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Jimmy Herring: The Lifeboat Sessions and More

Phil DiPietro By

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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 noise—that'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 speakers—you'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 ARU—the 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 good—it 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.

Jimmy Herring 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 warmth—the 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 one—it'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. .


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