Jimmy Herring: The Lifeboat Sessions and More
“ I hate that mentality where the instrument is more important than the music, especially guitar, because it's been so exploited. ”
One other thing has remained a constant, even now when he's responsible for providing the melodic contours of the Widespread jam, is that jazz looms large in his arsenal of influence. And it's of the unabashedly electric and exciting sort. Remember, before Herring, Jeff Sipe and the Burbridge brothers formed the now-legendary Aquarium Rescue Unit with the Colonel Brice Hampton, thereby jump-starting the Jamband revolution, they had a fusion band.
Luckily, Herring keeps indulging his jazz "jones" by revisiting it on his own recordings and projects, whether with past post-ARU outlets, like Jeff Sipe's Apartment Projects and Project Z, or his freshly completed and scintillating Lifeboat (Abstract Logix, 2008).
All About Jazz: I just want to begin by noting how amazing it is that you've gone from this cult, ARU guy, to one of this country's exemplary or archetypical guitarists. What you do, very few guys can doplaying the virtuosic lines, but keeping the southern thing in it. With all these iconic American bands like Widespread, the Allmans and the Dead, you're at the pinnacle of where you could be.
Jimmy Herring: I would never have imagined it. I was looking for a band to be in for twenty years or more and ARU was it, but it wasn't meant to be that way. That's what I wanted, to stay in that band forever. But it was meant to do what it did and then move on. One member would leave and another would leave and it just wasn't the same anymore.
AAJ: As a former and current fan I agree, but it's great that you continue on with even still getting some shows together.
JH: Yes, we will be doing some more. We just have to get our stuff together.
AAJ: And you dipped back into that bag, instrumentally anyway, with Project Z too.
JH: See, that was Ricky Kellerwe always looked at him like second in command to Brucethe highest ranking officer. Basically we loved him. He wasn't in ARU but he was in spirit. He ran a studio in town so he couldn't be on the road and stuff. So when ARU was no longer playing and Jeff and I wanted to sort of pick up where it left off and just try to continue on with the ideawell, that's what Project Z was. So we got Ricky to play bass because he understood Bruce's philosophy as well as anyone. Oteil [Burbridge] would have been involved too, but he was playing with the Allman Brothers and some other stuff.
AAJ: You're not that well-known outside of the US, but domestically, you're getting some well-deserved recognition.
JH: I still think, in some ways, it's in an underground kind of sense. I'm so flattered that I've been fortunate enough to get to work with all these great bands. I just haven't done that much playing outside of the country. There have been opportunities, but they just haven't been the right ones yet. Even when I was with Phil [Lesh], we played only US dates and the same goes for when I was with the Allman Brothers for a brief stint and the same goes for the Dead. Panic has toured outside of the country, but not with me yet. We even had opportunities with ARU, but we would have been sleeping on top of each other. I don't think Bruce would have done it, even if better offers than what we got came along.
AAJ: As far as the jazz scene goes, and you're really taking a giant step over in that direction with this record, there's New York, there's LA, and then there's this group of cats down south that consists, basically, of you, Oteil, Sipe, Kofi, Bela and Victor Wooten, that has made significant inroads into the jazz world. How did that happen for you guys?
JH: I came back here [Atlanta, where Herring now lives] after being in California just to go to school at GIT. There were some great musicians there. In fact Jeff Buckley was one of the guys in my class who I used to hang out with all the time. We were always talking about what we were going to do after graduation. This guy Steve Freeman, who was a teacher at school and a brilliant guitarist, had the idea to open a school in the south. He was leaving California to move back to Atlanta. I'm from North Carolina, so he asked me if I'd be interested in moving back to the south since I was a southern guy anyway. I told him I'd be way into it, because LA really wasn't for me. There were a lot of great things about it , but the whole circuit with the play to pay thing was bad. You know what that is, right?
AAJ: You have to guarantee some amount of the door right?
JH: In LA you had to buy a sold-out house.
Granted these were not big places, but 500 people when you're just getting started is tough. So when Steve came to me I ended up coming here in 1986. Maybe the second or third day I was in town Scott Henderson was coming into the school to do a clinic and he's one of my favorite players. I had been to school out there and I was always blown away by him.
AAJ: I wanted to ask you about Scott in particular because I really hear his influence in your playing.
JH: Yeah, big time.
AAJ: Angular phraseology and a lot of twisted pentatonic lines and ideas.
JH: I noticed a long time ago that he plays a lot of pentatonic lines, but that they were not from the root of the chord. He does a lot of that. Coltrane did a lot of that and that's probably where he got it.
So Scott's a monster and he's doing the clinic in Atlanta and when I got there he was using local musicians, and one of the guys was Jeff Sipe. So within a couple of days I heard Sipe playing with Henderson and I was saying, "Oh my god! This guy is local? I came to the right place."
So I went right up to Sipe after the clinic and said, "That was amazing! My name's Jimmy and I just moved to town. You're someone I'd love to play with." He said, "Really? What are you doing tomorrow?" And he didn't know me at all.
So I went to his house the next dayno bass, no keyboardsjust drums and guitar and we played for five hours. We had this instant chemistry. I knew then that I wanted to play with this guy for the rest of my life.
And then he called me up two weeks later and said, "Man, these two dudes just moved into town from Virginia Beach and they're brothers. It's Oteil and Kofi Burbridge, and by the way they're my roommates!" They had moved into Sipe's housethat's the first place they lived. I remember he said, "You've got to come over herenow!"
So I grabbed my stuff and I got to play with Oteil, Kofi and Sipe within two weeks of moving to town, in 1986. We had a band but we never really gigged because then the situation in Atlanta was, to get a gig, you had to play four sets. We were trying to do all original material. Everybody was hustling and doing other gigs. I was doing some teaching and Sipe was teaching and playing in some different top-40 bands. Oteil and Kofi had become the new guys on the scene so they were in demand on the top-40 circuit. But four hours of music was tough to get togetherwe had about 90 minutes worth of original music and besides that, it was fusion oriented music, too.
But then Sipe started talking about this guy, Bruce Hampton, saying stuff like, "Man, it's really truly liberating to play with this guy. Everything is real roots oriented, but because it's so simple we can take real liberties with the musicyou can go out and come back in. It's just funk meets jazz meets blues." It sounded real good to me. Soon Sipe and Oteil started playing with Bruce full-time. I went to see them and was blown away by what they were doing. When we played together we played more fusion-oriented music that we were writing, but neither Sipe nor Oteil knew I liked to play blues. I thought they'd be bored playing a blues, but I found out they loved itthey were playing it all night with Bruce. They also didn't know I liked playing country-type stuff and I had no idea Sipe could even play a two-beat, let alone enjoy doing it. As it turns out it just explodedmusically, I mean.
The first night the music just took off. Then, Jeff Mosier, a great banjo player who was already in that band, brought in Matt Mundy, a great mandolinist from the bluegrass world, in and the thing really justat that point we decided, "Oh, we're going to definitely do this." And it wasn't about money. We were playing one night a week at a 99 cent draft beer night or something.
AAJ: It's very cool what you just related. Because what you basically just said was, none of you realized it, but all the musicians involved did everything. The southern contingent is versatile. Speaking of which, I was going to ask you how jazz got in there given some of your older interviews say Dicky Betts and Steve Morse were your primary and biggest influences.
JH: I never thought Steve Morse was jazz, but his music was intelligent and it's instrumental. But I was already into listening to jazz, even though I knew I couldn't swing because I'm a white guy from North Carolina. [laughs] I was inspired by jazz; listening to a lot of Coltrane, and I also really loved Elvin Jones. I always loved jazzI just never really had it come up in an interview before.
AAJ: Like since you were a kid?
JH: Specifically, I got hip to the Dregs when I was like 17 or 18, but by 19 or 20 I was more into jazz. My brother hipped me to Mahavishnu. That led me to what [John] McLaughlin had done before that with Miles [Davis]. Then I got hip to all the things Miles had done and started realizing I better start studying horn players and listening them for inspiration. I got it into my mind that guitar players were getting their licks from other guitar players, so I listened to a lot of Cannonball [Adderley] and thought he was the greatest, and Bird [Charlie Parker] and Dizzy [Gillespie]. Cannonball is like the ultimate blues manlisten to that album Somethin' Else (Blue Note, 1958)that's unbelievable.
But then, right after that, I went to school and I heard Scott Henderson and that was like Michael Brecker meets Jeff Beck, which really knocked me out, making me want to hear the guitar in the role of a horn player.
AAJ: It's one thing to be knocked out by it; it's another to learn it.
JH: To be truthful, it's not like I couldI mean Scott was just so good, he was so intimidating because he could play changes like a horn player but he had a delivery like a rock 'n 'roll guitarist. That was just so appealing to me and it made me want to study jazz and work on playing jazz changes. I could learn his lines but I couldn't really understand what went into the composition of the line. It was one thing to transcribe it off a record but another thing to understand what led him to that choice of notes and rhythms. Being in that environment was great because it got me interested in him and in listening to the music he was inspired by.
AAJ: Now he's put it out there for everybody. He has authored more than a few method books and videos.
JH: He's a monster, man.
AAJ: Does he know what you think of him?
JH: I'm sure he does. Actually, I'm scared to death of him. [laughs] When I was a student, at about 22, Holdsworth and Steve Morse were my favorite guys but I wasn't hip into the deep harmony. For instance, I didn't know what augmented major 7th chords were or how to play over them. I didn't know the scales that fit the wild chords.
Scott would do these open counseling sessions which consisted of him sitting there with a Real Book and a guitar and have students come in and play tunes with him. My weakest thing was trying to play Real Book tunes. I dug it but I couldn't play freely through those changes. I would just go in there and listenI would not play. But then he would start getting on my case like, "Hey! Where's your guitar? You can't get away with coming here week after week with not playing." So I said, "OK. I'll just stand outside and listen." [laughs]. But he told me to get my ass in there in play. See, Scott was tough manI've seen a few people look pretty much like they wanted to cry. It was inspiring but I didn't have the balls to go in there and play with him. But every album that he'd put out during that time I would get it and listen to it constantly. I would try to learn his ideas -his touch and his tone affected me in a way too.
AAJ: It's interesting because Henderson was your teacher, but he's only four or five years older than you. He's only about 54 or so now.
JH: Yeah I'm 46. Plus he looks incredibly young.
AAJ: So that makes him only 30 when he was your teacher at GIT.
JH: When I first got there he was playing with Jeff Berlin. He had just put his record out called Champion (Passport, 1985), and Scott's playing on that really made the whole record. Do you remember the Cannonball tune they did "Marabi"? I learned some phrasing from that. Then he put out Spears (Relativity, 1986), with Tribal Tech, and that hit me real hard. I learned some of the lines from that and then I'd go see them play anytime they were playing in Hollywood. One thing that hit me hard again was a time the musicians from Tribal Tech were playing at Donte's, a jazz club in L.A. My mother was actually in town and I convinced her that she had to see Scott Henderson. I mean this was in 1984 or '85, and the lineup was Henderson, Gary Willis [bass], Steve Houghton [drums] and I forget who the keyboard player was [It was probably Pat Coil, the keyboardist on Spears].
I got there and I remember seeing a music stand on the stage and saying "No. They're not going play standards, please tell me." I remember being disappointed until they started playing. They turned those standards into the most interesting tunes I'd ever heard. I was so blown away with what they did with those same tunes I'd hear my friends working on at school. The tunes are hard to play and you have to learn the language if you're ever going to play jazz, but the tunes had never lit a fire under me. But then I heard them play, with a freshness and an over-the-top energy and intense dynamicsthey'd be at a whisper and then be raging, blowing the roof off the place.
AAJ: It is amazing the way some of these so-called fusion guys can play standards. The world should hear it. It would change the perception of these musicians that get pigeonholed as fusion guys.
JH: Like who?
AAJ: I just saw a trio with David Gilmore on guitar and Matt Garrison on bass and a drummer named Rudy Royston. I mean they took "Inner Urge" out of the stratosphere.
JH: I know who Matt Garrison is and Gilmore too, that's for sure. Garrison is a freak man. I played a gig with him, a T Lavitz gig at the Bottom line in New York awhile back. We didn't have a drummer or a bassist and T just wanted to go in there and improvise. We didn't even play a bunch of tunes; we just did what I would call experimental, exploratory playing. I was nervous about getting a bassist and a drummer and it turned out to be Matt Garrison and Ben Perowsky. I was like, "Well, we got the right guys here." It was a great time, we had an amazing time. Matt Garrison was brilliant.
We really trusted the force for that gig. I remember at first T wanted to do some tunes, including "Footprints" and "All Blues." I remember telling him, "Look, T, if we play those we're going to have to play 'Stairway to Heaven' and 'Free Bird' too." [laughs] I love all four of those songs, I really do. I mean I love Wayne Shorter, but everybody plays "Footprints." So hopefully, I made a point to him by mentioning those other tunes. So we got out there and we didn't play a single tune and it was smoking. We were just trying to do a cool gig in the off time from the Jazz is Dead project that we were doing at the time, and Derek Trucks was playing on the same bill. We didn't have time to rehearse, so we did the Project Z philosophy of no tunes, without a net, and it was great. We just listened to each other and reacted.
Matt and I had talked about doing something together and we actually were going to do something two years ago in September, but it just didn't pan out because of schedules. I just got super-busy with all this stuff that's going on. I'm dying to work with him.
AAJ: Then now I 'm going to have to ask you about Neal Fountain, another great bassist that I saw you play with.
JH: Now that dude, man. How do you know him?
AAJ: I interviewed Neal and reviewed his two records for AAJ a few years ago. He had a serious health scare a couple of years back that he's come back from.
JH: Yes he has in a big way. He is one of the most freakishly good musicians I've ever worked with. I think it was 1992 when I first heard him and he knocked me off my chair. I was like, 'Who is this guy and what planet is he from?' I found out he was from Macon. I remember writing down his number in my address book with a huge exclamation next to it. I wanted to work one day with that guy. So we've done a few things here and there. We did a band with Sipe and Bobby Lee Rogers. Bobby Lee was the songwriter of the band and his tunes were great jumping off points to improvise off of.
AAJ: I saw you with Sipe and Bryan Lopes and Neal back in 1998 or so in Boston. Sipe called it The Apartment Projects.
JH: That was another band where we just went out with no tunes and played. Lopes is another one of those people that's just a crazy fantastic musician. Neal and Sipe together is an incredible force. I just heard some of that recording that Souvik [Dutta, owner of Abstract Logix] recently put out of Neal and Sipe, with the Austrian guitarist Alex Machacek. I think it's absolutely incredible.
AAJ: Did you ever think about doing your own recording previous to the current release?
JH: I always had an idea to do a record with Sipe, Oteil, Kofi and Derek Trucks and also to get Greg Osby to play on some stuff.
AAJ: Osby was always part of the plan?
JH: Greg was something that was imagined to be involved from the birth of the whole thing. He worked with us on Project Z.
AAJ: Not to mention with Phil Lesh.
JH: That all started because Phil mentioned Greg Osby in a Rolling Stone article. They asked Phil what he was in his CD player at the moment and he said "Greg Osby." That made me happy because I was into Osby but I didn't know Phil was. Then Phil and I started talking about it, and then I think Greg contacted Phil to thank him for mentioning his name in the article. Phil basically told him, "You're welcome and by the way come play with us." We had a gig in Philly the next month, so he came down and played and we really hit it off almost instantly. We both felt some chemistry there and he wanted to do something with me. But when we did that last Project Z record we cut it live in the studio and Greg couldn't be there. We were editing the recordI mean it wasn't even supposed to be oneIt was pretty bizarre and parts of it were really out- but we made the decision to put it out there. We were in the editing process when Ricky passed away. It was horrible.
But during that editing process I remembered that when we were cutting parts out, we'd say, "If only we had somebody else playing over this part, we wouldn't have to cut it out." It needed another melodic voice. Ricky and I had actually talked about calling Greg Osby. I didn't end up actually doing it until a couple of years later. He came to Atlanta and just played one live pass through the whole thing, just like we did, but on a different day. There were just one or two other things where I played something that sounded like a head, so I asked him to double it with me. Other than that it's completely live. I knew then I really wanted to work with him in a different setting.
So I called him up this time and he flew in and went straight to the studio. He was there for two full days and played his tail off on that stuff.
AAJ: Yeah Greg may have a name for himself as a great jazz composer and conceptualist but as a player, he can reel off chorus after chorus of amazing ideas on any tune.
JH: Where I got hip to him was Jeff Sipe. I was really into Cannonball and James Spaulding but as far as alto players it was Cannonball and of course Bird. I really wasn't that up on anybody contemporary, but Sipe said, "Man, you have got to hear Greg Osby." So he hipped me to a couple of his records and I was knocked out of my seat. He immediately became my favorite contemporary alto player. I never imagined getting to work with him. But then, not too long after that, less than a year later, is when Rolling Stone did the Phil article I referred to earlier. So you can imagine my surprise when I show up to the gig and Greg Osby's therewow! I immediately called Sipe and said, "Greg Osby's here." Jeff was like, "What? Osby is going to play with Phil Lesh's band?" You wouldn't think about someone so deep into the jazz world being connected with the world we were in, but it was really cool.
In fact, Greg is the one who most seriously brought up the touring question with regard to the new record. When we did this record it was a very small budget. It's not like I had a ton of money to pay world-class musicians, so I had to get world-class musicians to do it cheap. I didn't have to talk him into it too hard. I just said, "Man, I'm embarrassed to even ask, you know. Are you sure you are okay with this, for this fee and a flight?" And he immediately said, "Yeah man, that's cool, but I'm hoping there will be some performances down the road." I was hoping so, too, and in that way, once we start playing gigs, it will definitely be worth all of it.
AAJ: I see you are touring with widespread in October and early November and of course, the New Year's Eve dates are set.
JH: Yeah, so it appears I might have some time, say, in the Spring of next year.
AAJ: There's already some stuff on the internet talking about a possible Dead tour next year. Are you the guy for that?
JH: I love those guys tremendously, but I haven't heard from them on this particular topic. I just haven't heard anything from them.
AAJ: I have more than a fair share of friends and a wife that was totally into the Dead, and you are the favorite guitarist of all of them that have played with the band in the post-Jerry era.
JH: They've been very good to me and have been great about giving me room to stretch and go wherever I want to.
AAJ: I just wanted to interject that the people I know love your work with the Dead because of the way you will, either during a solo, or at its beginning will state that melody for them. You really sing it. You're one of the best guys out there at stating vocal melodies with single-notes on guitar.
JH: I just think it'sif you are in that kingdom, playing Grateful Dead music...for instance, Mickey would talk to me a lot about it. He would say, "Okay Jim, now you learned the signature, right?" I didn't even know what he was talking about at first. He means the signature lick or the melody we're referring to. I was trying to stay hip on that kind of stuff by listening to live versions as well as the studio records. There was some stuff Jerry would do on both.
If I heard several versions of a song where he was consistently doing this one thing, that's what I would try to do because the fans were used to hearing it. It was part of the compositionit wasn't something he was improvising, but it was the part leading him into an improvisation. He looked at it as part of the song, so I tried to key in on what those were and try to key into those melodies. It's funny, manit doesn't matteryou could try to play the most technically challenging thing you've ever tried to play and pull it off but sometimes nobody really responds. But if you come out and play that melody, the place is going to go crazy. It's simple. They love those songsit's not about anyone's bitchin' technique or checking out a line that's played with a five against four metric modulation.
AAJ: That's what I'm trying to get at. You can do all the difficult stuff, but you are just as able and ready to go to the place where you can do this other basic thing with a feeling that people respond to and love passionately.
JH: To me, melody is so important. It's not in an effort to get applause but I'm just glad people notice it. I'm flattered and happy because the melody is so important to me as a musician. This is what the tune's about. Plus, of course, I played with Jazz is Dead with T [Lavitz], Alphonso [Johnson] , Billy [Cobham], [Jeff] Sipe and Rod Morgenstern a few years earlier. So with no vocals...
AAJ: That's what I was getting atespecially in Jazz is Dead, you were responsible for and played the vocal melodies in that band as well as any guitarist, especially in a rock instrumental setting, ever has. That's why people loved to go see that band.
JH: Now I feel like I could do it better. I swear I could.
AAJ: But the melodies you're playing with the Dead or Phil now aren't necessary the vocal melody. It's some other set of signature licks.
JH: But that's what hipped me to all of the melody. I got inside the tunes a little bit with Jazz is Dead, but we played them more like fusion tunes. But then when I started playing with Phil, he really educated me to the true depth of the Grateful Dead catalogue. Through working with him and his band I was able to really see my godwhat a huge amazing body of work they have. So with that, and already being melody-oriented from playing the tunes before with Jazz is Dead, since the vocals were covered in his band I wanted to try to key in on some of Garcia's stuff he played that really got to people. It was great.
I was just trying to start in a placeand people knewI don't really want to copy anyone, but you cannot play that music without tippin' your hat, you know. It's the same thing with any band you go into where somebody else had already been before you got there, and they were an icon. Whether it be the Allman Brothers or the Dead or Mikey Houser from Panic. These guys all had their own definitive stylesit's a fine line between copying and making sure that everyone out there knows that you didn't forget about them. That's what my thing is. I didn't want anyone to think I was just going to come in here and play this gig like I was going to play any other gigyou have to show respect to the people that created the gig. Since they're no longer here you tip the hat by trying to play some of their endearing lines.
AAJ: You've achieved that. Now about this record you madeI understand Souvik Dutta of Abstract Logix had been after you for awhile.
JH: Souvik's been a really great guySipe had told me years ago that I should meet him and perhaps work with himthat he was all about music moving forward. All the music that we liked, this guy was totally into. He worked with us on this last Project Z release. He's basically been after me for the last few years to do my own album. I never had the desire to do it. Like I said, I don't think I would have been able to get the project together without him but I did have the material.
Like I said before, I always had an idea to do a record with Sipe, Oteil, Kofi, Derek and also definitely get Greg Osby to play on some of it. So as we were getting it together we found out Derek's record company just couldn't allow him to play on the entire record. His profile had gotten really big. He'd gone out and played with Eric Clapton and he'd done some high profile things but he still owed a major label a record. My record was starting to coincide with the time he had to deliver a big record to his label. I had six tunes and two covers I wanted to do so that was eight. I definitely had the two Kofi tunes in mind and I figured Derek would bring in at least a couple of tunes. If he'd done every tune on this record, it basically would have been the first thing that came out after his profile had risen higher and this wasn't supposed to be Derek's new record. So that's when it went from something else, another band, to my recordthat's when I knew it was going to be totally my thing.
Souvik just said, "Hey, man. The handwriting is on the wall. It's time for you to do your own record."
Oteil, too, really motivated me, saying, "C'mon Jimmy, it's time for you to do your own record, Just shut up and do it!" [laughs] I was still trying to think of a band name for a while, but they wore me down. [laughs]
As time unfolded I began to want to do it even though there's a lot of pressure on you when you put your name on a record, when it's not a band you're working for but you. I have a lot of respect for people who've been doing that for a long time. You have to be the guy that has to be the heavy. You're the guy that has to say, "That was a good take but let's do another one. I think we can do it better." I hate telling people stuff like that. But I was with my brotherspeople I'd been playing with for a long time and they were so supportive of me that it was really easy. They were basically willing to try to do anything. I knew on this record I didn't want it to be what we'd done before. We'd never done a record of compositions. Even though it's a jazz-oriented record I still wanted it to be about the song. The solos were going to just be part of the songs but not he focus of them. They all came together with me and made it happen.
AAJ: I see in the press materials you refer to it as a family record.
JH: Absolutely. That's why it's really hard for me to think of it as my record. Sure, we could have called a lot of different people that are our heroes and we probably could have gotten them to play on it, but the fact is I just wanted to play with the guys I grew up with musically. I've been playing with Jeff, Oteil and Kofi since 1986 and we've never done anything like this before. All the music we played together pretty much has been crazy, improvised stuff, which we love, but I thought it was about time for us to try to do something a little more refined, and to do something where I didn't have to answer to anyone. If I wanted to do a bunch of guitar overdubs to get a point across, I wanted to be able to do it without someone saying, "No, you can't do that." There are things I've wanted to try for years and I've always been told, "No." So from that stance it's was very cool to do my own record.
AAJ: So what are some of those things? Perhaps we can listen for them?
JH: On "Jungle Book," for instance, there's a ton of parts. It's an orchestral piece and I forget how many tracks are on it, and we basically drove the engineer crazy, but luckily, he was a guy I've known for twenty years, so he just took it from me; there was a lot of tracks. After the haunting melody the B section has this orchestral part that sounds like the 1950swe just called it the "Walt Disney Section." It has a lot of guitar tracks. There are three independent parts.
Also, regarding the kind of reverbs I wanted to usebasically if you're not in control of a project you get no say in what's used. I made a conscious effort not to use any digital delay. I didn't want to use any echo because most producers want to put echo all over your guitar. I worked with Bruce Hampton for a long time and he really hates to hear anything that you can't do with your hands and that was sort of his rule. "Guitarist! If you can't do it with your hands I don't want to hear it." We'd laugh about it because it was sort of a joke, but it was true.
AAJ: Does that go to every effect?
JH: There are always exceptions, but at least during my tenure with him with ARU from '89 through '95, that was where we were. He was really into it being really roots-based. I used to have harmonizers and an echo and I like to think I used it fairly tastefully, but in his mind it was, "You can't do that with your hands so I don't want to hear it." I began to see it his way, so just dropping that stuff and going straight in and maybe just having a volume pedal and an overdrive boxjust one thingit really helped me to get more in touch with my instrument. So when this album came up and I could do whatever I wanted, I still did not want to have any outrageous effects on my guitar. To me, just reverb, no delay, no echo, and nothing else that sounds like we weren't all in the same room. The point is to go for as organic a sound as we could get and if I wanted a certain sound I do it with the guitar and the hands and not with a device.
AAJ: I wanted to talk to you about "Lost."
JH: Yeah, Wayne Shorter.
AAJ: This is an example of how far you've come, not only as a legitimate jazz player but with your own playing, some of the things in your phrasing you are using rather than the alternate picking you've done in the past. You come out of the melody statement with a sax-like legato line that, to my ears, is different for you. Then you go right into these sustained long tones, sounding like more of a rock thing for a second, and then back into the alternate picked jazz phraseology.
JH: James Spaulding's performance on that particular, original version of that tune by Wayne Shorter influenced me on that, most obviously. Subliminally, there might be direct quotes in there in a couple of places. Listening to the way sax players playthey don't tongue every note unless they really want that effect. Sometimes they play a more legato approach and then, of course, Allan Holdsworth has been a tremendous influence on me. His thing is really liquid. On my best day, I would hope that I could even carry his coattails, but...
AAJ: Parts of this solo and the one on the next tune "Transients," sound very Holdsworthian.
JH: I was really into Holdsworth when I was younger. Of course, I never got to the point where I could copy him much, because he goes into some things which are just not humanly possible. I started to realize when I was really young like 23 or 24, that I could spend the rest of my life trying to play like Scofield or Scott Henderson, McLaughlin, Steve Morse or Holdsworth and decided 'I've got to stop listening to this stuff!'
I had to make a conscious effort to stop listening to those guys because I loved what they're doing so much. It's subliminally going to leak in even though you're not sitting there transcribing it. So I started listening to more horn players for a long period of time. So, my son, who is 14 now, started getting really interested in my record collection when he was about 12 or 13. His sister's boyfriend also has an extensive collection that he's very into. He started getting hip to all the horn players. So he wanted to know what I thought about guitar players other than the ones he knew about. He knew about a lot of them, so I played him some Dregs stuff and he freaked out about that, and he loved Mahavishnu Orchestra.
But then I said, "Okay, now it's time to just sit down." So I flipped out Holdsworth on him because he had never heard him and it completely freaked him out. He went on a Holdsworth binge and that set me back to the time when I was 22 years old and couldn't listen to anything but Holdsworth. So I went on another Holdsworth binge where I basically listened to nothing but him for at least three months. I know that leaked into the album somewhat.
AAJ: It's nice for folks like us that have been following along because it didn't leak in there to any overwhelming extent; it's another fantastic spice that you've added to the arsenal.
JH: That's great then. His sense of chord changes and his voice leading affected me in a profound way. The song "Gray Day," for instanceit doesn't have the exact kind of voicings that he uses, the kind that will break your hand, but it's definitely influenced by him, just because of the tonality of it, the minor/major chords and the augmented major 7th chords. It's a fantastic tonality to play in.
AAJ: Yeah, that tune sounds huge, like there are many more melody instruments on there besides alto and guitar. There's a lot of orchestration on that tune.
JH: I have this little device called a Space Station. Someone had given it to me years ago. It's just this little Digitech pedal that I'd never even plugged into. It was in my basement and I noticed it one day. I flipped it upside-down and saw that it just has a couple of patches on it. They're called 'synth-pad' one and two. I realized I could play my voicings that I preferred and I could get some sounds like keyboard strings. So that stuff on that track is all guitars. It still sounds like a guitar, not real strings. But I hate to go to a keyboard player who's playing a string pad and tell him what voicings to play. That should be left up to the individual musician. Instead of having to dictate exactly what to play I was able to just do it myself. We were able to run it direct and it sounded really good, and then we fed it through a Leslie for a couple of tunes. Some people will think it's a synth or an organ or something, but that's all it is.
AAJ: I thought the credits were wrong because it just says Kofi is playing piano. I figured there was a phantom keyboardist.
JH: No, Kinsey did that for us on "Only When it's Light," but not on that tune. Maybe I should've added something to the credits.
AAJ: No, that's what these interviews are forsome nuanced insider info.
JH: It's just a guitar. But thank you for noticing all the little things I didn't think people were going to catch onto.
AAJ: Anyone who listens to it is going to catch this beautiful stuff.
JH: Yeah that device is briefly on a few of the other tunes but it's mostly Kofi on piano, and Matt Slocum, from Oteil's band on organ, with some piano and clavinet.
AAJ: Matt gets a nice organ solo on the first cut ["Scapegoat Blues"].
JH: He's a smokin' player, man. He's a killer player.
AAJ: Oteil's made a few east coast tours and I've seen him in that band.
JH: You're lucky because I don't know if he'll be able to continue to tour with that band, the economy being like it is. He's busy doing other stuff and it costs too much money.
AAJ: Getting back to "Lost" for a second and elsewhere on the CD, I just wanted to make sure to discuss Kofi Burbridge's work. He is an absolutely smoking flautist.
JH: He's just a giant. And this is what I was hoping to accomplish here toopeople just don't know how great he is.
AAJ: Who is to blame there?
JH: What it comes down to is that like anyone else, he's got to work and he's got a great gig with Derek Trucks. He's been in Derek's band for like twelve years already. He plays that gig great but that's only one side of him, see. Kofi's true voice is straight-ahead jazzI mean, that's what he does the best. He wrote "Splash" which is a brilliant tune, and "Only When it's Light." Both of those tuneshe wrote both of them in the tenth grade. Obviously I hadn't met him yet, but when I first met him, in 1986, he brought "Only When it's Light" into the rehearsal. I said, "What a brilliant tune!" and asked him when he wrote it. He said, "You know, man, it's been laying around for awhile." I said, "The changes are fantastic and this melody is hypnotic," and continued persisting until I finally got him to divulge when he actually wrote it.
He was a prodigy. He left home at age 12 to go to the school of the arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was one of those freakishly talented kidsby the time he was fourteen he was a flute prodigyby the time he was in high school he was playing piano more. His flute work on the "Jungle Book" thing, "Lost" and "Splash" is just ridiculous.
AAJ: He's every bit the flautist that Osby is a saxophonist, and that's saying a lotit jumps out of the record. It sounds like he could pull a flute session with anyone on Blue Note any time he wanted to. That goes for piano too, for that matter.
JH: It's like Herbie [Hancock] meets [Thelonious] Monk, man. He really is a totally bad cat. He could play with anybody. On "Lost" he only made two passes at the flute solo and the version on the recording was the first one. Osby of course, was the same way. He did more than one take, but the first takes are what we ended up using. They're just freaks.
AAJ: So I wanted to talk about "Lifeboat Serenade," because the record's called Lifeboat and there is a photograph of a woman in a small boat on the cover. I need to know who that is.
JH: That's my mom, man.
AAJ: It doesn't say that on the record, does it?
JH: No, it doesn't.
AAJ: That would have been my guess, although I collaborated with a friend and he was searching the internet for old stills from the Hitchock movie with Tallulah Bankhead, and your mom, frankly, is much better looking.
JH: I never really thought of that, but yeah. That picture is my mom, when she was 23 when she was on her honeymoon with my dad. My dad took the picture from the back of the boat. It's a family-oriented thing music wise and inspiration wise.
AAJ: So this song sounds like it's basically you music-wise, right.
JH: Right, absolutely.
AAJ: This is just a beautiful, southern thingheart wrenching stuffunbelievable. Where does Jimmy end and Derek begin on this thing? This sounds like Derek here [playing example over the phone], but when you come in it's almost indistinguishable, it's almost like you have a slide thing happening with the fingers.
JH: Oh, man! You are now my best friend! [laughs] He and I have gone back and forth for a lot of years. I've known him since he was eleven, and when he was eleven he could plays stuff that could stop time. And now, he's got the same thing, only he's a lot better. We would go through different periods of time where we would influence each other in one way or another. At first, he seemed to be influenced by me more than I was by him, but then I started to switchI'd get really influenced by him. I can't play slide, and I don't want to play slide because he plays it so well. It's like why would I bother to even pick one up? People have actually asked me while he was in the same room why I don't play slide. I always say, "See that blonde-haired kid over there? That's why."
AAJ: That makes a lot of sense, actually.
JH: We've been like brothers since we met. It's not just music because we were brought up similarly; for instance, we both love to fish and we love the outdoors. We both have a lot in common in terms of what interests us away from music.
AAJ: How'd you meet him at such a young age?
JH: I was with Bruce Hampton and he knew this guy named Bunky Odom, who used to work for Capricorn Records back in their heyday, when the Allman Brothers were the biggest band on Capricorn and they helped get Jimmy Carter elected president in the '70s. Bunky used to come out to see the band all the time. He lived in Charleston and he was there literally every time we played. He was the kind of guy that would slap you on the back and say, "You boys're doing great, just keep it up!"
He's a manager, so sometime around 1990 I'm guessing, he comes around and tells Bruce, and he tells me, that he's got this kid, and he's ninenine years old and he plays like Duane Allman. Of course we'd go "Really, man?" But of course we didn't believe itwho is going to believe that, right? So it gets to a couple of years later and the kid's all of eleven now, and Bunky is still singing his praises but this time he actually wants him to open a show for ARU. So, Bruce being who he is, is like, "Sure, Okay!"
I forget where the first time we played with him was but it might've been Charleston at this place called the Music Farm. Derek killed all of us! We walked in at sound check and this kid was playing and he's not moving, and it was like God's divine light was shining down on this kid and it was pouring out of him and we were all just brought to our knees. And this was at sound checkthe most sterile time of a musician's life. Sound checks are not usually very inspired-sounding. At that moment he became an honorary member of the ARU. Any time we played together where he would open the show, he'd come out and play our set with us and we wouldn't let him get off the stage.
So that had a pretty profound effect on him, being so young and being around some other musicians who were into some heavy music. He got to be great friends with all of us and getting into heavy music, listening all the time to all of the deepest blues like Son House and Howlin' Wolf, and then he got into Coltrane. That's when he became a musicologist and he really has never looked back. He just keeps getting better and better, moving forward and listening to new things and seeking out new music that none of us has ever heard and turning us onto itreally just an amazing kid. So that's how I met Derek when he was elevenafter hearing about him since he was nine.
AAJ: I have a nine year-old so I hear you.
JH: Who could believe it? And then I'd get mad because people would hear him and go, "Yeah, he's pretty good for a kid." We knew better. Eighty years old or eightwhateverwe always called him an old soul.
AAJ: I saw Frogwings, the band you had together, in Boston.
JH: Oh yeah, we had a good time doing that with Uncle Butch [Butch Trucks, the drummer in the Allman Brothers, is Derek's uncle]you know.
AAJ: So this song, "Lifeboat Serenade" has a great escalating part here that's beautiful [playing passage beginning at 4:20]now, this sounds like Derek, but thicker.
JH: No that's me. See it's funny you picked that because I tried to give him that outro solo but he made me take it. My friend who played drums on that tune named Tyler Greenwell, he heard that and said, "Wow! That sounds killer where you and Derek are trading right there!" Now, he knows Derek really well and he's played with him a lot, so I was really flattered. That just cracks me up, and Derek would think it's funny too.
AAJ: But how're you doing that?
JH: I'm just really into his nuances and I probably stole some of them, without really meaning to.
AAJ: Now that's an understatement. Are you sliding into the notes and chords with your fingers?
AAJ: It sounds like a fretless guitar almost.
JH: That's the goal. I'm trying to play where you don't hear the frets. Derek is playing the part of the vocalist on that tune at the two starts and the versethe parts where the singer would come inand then there's a solo in the middle of the tune, which is me with a different kind of sound, where you can tell the difference easily. I wanted him to trade off again at the end, but he said, "No, man. You have to leave what you recorded alone." Unfortunately, we wanted to be there at the same time, but we couldn't get that together because his schedule and my schedule and all the logistics were wrongit was crazy.
AAJ: Hold on. You guys didn't record at the same time?
JH: No, in fact, I was done with everything on the record except his part and I had to drive down to Jacksonville from Atlanta and get him to put it on there. Unfortunately I was on tour with Panic and when I got off the road he was making a record of his own, so there was just no good time to actually make the session at the same time.
AAJ: You do an unbelievable job of making it sound like you're in the same room.
JH: Before it got mixed I was really concerned about that. I think a lot of the credit goes to the guys who mixed it, Jeff Bakos and Rush Anderson. I was there giving them my nickel's worth but they're the ones that made it sound right. Getting the right sound on everyone goes a long way to making it sound like we're at least in the same time zone.
AAJ: And everything you do, almost every phrase, has your stamp on it. It's that same southern feel that's not unlike the ARU stuff and Oteil's stuff.
JH: Yeah, Oteilwhat about his solo on the record,on 'Transients?"
AAJ: Ridiculously great. That quick little chord solo at the beginning, especially.
JH: But that triplet thing that follows it isI was standing next to him when he did that and I remember saying "Okay, that's it!"
AAJ: Yeah, that's become an Oteil signature.
JH: There's only one guy that can do that.
AAJ: Agreed. He got only one solo on the record, which shows how little room you had for all the great things on there. The record is crammed with so many great moments.
JH: I wanted to give him more solos. For instance, "Gray Day" was a tune where I wanted him to take a solo but it sometimes it came down to time and logistics. He was on the road with Kreutzmann and the Allmans.
AAJ: That tune has a great progressionthe kind of oblique harmony fusion fans have heard before, but haven't. That's a great title, 'Transients." What is going on with that tune?
JH: I was really intrigued with melodic and harmonic minor.
AAJ: Is this the thing Oteil's talking about on the web?
JH: I haven't seen it. I'm somewhat computer illiterate. It's basically just an E minor, E harmonic minor and E melodic minor. I started looking at mapping out chord scales for all those modes and looking at what chords were common to all three of those scales and looking at which ones were different from each other. Looking at those I was able to hone in on a couple of things that distinguish them from each other. It's real basic, man. Allan Holdsworth would fall over laughing because for him it'd be like reciting the alphabet. It's kind of scratching the surface of what's possible, but it worked for me.
AAJ: For me, that's the real monster fusion tune on there.
JH: That's one that I think is so different that it could be weak in a sense. But the solos by Oteil, Osby and Kofi are great and the way they interact near the end really makes it.
AAJ: This is the other tune where you go more legato.
JH: Those changes really call for it.
AAJ: The first tune, "Scapegoat Blues," is more like what we could see coming, a southern shuffle with a crazy head.
JH: Yeah, a blues with a twist.
AAJ: Is that's out of that Dregs influence?
JH: Very much, yes.
AAJ: On Kofi' s "Only When it's Light" there's some beautiful flute counterpoint with you where he takes a couple of one bar flute solos before taking a full piano solo.
JH: Yeah, plus he splits the longer solos on there. Instead of taking a piano or flute solo all the way through, he takes one of each. On "Splash" he does it again. I take two choruses, then he takes one chorus on piano, then one on flute; finally, Greg Osby takes the last two choruses. I was a little concerned that it might make it off balance but Kofi convinced me to stick with his approach, and it works.
This record sounds better than anything I've done. There's basically never been any fix-ups on previous records in terms of sound. With ARU the first album was live and the second was done in the studio but I barely got to do any overdubbing. Bruce was not into any overdubbing. He was a firm believer of not doing more than a few takes. As a result, I always thought the Mirrors of Embarrassment (Capricorn, 1993) record could have been a much better recording. It never felt like it sounded really good and the guitar sounded... I guess I was too close to it. We were in a big beautiful studio, but I'll never forget itto keep my guitar from bleeding into the drums, they actually stuck my guitar amp in a utility closet.
AAJ: That doesn't sound like very modern recording approach.
l:r: Kofi Burbridge, Jimmy Herring, Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Sipe
JH: So you see why I always thought it could have sounded so much better. But it was what it was.
AAJ: Yeah, merely one of the touchstone albums of the Jamband era. For me it's actually the number one example of that time when the genre was taking off, during the time of the HORDE Festival and all.
JH: During that time we saw what he studio was. None of us had recorded that muchnot for anything major, anyway. I wanted to use the studio the way it could be used. It's different than liveyou can craft the recording more. Live you don't get a second chance. You can't add other tracks. I was hoping to craft a record with these people I had played with for so long, knowing what everyone was capable of, but that just wasn't the philosophy at the time.
The bass, the drums and the piano were done pretty fast but I had to redo the guitars because in the studio, when we cut live, I was playing through a little Fender Deluxe amp and the speaker had this thing going on with it where certain notes I would hit would sound like something was wrong with the speaker. There was some stuff worth keeping from the original session but I had to redo the entire thing because everything would be grooving and there would be this one note that would sound awful. It's a phenomenon called 'cone cry.' Do you know what that is?
AAJ: Beyond the usual feedback problem, no. .
JH: It's not feedback so much as it is certain frequencies on certain notes where the cone from the speaker makes a really undesirable noisethat's the cone cry. The only speakers I've ever played through that don't do it are these tone tubby speakers, made by a guy named John Harrison in California. They're made from hemp.
AAJ: But of course.
JH: Believe it or not, man, there is really something to them. Everybody's using then now including Clapton, Santana and Billy Gibbons. I've been using them for years now. His business is called A Brown Soun';. He had this idea years ago to use hemp instead of regular paper cones. He told me about it a long time ago and I thought it was a gimmick. I didn't try them until this old Fender Amp that had the original speakers in it needed repair. This guy was really good at re-coning old speakers. That's how he made his living until he started making these hemp speakers. So I called him and he said, "I can re-cone your speakers for you but you should play my speakersyou'll like them better. I'll make you a deal. If you try my speakers and you don't like them I'll re-cone your other speakers for free." That's a deal you can't refuse.
So he put those other speakers in my amp and I've never looked back. It was an instant transformation that made the amp sound a hundred times better. I couldn't believe it so I started telling everybody I knew about them, so Derek got a bunch and Bobby Lee Rogers got some, and now, it's taken off.
AAJ: Anti-cone cry.
JH: I don't know what it is but they also have a really distinctive sound. All the other guitar speakers have cone cry but I have never heard a tone tubby speaker do it. It's probably the biggest tool I can think of that's made the sound better. I never knew speakers could be that important until he swapped them out of my old '64 Fender.
AAJ: So when you record do you use more of a signal from the amp or the board, or do you blend the two?
JH: We basically mike the amp with two microphones and then we blend the microphones, but in the case of the Mirrors record they were both on the same speaker. You mike one speaker with two mikes.
AAJ: I wanted to mention the In A Perfect World (Intersound, 1996) record that you recorded with ARUthe one without Bruce.
JH: Kofi's song, "Splash," was on that record, too. I didn't play on it because it was the last song to be recorded and I'd gone back to my parents' house in North Carolina for two days. I knew I was supposed to play on it when I came back, but when I listened back to what they had done, I said, "I'm not touching that!" It was perfect. That's an incredible recording of that song. Not a lot of people heard that record, plus I didn't play on that version, so I figured it was okay to re-record it for this album if Kofi was up for it.
But as far as In a Perfect World goes, I really was not pleased with it. The sounds weren't goodit was good playing, but the sound was bad. Do you remember when ADATs came out? Everybody was like, "Hey man, ADATs are great!" I told everybody I hated them but nobody would listen. You could record on two-inch tape or you could use these ADATs on video machines or whatever. It was cheaper but it was horrible. Now you can buy an old ADAT machine for two hundred bucks. At the time they were more than a thousand.
AAJ: Were you happy with The Calling (Innio, 2003)?
JH: That one was a little more of a rock album and it was produced by Rodney Mills, in conjunction with us. He's a heavyweight. They had a Neve console in that studio, so that was a real studio and a real producer, so we got some pretty real sounds. But the music was so different on that one. Our whole focus had completely shifted with a different drummer and a different singer.
AAJ: I was just trying to get a feel for which of your recordings you were most happy with sound-wise.
JH: The live album, the first ARU record, was actually well-recorded. They captured the sound of the band at that particular time. The guitar tones on the others just aren't as good. In a Perfect World I'd like to remix. Some of the guitar tones on that, there's no warmththe tones are like ice-picks to the ear. [laughs].
AAJ: I love that song "Plain or Peanut" on there.
JH: That's Oteil's bebop tune. We used to open with that. I used to ask them to get loose before we played it. It's one of Oteil's little masterpieces. That's a tough oneit's intentionally tough to play.
AAJ: So when you say you used the studio a lot for the new record, I'm betting you didn't use it so much except on tunes like "Gray Day," and of course the "Jungle Book" thing, or where Greg or Derek had to take separate passes.
JH: Yeah, like on "Scapegoat Blues," there's very little overdubbing. On the head at the end I overdubbed a harmony to the original head. On the swing part of the head on the last time through I overdubbed up an octave track to it, but it's mixed very subtly. .
AAJ: So you're overdubbing to add harmonies but not to do any fixes.
JH: We're all so comfortable with each other and there's no producer, so yeah.
AAJ: So to fish around on the gigging frontyou've done some gigs with Oteil's band right?
JH: There were four gigs in Alabama, and Oteil asked me if I could do them so I agreed.
AAJ: So, geography is half the battle.
JH: He lives in Birmingham so that's only two and half hours form here. It was easy to do. I really love his band and Mark Kimbrell, his guitarist, is really different. He's totally into Frisell and Scofield and that style of playing.
AAJ: So while it's a priority for you to tour this band, you'll have to balance that with Widespread and anything else huge that may come up.
JH: This album was pretty much just a statement. I didn't have any plans to go tour behind it. Of course I'd like to, and the label would love me to, so as it turns out there might be some time that I didn't know I was going to have but I have yet to get on the phone and find out who has the time to tour.
AAJ: Abstract Logix seems to be getting into the DVD thing lately so that could be a possibility as well.
JH: Yeah, we've talked about that too.
AAJ: I would ask several probing, revelatory questions about Widespread but I am not an aficionado of that band.
JH: I was never a Widespread aficionado either. But they're good friends of mine. They're the ones that came and found ARU in this little pub I was telling you about when we were doing it one night a week. They probably came in for the cheap beer.
They said, "You guys are crazy. Why don't you come play some shows with us?" If it wasn't for them we would never have left this town. They had three shows already sold out at Center Stage the following week and they didn't need an opener, but they liked the band enough that they wanted us along anyway. We weren't making any money, but they said, "You guys have got to take this circus on the road," and they paid us.
When they said that to Bruce, I remember pleading in unison with Oteil, "Come on Bruce. Please take us on the road." I'll never forget Bruce saying, "You can't handle the road. You'll be crying for your mommy in the first week." [laughs] But through them we met Blues Traveler and Phish and Dave Matthews. So years later, when they called me it was like, "Whatever you need. What can I do for you?"
I've been blessed beyond belief and luck is a tremendous part of the equation. You can go anywhere and find people that can play and I mean really play. But that's not enough. You know what it takes to be in a band. It's bad enough being in a three piece band. Get that up to five and now you've got five egos to deal with.
AAJ: And you're part of these organizations that can get like a multi-tiered corporation.
JH: Exactly. You've got to be able to get along with people and you've got to be willing to do what it takes to make everything work smoothly. Basically, if somebody needs you to do something, you've got to be ready to do it.
AAJ: It seems to come naturally to you.
JH: I don't know about that, but I guess so.
AAJ: No really, I've spoken with you only a few times, but it takes about 90 seconds to see you're one of the nicest guys in the business, or anywhere, for that matter.
JH: C'mon, man. It's a little bit to ask for. It's not a lot to ask forto be a decent person and get along with people.
AAJ: Sometimes it can be impossible. No matter how you try to please people, someone elseand that someone could be importantis mad.
JH: Especially when you're young and starting out and you have some ideaseverybody has their own ideas at first. I'd say it's good at first to actually work for someone else in a band-leader situation where even if you think they're wrong, you've still got to do it their way.
AAJ: It's hard to get what you want and do it in a super-friendly way.
JH: Everybody's so cool anyway. People always say, "You're so humble," or whatever. I always say, "Mother Theresa was humble. I'm just running my hand over a piece of wood." [laughs] This is Bruce Hampton talking by the way. This is what he'd always say. "You ain't good enough to be humble Herring. You're runnin' your hand over a piece of woodyou're not curing cancer out there." Sometimes people glorify film stars and musicians and sports stars to a point where it's really just not...come on.
AAJ: So a question I always love to askwhat else have you been listening to lately?
JH: The new McLaughlin has been in heavy rotation around my house because my son is into it too, but againgod manI could spend the rest of life trying to dissect what he does. I could throw myself into his music, never look back and be seventy-two years old still trying to figure out how to play "Meeting of the Spirits." It's hard for me to listen to anything casually because I get very intrigued by it.
Scofield hit me that way when he put out those records in the '80s like Still Warm (Gramavision, 1986) and Loud Jazz (Gramavision, 1987). I was so knocked out by him and a lot of guys I knew were into him. Scott [Henderson] sounded like he was really into Sco. His harmonic formulas are common in the jazz world with horn players. They use triads in different kind of cycles over different kinds of chords and have turned it into an art form. You mix that with his sense of incredible, behind-the-beat playing and rhythmic knowledge, and before you know it, even if you haven't transcribed that stuff, it starts coming out in your playing.
If you listen to other guitar players, that's where all your playing is going to come from. If I listened to that too much, I'd sound like them more. I already sound like them anyway, without even meaning it. I'll never shed sounding somewhat like Steve Morse, somewhat like Holdsworth, somewhat like Henderson, somewhat like Beck, because I love those guys so much that it's bound to leak in. So I try to listen to other music. Hopefully it'll balance out a little bit more and I won't sound like any one influence. I'll sound like me, which is what I'm shooting for.
AAJ: James, may I take this opportunity to affirm that only you sound like you. Those cats should be checking you out, like I'm sure some of the new great players are. Anything else you want to add?
JH: I just appreciate that you've picked up on so many of the little things you did. I'm shocked that you noticed those little things. My guess would be that people are expecting hot southern guitar or whatever that means and because I've never done my own album before they might think that's what it will be. You know, a bunch of overindulgent guitar playing, and I'm sure that's what some of it is [laughs]. But I wanted to donot a guitar albumI hate that mentality where the instrument is more important than the music, whether it's piano or violin, but now especially guitar, because it's been so exploited, as you know.
Everybody still plays guitar. So it's important to me to do some music that doesn't feature me more than any of the other musicians so much. On most of the tunes my solos are the same length as the other musicians. I don't want to be just guitar and more guitars, including if it's both Derek and I the whole time. The horns and the keyboard players are all so good on it, and the solos are never more important than the songsthat was important to me. I've been hanging around a lot of songwriters for the past eight years and had the opportunity to work with them, and even though these tunes are nothing like what they write, their songwriting did rub off on metheir approaches to writing tunes. I was hoping to write some stuff that stood up on its own and to have the solo be just an added bonus more than it was the focus of the song.
So many people that play guitar put out records where of the solos were removed there would be very little left. But the group of guitarists I've mentionedthe ones I'm blown away bythe writing is always strong and the solos are part of the tune.
Jimmy Herring, Lifeboat (Abstract Logix, 2008)
Widespread Panic, Free Somehow (Widesprea, 2008)
Project Z, Lincoln Memorial (Abstract Logix, 2005)
Aquarium Rescue Unit, The Calling (Innio, 2003)
Phil Lesh &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp; Friends, There and Back Again (Columbia, 2002)
Project Z, Project Z (Terminus, 2001)
Jazz is Dead, Great Sky River (Zebra, 2001)
Gov't Mule, Live...With a Little Help From Our Friends (Capricorn, 1998)
The Derek Trucks Band, Out of the Madness (House of Blues, 1998)
T Lavitz, Gossip (Wild Cat, 1996)
Col. Bruce Hampton &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp; The Aquarium Rescue Unit, Mirrors of Embarrassment (Capricorn, 1993)
Photo One: Todd Wickersty
Photo Two: Jaime Butler
Photo Three: Aaron Williams
Photo Four: MarkL. Wilmot
Photo Five: Courtesy of Jimmy Herring and Abstract Logix
Photo Six: Wellspring Arts