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Jimmy Herring: The Lifeboat Sessions and More

Phil DiPietro By

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AAJ: I see you are touring with widespread in October and early November and of course, the New Year's Eve dates are set.

JH: Yeah, so it appears I might have some time, say, in the Spring of next year.

AAJ: There's already some stuff on the internet talking about a possible Dead tour next year. Are you the guy for that?

JH: I love those guys tremendously, but I haven't heard from them on this particular topic. I just haven't heard anything from them.

AAJ: I have more than a fair share of friends and a wife that was totally into the Dead, and you are the favorite guitarist of all of them that have played with the band in the post-Jerry era.

JH: They've been very good to me and have been great about giving me room to stretch and go wherever I want to.

AAJ: I just wanted to interject that the people I know love your work with the Dead because of the way you will, either during a solo, or at its beginning will state that melody for them. You really sing it. You're one of the best guys out there at stating vocal melodies with single-notes on guitar.

JH: I just think it's—if you are in that kingdom, playing Grateful Dead music...for instance, Mickey would talk to me a lot about it. He would say, "Okay Jim, now you learned the signature, right?" I didn't even know what he was talking about at first. He means the signature lick or the melody we're referring to. I was trying to stay hip on that kind of stuff by listening to live versions as well as the studio records. There was some stuff Jerry would do on both.

If I heard several versions of a song where he was consistently doing this one thing, that's what I would try to do because the fans were used to hearing it. It was part of the composition—it wasn't something he was improvising, but it was the part leading him into an improvisation. He looked at it as part of the song, so I tried to key in on what those were and try to key into those melodies. It's funny, man—it doesn't matter—you could try to play the most technically challenging thing you've ever tried to play and pull it off but sometimes nobody really responds. But if you come out and play that melody, the place is going to go crazy. It's simple. They love those songs—it's not about anyone's bitchin' technique or checking out a line that's played with a five against four metric modulation.

AAJ: That's what I'm trying to get at. You can do all the difficult stuff, but you are just as able and ready to go to the place where you can do this other basic thing with a feeling that people respond to and love passionately.

Jimmy HerringJH: To me, melody is so important. It's not in an effort to get applause but I'm just glad people notice it. I'm flattered and happy because the melody is so important to me as a musician. This is what the tune's about. Plus, of course, I played with Jazz is Dead with T [Lavitz], Alphonso [Johnson] , Billy [Cobham], [Jeff] Sipe and Rod Morgenstern a few years earlier. So with no vocals...

AAJ: That's what I was getting at—especially in Jazz is Dead, you were responsible for and played the vocal melodies in that band as well as any guitarist, especially in a rock instrumental setting, ever has. That's why people loved to go see that band.

JH: Now I feel like I could do it better. I swear I could.

AAJ: But the melodies you're playing with the Dead or Phil now aren't necessary the vocal melody. It's some other set of signature licks.

JH: But that's what hipped me to all of the melody. I got inside the tunes a little bit with Jazz is Dead, but we played them more like fusion tunes. But then when I started playing with Phil, he really educated me to the true depth of the Grateful Dead catalogue. Through working with him and his band I was able to really see —my god—what a huge amazing body of work they have. So with that, and already being melody-oriented from playing the tunes before with Jazz is Dead, since the vocals were covered in his band I wanted to try to key in on some of Garcia's stuff he played that really got to people. It was great.

I was just trying to start in a place—and people knew—I don't really want to copy anyone, but you cannot play that music without tippin' your hat, you know. It's the same thing with any band you go into where somebody else had already been before you got there, and they were an icon. Whether it be the Allman Brothers or the Dead or Mikey Houser from Panic. These guys all had their own definitive styles—it's a fine line between copying and making sure that everyone out there knows that you didn't forget about them. That's what my thing is. I didn't want anyone to think I was just going to come in here and play this gig like I was going to play any other gig—you have to show respect to the people that created the gig. Since they're no longer here you tip the hat by trying to play some of their endearing lines.


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