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Jimmy Herring: The Lifeboat Sessions and More

Phil DiPietro By

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AAJ: That makes a lot of sense, actually.

Jimmy Herring JH: We've been like brothers since we met. It's not just music because we were brought up similarly; for instance, we both love to fish and we love the outdoors. We both have a lot in common in terms of what interests us away from music.

AAJ: How'd you meet him at such a young age?

JH: I was with Bruce Hampton and he knew this guy named Bunky Odom, who used to work for Capricorn Records back in their heyday, when the Allman Brothers were the biggest band on Capricorn and they helped get Jimmy Carter elected president in the '70s. Bunky used to come out to see the band all the time. He lived in Charleston and he was there literally every time we played. He was the kind of guy that would slap you on the back and say, "You boys're doing great, just keep it up!"

He's a manager, so sometime around 1990 I'm guessing, he comes around and tells Bruce, and he tells me, that he's got this kid, and he's nine—nine years old and he plays like Duane Allman. Of course we'd go "Really, man?" But of course we didn't believe it—who is going to believe that, right? So it gets to a couple of years later and the kid's all of eleven now, and Bunky is still singing his praises but this time he actually wants him to open a show for ARU. So, Bruce being who he is, is like, "Sure, Okay!"

I forget where the first time we played with him was but it might've been Charleston at this place called the Music Farm. Derek killed all of us! We walked in at sound check and this kid was playing and he's not moving, and it was like God's divine light was shining down on this kid and it was pouring out of him and we were all just brought to our knees. And this was at sound check—the most sterile time of a musician's life. Sound checks are not usually very inspired-sounding. At that moment he became an honorary member of the ARU. Any time we played together where he would open the show, he'd come out and play our set with us and we wouldn't let him get off the stage.

So that had a pretty profound effect on him, being so young and being around some other musicians who were into some heavy music. He got to be great friends with all of us and getting into heavy music, listening all the time to all of the deepest blues like Son House and Howlin' Wolf, and then he got into Coltrane. That's when he became a musicologist and he really has never looked back. He just keeps getting better and better, moving forward and listening to new things and seeking out new music that none of us has ever heard and turning us onto it—really just an amazing kid. So that's how I met Derek when he was eleven—after hearing about him since he was nine.

AAJ: I have a nine year-old so I hear you.

JH: Who could believe it? And then I'd get mad because people would hear him and go, "Yeah, he's pretty good for a kid." We knew better. Eighty years old or eight—whatever—we always called him an old soul.

AAJ: I saw Frogwings, the band you had together, in Boston.

JH: Oh yeah, we had a good time doing that with Uncle Butch [Butch Trucks, the drummer in the Allman Brothers, is Derek's uncle]—you know.

AAJ: So this song, "Lifeboat Serenade" has a great escalating part here that's beautiful [playing passage beginning at 4:20]—now, this sounds like Derek, but thicker.

JH: No that's me. See it's funny you picked that because I tried to give him that outro solo but he made me take it. My friend who played drums on that tune named Tyler Greenwell, he heard that and said, "Wow! That sounds killer where you and Derek are trading right there!" Now, he knows Derek really well and he's played with him a lot, so I was really flattered. That just cracks me up, and Derek would think it's funny too.

AAJ: But how're you doing that?

Jimmy Herring JH: I'm just really into his nuances and I probably stole some of them, without really meaning to.

AAJ: Now that's an understatement. Are you sliding into the notes and chords with your fingers?

JH: Yeah.

AAJ: It sounds like a fretless guitar almost.

JH: That's the goal. I'm trying to play where you don't hear the frets. Derek is playing the part of the vocalist on that tune at the two starts and the verse—the parts where the singer would come in—and then there's a solo in the middle of the tune, which is me with a different kind of sound, where you can tell the difference easily. I wanted him to trade off again at the end, but he said, "No, man. You have to leave what you recorded alone." Unfortunately, we wanted to be there at the same time, but we couldn't get that together because his schedule and my schedule and all the logistics were wrong—it was crazy.

AAJ: Hold on. You guys didn't record at the same time?

JH: No, in fact, I was done with everything on the record except his part and I had to drive down to Jacksonville from Atlanta and get him to put it on there. Unfortunately I was on tour with Panic and when I got off the road he was making a record of his own, so there was just no good time to actually make the session at the same time.


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