Words to Wanda

Originally Performed ByTrey Anastasio
Original Album18 Steps (2006)
Appears On
Music/LyricsAnastasio, Marshall
HistorianTim Wade (TheEmu)
Last Update2015-03-23


Inspiration strikes in the darndest places. If you had to surmise the origins of an elegant piece of art like “Words to Wanda,” you would probably not guess it was born of a drunken romp. But that is exactly how Trey says the song was conceived. “‘Words to Wanda’ was like another style of Tom/Trey writing,” he told Randy Ray in a 2007 jambands.com interview. “It is me and Tom drinking too much beer and jumping around the room screaming until the lyrics come out. He’s hilarious. ‘Words to Wanda’ is a Tom/Trey screamer.” But this song was not destined to remain a lark. Transformed by a simple melody and a brilliant arrangement, “Words to Wanda” would instead become one of TAB’s most gorgeous songs. 

The actual “words” are never revealed. They are “beautiful and nameless,” “waiting for a label,” and only hinted at in the indecipherable backing vocals. The speaker reveals that he has been saving and “waiting” to say these words to Wanda, and he urges her to keep them “in a locket,” close to her heart. When read, the words are like “dreams quietly unfolding.” It’s not much of a leap to assume that love, of which so many poets have written scores of inadequate words, is the subject once again.

Trey Anastasio Band, “Words to Wanda” – 2/18/11, Portland, ME

The first incarnation of “Words to Wanda,” on Trey’s 2006 EP 18 Steps, has a distinctly African flavor, but the live performances would move in a different direction. The dulcet voices of Jen Hartswick and Christina Durfee (and later, Natalie Cressman) replaced the album version’s stately chant, and “Words to Wanda” became a song bursting with emotion and romance. These three initial versions were infused with groove, guided by Ray Paczkowski on clavinet and with Trey utilizing the Leslie. The performance in Los Angeles on 12/10/06 also featured steamy sax accompaniment from Peter Apfelbaum

Five days later, Trey was arrested in Whitehall, NY, and by the time “Words to Wanda” returned, more than three years had passed, Trey had reclaimed his sobriety, and Phish was together again. The song’s arrangement had also changed slightly. Ray moved from clavinet to piano, creating a breezy, more delicate sound, reminiscent of “Ether Sunday.” There has been no more horn accompaniment, despite the addition of saxophonist James Casey to the TAB lineup, but this does nothing to diminish “Wanda’s” luster. As proof, unfold the 1/24/13 performance (with Cyro Baptista on percussion), and find yourself lost in the nameless beauty of this TAB rarity.

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