Music/Lyrics: Cyril Ferguson
Original Artist: Cyril Ferguson
Historian: Mockingbird Staff
Last Update: 2016-02-28
"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 is a cover. 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 it was this Mustangs’ version that Mike brought home with him. But the original was actually written and recorded by the late Cyril Ferguson.
The Mustangs – "Ya Mar"
“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 original, where The Mustangs 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.
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 “Geerz” Gerhard and Michael Ray on 10/10/94. For pure percussion thunder, grab Bob Gullotti’s guest appearances on 10/23/96 and 7/25/97.
"Ya Mar" – 4/29/90, Woodbury, CT
Looking for other good “Ya Mar”-induced segues? Check out the incomparable 8/13/93 Murat “Bathtub Gin” -> “Ya Mar,” and don’t overlook the strong “Mike’s Song” -> “Ya Mar” from 4/18/93. The “Ya Mar” from IT on 8/2/03 was unfinished and clocks in at almost seventeen minutes of free-form jam candy that segued into “Runaway Jim.” Interesting and fiery stand-alone versions include 12/13/97, 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. 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;” or 12/5/09, interrupted by a naked stage crasher, which Trey observed "took a lot of balls." Finally, don’t miss the “Ya Mar” from 1/15/16 in Riviera Maya, Mexico, as Phish was finally able to play the song in a beach-side setting fitting to its origins.
"Ya Mar" – 12/5/09, Charlottesville, VA