with an especially nice segue from “Ya Mar” into “Mike’s Song.”)
"Ya Mar" – 7/19/03, East Troy, WI
Looking for other good “Ya Mar”-induced segues? No Phish collection is complete without the incomparable 8/13/93 Murat “Bathtub Gin” > “Ya Mar” but don’t overlook the strong “Mike’s Song” -> “Ya Mar” (with a “Low Rider” jam in between) from 4/18/93. And the “Ya Mar” from IT, on 8/2/03, was unfinished and clocks in at almost 17 minutes of free-form jam candy that segued into “Runaway Jim.” Interesting and fiery stand-alone versions include12/13/97, 7/25/98, and 12/8/99.
Of course, every recollection of a Phish tune needs mention of a few teases. 6/29/94 is stellar, with a Simpsons signal and a “Dixie” tease, while 4/26/96 (“When the Saints Go Marching In” at New Orleans’ JazzFest) also scores high marks. See also various New Year’s Run performances, where "Ya Mar" often includes “Auld Lang Syne” teases. And, for some goofy stage banter, grab 4/29/93, where Trey cues Page in a bit too early and laughs his way out of it, 7/19/03, where Trey includes “Ya Mar” as part of the “Leo Trio,” and 12/5/09, interrupted by a naked stage crasher, which Trey observes "took a lot of balls."