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Talkin' Blues

Talkin' Blues with Jimmy Herring

By Published: December 27, 2011
AAJ: I finally got a chance to see her live this summer, she and Derek did a show with Gregg Allman here in Germany. There was also another treat, blues guitarists get a lot of the glory, but Jerry Jemmott was playing bass with Gregg Allman—Derek and Susan also sat in with them. Man what a great player, and his sound is amazingly good. I know you played at the Beacon show for the Allman's 40th anniversary the same night Jerry did the King Curtis tribute. Have you ever had a chance to play with him?

From left: Richie Goods, Tom Guarna and Jimmy Herring

JH: Oh he's legendary. No, I've never had a chance to play with him, I was scared to even talk to him, but I did. He's a genius, there's just nobody like him. He's the sound that defined an entire generation. I love Jerry Jemmott, it doesn't get any better than that.

AAJ: Speaking of the Allman's 40th anniversary, you were there a couple of nights after Clapton's last guest appearance. I was curious if you were in New York early and happened to be backstage for that?

JH: No, and I wish I could have, but I had other commitments and I think I didn't fly in until the actual day of the show. So sadly I missed all that great stuff. I've got to check that out on Moogis.

AAJ: That second night was pretty amazing, Derek and Oteil formed this intense pocket around Clapton when they did "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," and focused in like lasers on what he was doing. You know how Oteil is when he picks up on what people are doing.

JH: Oteil has always had that gift, he always makes whomever he's playing with sound better. He hears where people go almost immediately, he figures out peoples' styles, and he almost knows instinctively what to do. He can mess with the harmony, for example, he'll change the bass note of a chord and make it a different chord. He knows how to do it so that it doesn't trip the soloist up, they can keep playing the same basic tonality they were playing, but because he changed the chord, as a soloist you suddenly hear yourself in a whole different light. He's a master of harmony, and he knows all kinds of little things he can do that will bring you to another place.

AAJ: I understand you got a Fender Telecaster when you were 13. Did you have any formal musical training on guitar before you attended that summer session at Berklee?

JH: No, it was all by ear, and really, it still is. I played alto sax in the school band, so I learned how to read single notes. So until many years later I couldn't read for a guitar, and it still isn't something that I'm very good at. For me it's always been easier to just learn it by ear. So if someone sends me the music, I'll usually still learn it from the CD, and then check it against the music to make sure I got it right. But no, I didn't have formal training.

Then, when I was 22, I went to G.I.T. [Guitar Institute of Technology] in Los Angeles and I got to meet some amazing people. I had some great teachers, but I didn't take guitar lessons because I didn't want to be told how to hold a pick or anything like that. I just wanted to study music, and it was a great place to do that.

There were all kinds of great guitar players around, but there were also great bass players, drummers, piano players—and also, any night of the week you could go and see great musicians who were playing around L.A.

AAJ: Several musicians I've interviewed made very rapid progress once they got right instrument in their hands. What was your development like, did guitar come easily to you?

JH: I remember when I started getting into Mahavishnu and Dixie Dregs. The Dixie Dregs just floored me; it had a classical dimension to it that intrigued me. I remember my brothers being really encouraging. I remember them playing some Return to Forever
Return to Forever
Return to Forever

and asking me if I could play that. I said, "Are you insane!" They played me some Mahavishnu and asked me if I could play that. I said, "Are you kiddin' me! I'll never be able to play that. Nobody but that guy can play that."

It just seemed completely and utterly out of reach, but I was listening to Dixie Dregs, Mahavishnu, and Return to Forever constantly. I think I listened to that music constantly for about two years before I ever played any significant portion of it. I think during that time there was a pretty rapid growth in my abilities thanks to my brothers' encouragement. I didn't think I could do it, but they seemed to think I could.

Eventually I started hearing the melodies in my head even when the record wasn't playing. With time I would learn to play some of the easier passages of the music, and slowly and surely I'd start filling in the blanks. Eventually, I was playing almost an entire song. With time I got into improvising and not just trying to copy the records. That was then another area where I would work at getting better.

The biggest growth came from playing with Bruce Hampton, Oteil Burbridge
Oteil Burbridge
Oteil Burbridge
, Matt Mundy and Jeff Sipe. I was already 28 years old at that point—but the period from 1989 to 1993 was probably the biggest time of growth and progression for me.

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