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Interviews

Jimmy Herring: The Lifeboat Sessions and More

By Published: October 21, 2008

Jimmy HerringAAJ: That's impossible.

JH: Wherever you were playing you had to buy every ticket and sell the place out. It was up to you to sell the tickets and whatever you didn't sell, you had to eat.



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 day—no bass, no keyboards—just 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 house—that's the first place they lived. I remember he said, "You've got to come over here—now!"



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 together—we 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 music—you 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 it—they 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 exploded—musically, I mean.

Jimmy Herring



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 just—at 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 jazz—I 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 man—listen 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.



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