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Jimmy Herring: The Lifeboat Sessions and More

Phil DiPietro By

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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 front—you'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?"

Jimmy Herring

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 for—to be a decent person and get along with people.

AAJ: Sometimes it can be impossible. No matter how you try to please people, someone else—and that someone could be important—is mad.

JH: Especially when you're young and starting out and you have some ideas—everybody 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 wood—you'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 ask—what 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 again—god man—I 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.


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