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Jimmy Herring: The Lifeboat Sessions and More

Phil DiPietro By

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AAJ: Does that go to every effect?

JH: There are always exceptions, but at least during my tenure with him with ARU from '89 through '95, that was where we were. He was really into it being really roots-based. I used to have harmonizers and an echo and I like to think I used it fairly tastefully, but in his mind it was, "You can't do that with your hands so I don't want to hear it." I began to see it his way, so just dropping that stuff and going straight in and maybe just having a volume pedal and an overdrive box—just one thing—it really helped me to get more in touch with my instrument. So when this album came up and I could do whatever I wanted, I still did not want to have any outrageous effects on my guitar. To me, just reverb, no delay, no echo, and nothing else that sounds like we weren't all in the same room. The point is to go for as organic a sound as we could get and if I wanted a certain sound I do it with the guitar and the hands and not with a device.

AAJ: I wanted to talk to you about "Lost."

JH: Yeah, Wayne Shorter.

AAJ: This is an example of how far you've come, not only as a legitimate jazz player but with your own playing, some of the things in your phrasing you are using rather than the alternate picking you've done in the past. You come out of the melody statement with a sax-like legato line that, to my ears, is different for you. Then you go right into these sustained long tones, sounding like more of a rock thing for a second, and then back into the alternate picked jazz phraseology.

JH: James Spaulding's performance on that particular, original version of that tune by Wayne Shorter influenced me on that, most obviously. Subliminally, there might be direct quotes in there in a couple of places. Listening to the way sax players play—they don't tongue every note unless they really want that effect. Sometimes they play a more legato approach and then, of course, Allan Holdsworth has been a tremendous influence on me. His thing is really liquid. On my best day, I would hope that I could even carry his coattails, but...

Jimmy Herring AAJ: Parts of this solo and the one on the next tune "Transients," sound very Holdsworthian.

JH: I was really into Holdsworth when I was younger. Of course, I never got to the point where I could copy him much, because he goes into some things which are just not humanly possible. I started to realize when I was really young like 23 or 24, that I could spend the rest of my life trying to play like Scofield or Scott Henderson, McLaughlin, Steve Morse or Holdsworth and decided 'I've got to stop listening to this stuff!'

I had to make a conscious effort to stop listening to those guys because I loved what they're doing so much. It's subliminally going to leak in even though you're not sitting there transcribing it. So I started listening to more horn players for a long period of time. So, my son, who is 14 now, started getting really interested in my record collection when he was about 12 or 13. His sister's boyfriend also has an extensive collection that he's very into. He started getting hip to all the horn players. So he wanted to know what I thought about guitar players other than the ones he knew about. He knew about a lot of them, so I played him some Dregs stuff and he freaked out about that, and he loved Mahavishnu Orchestra.

But then I said, "Okay, now it's time to just sit down." So I flipped out Holdsworth on him because he had never heard him and it completely freaked him out. He went on a Holdsworth binge and that set me back to the time when I was 22 years old and couldn't listen to anything but Holdsworth. So I went on another Holdsworth binge where I basically listened to nothing but him for at least three months. I know that leaked into the album somewhat.

AAJ: It's nice for folks like us that have been following along because it didn't leak in there to any overwhelming extent; it's another fantastic spice that you've added to the arsenal.

JH: That's great then. His sense of chord changes and his voice leading affected me in a profound way. The song "Gray Day," for instance—it doesn't have the exact kind of voicings that he uses, the kind that will break your hand, but it's definitely influenced by him, just because of the tonality of it, the minor/major chords and the augmented major 7th chords. It's a fantastic tonality to play in.

AAJ: Yeah, that tune sounds huge, like there are many more melody instruments on there besides alto and guitar. There's a lot of orchestration on that tune.

JH: I have this little device called a Space Station. Someone had given it to me years ago. It's just this little Digitech pedal that I'd never even plugged into. It was in my basement and I noticed it one day. I flipped it upside-down and saw that it just has a couple of patches on it. They're called 'synth-pad' one and two. I realized I could play my voicings that I preferred and I could get some sounds like keyboard strings. So that stuff on that track is all guitars. It still sounds like a guitar, not real strings. But I hate to go to a keyboard player who's playing a string pad and tell him what voicings to play. That should be left up to the individual musician. Instead of having to dictate exactly what to play I was able to just do it myself. We were able to run it direct and it sounded really good, and then we fed it through a Leslie for a couple of tunes. Some people will think it's a synth or an organ or something, but that's all it is.



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