Jazz Guitar Today talks to Jimmy Herring
An interview with guitarist Jimmy Herring…
Bob Bakert, Editor of Jazz Guitar Today: There is a movement in music, particularly modern electric guitar, afoot. When I speak with players like David Grissom, Jeff McErlain, Oz Noy, as well as many other of today’s players, the conversation always involves the blending of many styles. Of course, many of today’s most influential guitar players were influenced by early rock, blues and jazz – from Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin, BB King, Albert, Freddie, Wes, Joe, Miles and Coltrane. And if you put their music in a pot and blend add dash of some country players, you have a new “Americana modern guitar style”.
Jimmy Herring’s playing is a great example of this amalgamation of styles. He plays with an effortless fluidity through changes and all the while, maintaining authentic rock and blues sensibilities. It’s no wonder John McLaughlin picked him for his last major tour. Jimmy has played with Aquarium Rescue Unit, Widespread Panic, The Dead, Allman Brothers Band and Tedeschi Trucks. Whatever he is doing – musicians, as well as the listening public, seem to love it.
Jimmy Herring and I had a great time talking about his new band, the tour, the material, and his desire to mentor… Enjoy!
CONVERSATION WITH JIMMY HERRING
Bob: Tell me about the new band, the tour, the music, the differences you’re seeing between this project and other things you’ve done before. Why this, why now? Please take us down that road.
Okay, well thanks for asking! Man, basically there are a lot of great local musicians around Atlanta and I’ve known about this for some time. But, you get busy, and I don’t go down into town (Atlanta) very often. I live north of the city and ever since the mid-nineties I’ve been busy… touring and what not. So, I really haven’t had my finger on the pulse of what’s been happening.
You know what, the last band that we had, the one that went out with John McLaughlin, we had one of the young lions from the Atlanta music scene, Kevin Scott on bass. I start talking to Kevin about it … I said, “Hey man, you know who’s who… and what’s happening in Atlanta right now. Who’s doing something cool?” He turned me on to a few people and I really wanted to work with some of these younger guys. You know, to infuse motivation and youthful exuberance. For years, I was the young guy…compared to who I was playing with… and right now, all these years have gone by, I’m by far the older guy now… (laughs)
I wanted to play with some of these young guys… I see my mentors doing it – like John McLaughlin or Phil Lesh. They are playing with a bunch with younger people and it’s been going on for years now… and I’ve been wanting to do it. I’ve been wanting to see (how it would go) … and Bruce Hampton (Aquarium Rescue Unit founder/leader) was my mentor… He had a great drummer named Darren Stanley. Darren, I already knew him somewhat… and always wanted to work with him. I liked him as a person and as a musician…. so I thought wow… we have Darren and Kevin, and I was looking for somebody who is a good singer that likes blues-based music. I wanted someone who could also go into some harmonically more dangerous territory. They told me about this guy Rick Lollar.
Kevin had a band with him called King Baby. Matt Slocum was also in King Baby – Matt is the keyboard player with King Baby, the same guy I’ve been working with for years. I love him, he’s from Birmingham so he’s not far away from Atlanta. And so, I thought well Rick has these tunes, he’s a singer, and he’s a great guitar player too. I really like two guitar players in a band. I have always enjoyed two guitar players… Let’s see what happens if we get together with Darren on drums, Rick on guitar and vocal, Kevin on bass and Matt Slocum on keyboards. Let’s just (do it), everybody knew there was no gigs. We didn’t have any gigs but we found a guy who had a great place to rehearse. He’s super cool and he let us use this place.
So, we just started getting together for fun just to see what would happen and it was pretty telling. It’s like, oh yeah, this could turn into something. And then before we knew it, we had written 2 or 3 tunes together. I thought we can play some of Rick’s music and some King Baby music. And we can play some of my instrumental tunes. We could do a few covers here and there. And, Rick is a great singer and we could have some instrumental and vocal tunes and I like vocal music always have… you know … Rick, I mean he loves Stevie Wonder. He loves Donny Hathaway … a lot of the same music that we all love, so … to me it was a no brainer. I thought, well okay, I think we see that it’s got potential. Do you guys want to actually try to do some gigs? Everybody was into the idea so they were like yeah, let’s do it. So, we got our manager, and started talking to him about when we could book some dates. Yep, this is how it happened. I’m really, really happy but I still wish we had more time… you know how that goes. I wish we had more time to write more music together …man you never have enough time. Let’s face it.
Bob: (Laughing) I’m sorry, I’m laughing because I know… go ahead
It was insane. All these guys are local but there busy and I would come home from my responsibilities with Widespread Panic, so I had a large chunk of time off. So I’m calling everybody, “hey man let’s get together next week.” But they can’t because they’re with somebody else … their busy… these guys are local but they’re super busy!
Bob: They live locally but they work afar…
They do, yeah. But it’s great because all of those guys have shared the experience working with Bruce Hampton. We have that in common. And you know man, it seems like every time I try to put together something – it ends up being people who played with him (Bruce Hampton) because it’s like we’re a member of a family or something – even if even we didn’t play with him during the same time. It’s hard to put into words but those of us that played with Bruce feel like we have something in common with one another.
Bob: Well, he’s a high priest … The great Johnny Knapp who played with Bird and Coltrane and a host of others loved Bruce and held him in very high esteem.
Yeah, he is. He is not about teaching someone what to play or anything – he just taught us all a different way of looking at things. Where you can get out of your own way, hopefully. That was his whole thing – how to get out of your own way and let it come through you. And, on a good night, that’s what you hope happens.
Bob: Back to the band selection and Rick – he’s such a great choice. What a great band – please keep going…
Well, that’s where it came together. When I heard Rick, I was like man – this guy was local? It was my manager Souvik who knew about Rick. I heard him and I knew about him but I didn’t even realize at the time that he was from Atlanta, also. So we started talking.
I was really impressed and I loved his voice and I thought his guitar playing was awesome too. This guy has got it all; blues, jazz harmony and he’s sings. That’s not stupid, you know. (Bob’s laughing) What I mean it’s not. You know what I’m saying…
Lots of Laughter….
Bob: That’s a great quote. I’m going to grab that one
(Jimmy laughing quoting himself ) “He sings but it’s not stupid – it’s good.”
Bob: Yea, that’s funny … keep going, I’m sorry.
No, it’s okay (chuckles) . It’s just funny to me how like that middle ground that exists between popular music and improvised music… for lack of a better term… I don’t want to call it ‘jazz’ per se.
It’s like the spirit of jazz…improvisation…anything can happen. It can be different every night and all of that… it just seems like there’s this gray area in between that and popular music. I will and I always liked both. I would love to live somewhere in between. How come every time jazz guys get together and try to have a vocal group, it’s either going to be like background music at Starbucks or…(“something very exoteric” – both laughing)
Bob: I’m laughing but you’re absolutely right – that’s funny as hell.
Not an interruption at all….it seems like either one or the other in that middle ground is very elusive and it’s hard to find players who can be on both sides of that.
Bob: Well, there are only a few guys… you know most of the time you say jazz and vocals people are thinking American songbook “There will never be another you”, “All the things you are” and all that kind of stuff…
Bob: You really want them to be thinking about Donnie Hathaway and Stevie Wonder… thinking about those kinds of guys. I don’t want me doing the talking, I want you to be doing the talking, but when you talk about Stevie. Stevie Wonder harmonically is about as advanced as it gets in song writing.
Yeah man, absolutely! But when you listen to his music and I mean, when a person who’s not a musician, who may not even know about the music that we all love – the John Coltrane’s and the Johnny Griffins and Miles Davis. They may not know that music but when they hear Stevie Wonder, they love it! Yeah, but it’s pretty obvious that Stevie knows about all those people…
No doubt about it. it’s just weird how it’s hard to find people who love both – who love the Beatles and Coltrane…
Yeah and Rick does you know and with a voice like that… man, I mean that’s a formidable thing to have…
We’re going to be doing some of his (Rick Lollar) pieces and some of our instrumental tunes. We’ve written a few tunes together but I was wishing we had time to write a whole bunch. We have been rehearsing some and it’s like “these are vocal tunes but wait a minute, it was 10 minutes long”…. Yeah,maybe my solo was too long. But that’s kind of where we are right now… there are those tunes that have something to them but they probably shouldn’t be a 10 minute song. And then on the other side of that, some of us are like “so what man… you know, let it be what it is.” I want everybody to get a chance to play and every song won’t have everybody playing a solo but that’s kind of what this thing’s supposed to be. It’s a chance for all of us to play- it’s not just me. I want it to be open enough to where everybody gets to play.
Meet the Band:
Jimmy Herring and the 5 of 7
Hometown: Dothan, AL
(currently living in NYC)
Played & Recorded with…
Wayne Krantz, Donny McCaslin, Col. Bruce Hampton, John McLaughlin, Dennis Chambers, Bernard Purdie, FORQ, Gary Husband, Wednesday Night Titans (w Zach Danziger), Emil Werstler, Gregg Allman, Russell Gunn, FORQ, Akon, Wale, Monica, WAXpaper, King Baby, Fergie, Emil Werstler
Touring with Jimmy…
It means the world to be on stage with all these guys. I have worked with everyone in the band individually for many years. They are not only my band mates but my family as well. Jimmy is one of the prolific guitarists who has ever touched the instrument and one of the most loving, genuine people I have ever met. Every night we all play, fresh/fun things happen. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the 5 of 7!
Hometown: Tallahassee, FL (Atlanta since 2009)
Played & Recorded with…
Col. Bruce Hampton, Jimmy Herring, Jamison Ross, King Baby, Weisshund, Marcus Roberts, The Lee Boys, Lera Lynn, Kenosha Kid, Kevin Bales, Jamison Ross, Scotty Barnhart, Kenosha Kid, The Lee Boys, The Travelin McCourys, King Baby, Weisshund, Bobby Feeno
Touring with Jimmy…
Jimmy has been my hero and an inspiration since I first picked up a guitar, but to now call him a friend and collaborator is a dream come true. Everyone in this band shares a bond through the legacy of Col. Bruce Hampton and we continue to explore the world of possibilities he opened for us. We are aligned in our intent, we take what we do seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously, and I’m positive that comes through in the music.
Hometown: Stone Mountain, GA
Played & Recorded with…
Jimmy Herring, Oz Noy, Rai Thistlethwaite, Col. Bruce Hampton, Fred Wesley, Oteil Burbridge, Denny Walley, Coy Bowles, Larkin Poe, Delta Moon, Donna the Buffalo, Otis Taylor, Peter Rowan, the Mosier Bros., Wax Paper
Col. Bruce Hampton, Oz Noy, Rai Thistlethwaite, Coy Bowles, Trevor Powers (Youth Lagoon), “Boomerang” on B.E.T., Delta Moon, Love Tractor, Squat, Wax Paper
Touring with Jimmy…
Playing music with this group is a culmination of the music journey I’ve been on since first hearing Col. Bruce Hampton and A.R.U. when I was 19 years old. Hearing that group fuse so many genres of music broke down a lot of walls!!!
Getting to play with Kevin, Rick, Matt and Jimmy is a dream come true. Not only are they some of the best musicians you’ll find anywhere, but they are also dear friends. Being on the road with these guys, there is a lot of laughter and deep conversation. Of coarse that kind on interaction follows us on stage. I’m so grateful to get to make music with this band and still an having moments where I have to pinch myself!!
Hometown: Birmingham, AL
Played & Recorded with…
Oteil Burbridge, Susan Tedeschi, Col. Bruce Hampton, Jimmy Herring, John McLaughlin, Railroad Earth, James Hunter Six, Denis Chambers, Jeff Sipe, Warren Haynes, George Porter Jr, Rich Robinson, Victor Wooten, Derek Trucks, King Baby, Lee Roy Parnell, The Lee Boys, Magpie Salute, Results of Adults, Oteil Burbridge, Jimmy Herring, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Rich Robinson, Magpie Salute, George Drakoulias, John McLaughlin, Warren Haynes
Touring with Jimmy…
Playing on this tour with Jimmy is exactly where I want to be. He makes playing music easy and challenging all at the same time. I’ve never felt so comfortable and inspired in any other musical situation. It’s an honor and a privilege to play with Jimmy and the 5 of 7.
Jimmy Herring and the 5 of 7 - 9/18/19
Bob: I think they really appreciate that because you’re going to let them be exposed to a lot of new people.
Yeah, I hope so! That’s it, yeah that’s it!
Bob: I think you are ushering in something new here which I really dig. It’s what I refer to as harmonically advanced tunes that are accessible to a non-harmonically advanced ear.
Bob: When other musicians think it’s really hip and the people in the third row, who have no musical training at all go, “wow, I really dig this”. I think that’s what you’re talking about …that’s when you know it’s good.
That’s what we hope for.
Slide Show from 2019 - Compliments of Stu Kelly
Bob: Well yeah, I think you stand a real good chance of doing it with the musicians in this band. I did the research on them and there are no holes in that wall! They’re all really great players and they got you leading the charge, as it were… You could be the new “high priest” here with this band. I think it’s freakin awesome!
Anything else about the band, the tour or where you’re at today?
No man. I can’t think of anything in particular. We just want to go play music together …. that’s what all this stems from. I’m working less now with Widespread Panic. We don’t tour anymore per se so this left me with more time (to do other stuff)…. in the last 2 years, I started ‘Jonesing’ to do something a little different… and just see where it goes….
And, I never know if it’s going to be something I want to keep doing or not but I sure think it will be – and I hope it will be. So I don’t have anything in particular that I want to say other than – I sure I’m looking forward to it!
About the Guitar...
Custom Paul Reed Smith
Jimmy's guitar is a one-off custom build instrument made for Jimmy in 2017.
This guitar has large Dunlop 6000 frets and Narrowfield pickups for a little more of a clear tone.
The custom (mint green) pickguard shape was a collaboration with Jimmy, Paul and Jimmy's long time guitar tech, Joel Bryon.
Bob: Well, I got one last thing for you – I have to tell you, I’m huge John McLaughlin fan.
Yeah man, me too.
Bob: OK, I got to ask…what was it like to get that call from John Mclaughlin?
MAN…(long pause ) I couldn’t speak! I was completely dumbfounded. When the word came that it (the possibility of touring with Mclaughlin) was being kicked around – I just started laughing. You know my guy Souvik, he’s John’s right hand man. Yeah, you know when John tours you really trust Souvik to the point where he pretty much is his ‘main man’. And I feel that way about Souvik that way too … I mean, he was the catalyst. He was the liaison or the go-between that made it possible. If not for him, it probably never would happened. I was like – pinch yourself, this can’t be real…
John McLaughlin about Jimmy...
Jimmy Herring is at the head of the younger generation of guitarists. His musical evolution was the opposite of my own in the sense that from the beginning, my direction was towards jazz and subsequently fused with the advent of Rhythm and Blues and Rock n Roll, whereas Jimmy’s was from the outset Blues and Rock n Roll, and then captured by the Jazz Fusion movement.
His playing is full of emotion and his technique impeccable. Enough to say that when I heard a recording of an improvisation he played on one of my compositions, My first thought was, “Why didn’t I play a solo like that?”
John McLaughlin – 2019
One time I got a call from Souvik and this was before it was really discussed. I get up I answer the phone and its Souvik’s phone – and I know it’s him so I go hello. And then it’s John McLaughlin on the other end of the line! He started talking but I thought it was a prank. He’s like “this is John McLaughlin”. I said oh yeah, SURE …you guys think you’re funny. And then he laughed (John Mclaughlin) after a little bit and he goes “no really”.
And then he put Gary Husband on the phone! Oh my god, and then Garry Husband starts talking to me and he’s singing melodies from the new record that they just put out. I’m just like dumbfounded.
I knew he was out with them on tour at that time – but I still thought it was a prank… but it wasn’t a prank. I knew when Souvik started telling me John really thinks maybe you guys go play together. Well, I just couldn’t believe it. And then Paul Reed Smith had asked us to play this 30 year celebration. Paul asked Aquarium Rescue Unit to play and I said “Hey, I was like are you sure you want that group to play? You know there’s no telling what might happen (laughs)”.
Paul said, “Yes, I’m sure I’m sure” – so I said okay. John had been talking with Paul Reed Smith too… about his guitars and so either Paul or Souvik called John McLaughlin and invited him to come play with us at his 30 year event. Man, you want to talk about an unbelievable musical experience. John unleashed – it was freaking fantastic… because that outlet was all about Bruce’s (Hampton) thing – he’s just as wide open – which was perfect. When John McLaughlin walks on stage – he just parts of the Red Sea… (Jimmy was almost overwhelmed with enthusiasm and excitement even talking about it).
Bob: I saw the video
Yeah, there is probably one but I never saw it -I want to remember it the way I remember it.
In the last 2 years, I started ‘Jonesing’ to do something a little different… and just see where it goes….
Bob: Well I’m sure wasn’t the same as standing there on the stage and having John part the Red Sea because I’m sure that he did… I thought those guys in this stage must be just pinching themselves being out here with him.
Oh man, we were… and Dennis Chambers was there too (oh wow ), he’s in Paul’s band. He’s a Maryland guy … he is based out of Maryland and so Paul hires Dennis Chambers whenever he puts his own band together. So you had John and Dennis Chambers playing – trading fours with each other. That was mind boggling – I mean it was truly amazing. It was a pinch myself moment. And you know how they’ve been trying to get John to play Mahavishnu music again – and he never would do it ….he just kept moving forward, not backwards… John recreated himself about 1000 times between now and 1972. But he started talking to me about putting the Mahavishnu music together … I WAS LIKE WHAT!!! I was stunned. I mean, come on man.
At this point the ever dutiful publicist held us to our time limit and the conversation ended with me thanking Jimmy and his publicist Michelle.
We at JGT worked very hard to preserve the feel of the conversation. I want to thank Jimmy Herring for being so candid, I had a great time…
Hope you enjoyed!
When asked to play with John McLaughlin:
“MAN… I couldn’t speak! I was completely dumbfounded. I was like – pinch yourself, this can’t be real…” Jimmy Herring
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