In April 2000, Charlie Dirksen interviewed Carl "Gears'" Gerhard, longtime Phish guest and member of the Giant Country Horns. The following exerpts from that interview were published in the first edition of The Phish Companion.
Charlie Dirksen: What are your greatest musical influences?
Carl Gerhard: I grew up in a family that totally supported my music. I used to sit in my living room at home for hours and try to play along with every song that came on the radio. That really helped me develop my ear, and from that, I was able to recognize and memorize tunes. I had a great band director in high school (Norris Birnbaum), who loved quality music, regardless of idiom or genre. Our band was always performing the most challenging pieces. He pushed me to be a more well rounded player. I've been a Navy musician for 14 years, and I've played with some super-talented people who have influenced how I play today. I mean, some really hot musicians. I can't say enough about Phish. You can't help but be positively influenced and motivated by their music and their musicianship. No doubt about it, they are the best at what they do.
CD: When did you first start playing trumpet?
CG: I started playing when I was about ten.
CD: How often do you play your trumpet today?
CG: I play quite a bit actually. I'm a full-time Navy musician currently teaching at the Armed Forces School of Music in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
CD: What's the story behind your first gig on trumpet with Phish [11/11/88]?
CG: I remember it well. I had just moved to Newport, Rhode Island, in September of that year. Page had asked me to come up and sit in that night. I met the band in a pizza place before the show, and we just talked about music and what I might want to play with them that night. I remember it being a blast! I felt right at home up there being with Page. They played with such intensity, and the crowd was totally into it.
CD: When did you first meet Page?
CG: I've known Page since we were about nine or ten. We used to jam together in all kinds of musical settings. We would also sit around and improvise for hours. Absolutely one of the nicest, funniest guys on earth, too!
CD: How and when did the Giant Country Horns begin?
CG: I guess the idea for the horn section spawned from having Russell [Remington] and Dave [Grippo] already in town sitting in with Phish, and then I came up for a "jazz gig" with Phish at Nectar's in January 1991. That's when I met Dave. We played a short rehearsal at the band house and then the gig that night under an assumed name. I think it was something like "The Johnny B. Fishman Jazz Ensemble." I was sick as a dog and spent most of that day in Page's apartment. The next day, Trey asked me if I could get away from work that summer to tour with the band.
CD: Did you rehearse for the summer 1991 Phish tour?
CG: We rehearsed for about two or three days, tops. The ideas and music just seemed to flow and fall right into place. The most amazing thing was seeing the band's reaction when we first added the horn section in rehearsal. I knew right then that this was gonna be something special.
CD: Who wrote the charts for that tour?
CG: We all had a hand in the arranging. Trey had done most of it, I think. I brought up a couple of things that a friend of mine named Rob Vuono wrote after listening to some tapes the band sent me. He wrote the horn lines to "Alumni Blues" and "The Landlady." Some nights, we actually wrote arrangements between soundcheck and the show.
CD: Your trumpet playing in the 7/21/91 "Contact" continues to this day to make me smile. Do you have any particular memories of that show? It is probably the most circulated Phish show from 1991.
CG: Thanks for the compliment. I remember that most of my family came from New Jersey to see the show. That was something special. The whole "Arrowhead Ranch experience" helped me realize just how powerful Phish was as a group.
It was really hot at Arrowhead, so we asked Trey if we could do just one gig in shorts and a t-shirt. No go. Trey said that the suits were part of the show, the GCH had to look like the GCH, so we had to "tough it out." Our skin was pink for a month!
CD: What was the travel like on tour in summer 1991, especially the hot run through the south?
CG: Things have changed since '91! Russ, Fish, Dave, and I drove in Fish's Dodge Caravan. No A.C. We had to keep the heat on so the engine wouldn't overheat!
CD: Did the tone of the horns suffer?
CG: I don't think the instruments suffered, but we were hurtin'.
CD: Do you recall seeing fans following the whole tour that summer?
CG: I remember a few fans that showed up nearly everywhere we played.
CD: Do you recall any show from that summer in particular?
CG: They were all incredible in their own way. I'd have to say that playing the last gig in Atlanta and sharing the stage with the Aquarium Rescue Unit was very memorable. It was the last show that Russell, Dave, and I played together as the original Giant Country Horns.
CD: Whose idea was it to wear those white suits?
CG: I don't know. But I do remember Page coming back from a costume or thrift shop in Burlington the day before the first Burlington show. He picked up three white tuxedo jackets and three pairs of white pants. He took the jackets and put them in a tub of pink dye and the pants in purple dye. They told us to go out and get sneakers that matched. Dave had white and Russell had black, so I wore one black and one white sneaker.
CD: As you know, Phish released a box set of their Hampton 1998 shows, which feature you on the encore, "Tubthumping”. Any memories of that evening that you'd like to share?
CG: I had no idea what Trey wanted me to play until after the first set. He told me before the show that he had a surprise in store, and that Tom [Marshall] and I would be doing the encore together. We went into the band rehearsal room (after hearing the CD once!) and fooled around with it during the set break with the band, myself, and Tom. It was a blast, to say the least!
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