Talkin' Blues with Jimmy Herring
AAJ: You were born in '62 and had two older brothers, so you must have become conscious of music right around the summer of love in 1967The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's (Parlaphone), Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, the Young Rascals, the Spencer Davis Group, and of course all the hits from Stax and Motown. What are some of your first and most intense childhood memories of music, I mean very early, what grabbed you?
JH: That's easy because I had two older brothers, one seven years and the other four years older, and luckily for me they were into some really great music. So I can remember being very young, and it was Hendrix, Santana, and the Allman Brothers in my early childhood, those three things. My brother was always playing Hendrix and the Allman Brothers. And then Santana's Abraxas (Columbia, 1970) album, it had that incredible percussion section, just amazing. So those would have been the earliest ones that really grabbed me, things that I wanted to hear again and again.
And that will lead you to other interesting music, and luckily for me my brothers had lots of stuff. My oldest brother wasn't a musician, but he was really a good listener. He had things like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis. I was really young and some of that music didn't grab me right away, but I was exposed to it. Of course the power of Hendrix was enthralling. He also had lots of instrumental music and things like Sly and the Family Stone. It was great because that stuff was always playing at the house.
Then the middle brother was into Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. The Beatles, and the Who were also in big rotation, and other British bands, and they were playing some amazing stuff.
AAJ: I saw a clip of you on YouTube and you were playing this great version of George Harrison's "Within You and Without You." So that made me wonder if you remember Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, from when you were a little kid? You know, like "A Day in the Life" when the orchestra starts climbing and that big crescendo?
JH: Oh yeah, that was incredible! I remember that as a young kid and I loved it, but Sgt. Pepper's didn't fully grab me until I got to about the seventh gradethen I really got it. "Within You and Without You" was one of my favorite tunes on the record, obviously very different from the other music. Later in life I realized people like Akbar Ali Khan and Ravi Shankar were involvedit was fascinating to hear them play in that setting.
AAJ: Did you happen to see that new Martin Scorsese documentary about George Harrison?
JH: Yes! I saw it on the tour bus, it was fascinating. I actually watched it twice all the way through. On the bus they had a satellite setup. It was in two parts, so it was long, and it was an easy way to spend a long time. I'm fascinated with George Harrison and have been for years. You know, he was so far past the instrument, and really the music was more important than the instrument, and I loved that about him. The way he brought those other cats from India into the music; that just knocked me out.
AAJ: Even though they weren't really a guitar band, when you think about it, they did some pretty cool guitar things. Take the opening chord on "A Hard Days Night" and the feedback on "I Feel Fine." It's indelible, you heard those first two seconds and you know it. That's not as easy as it might seem.
JH: It's really not, and they pioneered so much. You know their music is intelligent; you can go back and pick out a song every week. It's pop music, but for some reason it's got a lot of depth.
I miss those days, you know some much of the popular music was actually good music, you could hear great stuff on the radio back then. When I was a kid, most people I knew liked the same music. Of course once I started getting into instrumental music some of my friends didn't get it, but for the most part, most of the rock and roll of the time was just great.
AAJ: Scofield covered the Beatles "I Will" on his latest, A Moment's Peace (EmArcy, 2011.) It's funny, I can hardly think of "And Your Bird Can Sing," without imagining you and Scofield having fun with the harmonies on that.
JH: Oh man, he's always been one of my favorites, ever since I heard Marc Johnson's Bass Desires (ECM, 1985), and also the Billy Cobham George Duke Band with Alphonso [Johnson]I was just immediately blown away, and then that whole string of albums he did in the 80s, where he had a different band every year. His music just kept evolving and evolving, and his music was just so infectious to me.
I had to stop listening to him, because you know how it is, you'll end up sounding like other guitar players. Of course I know that's already there with me anyway; even without picking apart what Scofield was doing, some of it leaks into your playing anyway. I don't think it's unhealthy, I think it's a good thing, I could pick his brain for a year!
I met him one time through Warren Haynes. He came out and played some shows with Govt. Mule and it might have even been a Christmas Jam thing. But I remember standing there talking to him, and he was so personable and warm. And I remember thinking, "I've got to give him some space, because I'd been sitting around talking to him for about thirty minutes and he probably thinks I'm a psycho fan or something, so I need to leave the guy alone for a minute." So there were a few people around talking with him at the same time, so I just took a few steps and slowly walked away. I remember thinking, "It would be really easy to follow him around and shadow him and ask him too many stupid questions." So I walked away from the gathering, and when I turned around, he was right there behind me [laughing].
And he said, "Where are you going!" and I told him, "Nowhere, I was just trying to give you some space." And he says, "What do you mean man, this is a cool hang." He was so cool, but I could never tell him how much his music has really meant to meand not just a little, but everything he's ever done.