A Lincoln Memorial: Jimmy Herring on the late Ricky Keller
We caught up with Jimmy Herring on Dead tour this past Tuesday just a day after he had learned about the passing of Ricky Keller. Here is what Jimmy had to say about his friend and collaborator (you may also wish to read an interview with Jimmy and Ricky from September 2001, "Born Z: Jimmy Herring and Ricky Keller Expound")
Jesus man, it's tragic. He was so incredible, man. I can hardly even speak. He was skilled at so many things and he embodied the whole thing Z thing more than anybody.
He was a celebrated musician. In college he won all kinds of awards because he could play classical music on french horn and he was one of the best french horn players in the state and was recognized as such. He moved to Atlanta after graduation and it wasn't long after that he met Bruce Hampton and Bruce Hampton changed his life. Here was this classically-trained musician who had studied his whole life and was a consummate pro, an academic musician, but when he met Bruce there was just no going back. Then he started this studio for the sole purpose of documenting Bruce Hampton. After that he started doing more studio stuff.
When I moved to Atlanta he was the number one bass player in town who got all the calls for the studio sessions. He was doing that and running his own studio and playing his own gigs. He was the one we all looked up to. We were new playing with Bruce in 1989 and we looked up to him and asked for advice. He was the guy who was always back in Atlanta and you could get him on the phone if you had a question about something- "Man, I'm not getting it, I can't get out of my own way what should I do?" And he could always answer those questions and he gave you confidence in yourself. He had a real way of bringing the best out in people. It's so endless what I could say about the guy. I was on the phone for four hours last night speaking with Sipe and Oteil and Derek and Bruce and Jason Crosby and the people that Ricky was really close to and one of them said, "Ricky was the kind of guy who would give you his house, his car and all of his clothes if you needed it, he'd give it to you."
Phil saw that something was really wrong with me. He saw that I was devastated and he came over and said, "Jimmy what's wrong?" and I told him one of my dearest friends in the world Ricky Keller had just died. He said, "Oh man, I'm so sorry. I hate it when friends die but Jimmy you know we mourn for ourselves, they're in a better place, they're at the next place. They're at peace and a good place but we just miss them. So don't worry about him, just try to get through this for yourself and your loved ones." And that helped me. Phil had met him and he also said, "Man I loved that guy's playing, he was nuts." That would have meant a lot to Ricky to know that but he's watching, he's listening…
We did another album, we didn't plan to, we just went into the studio one day and we put everything in the same room and said forget about bleed-through, there's not going to be any overdubs, we're going to play a live set. We played for like five hours. As a result we ended up getting the best stuff on tape we've ever gotten. When we made the recording we thought we were just going to puke, we didn't think we were going to make a record. But we had so much music on it and we edited it down and the last session I did with Ricky was on the 11th of the June. It's the best thing I've ever done because it's uniquely us.
There are moments when its really serious music and scholastic-sounding but then at the drop of the hat Ricky would take his end into something that was the worst thing you have ever heard in your life. So horrible, it was below reproach [Laughs]. That's what we used to talk about all the time: Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, James Blood Ulmer. All these guys were influences of ours. Ricky embodied that whole spirit of the Z. He knew it better than anybody, it's just an extension of Bruce's philosophy. "Just Play," that's really all there is to it. Don't take yourself too seriously and don't be afraid to make a mistake and man, Ricky could do it better than anybody.
Jason pretty much named the album last night. I said, "Man, it's more important now than ever to put out this album and dedicate it to Ricky." His nickname was Lincoln Metcalfe, that's what Bruce named him years ago, he's had that name longer than I've known him. So Jason said the Lincoln Memorial and that's probably what we're going to call it.