Snapshots With Jimmy Herring: A Jambands.com Reader Interview
Our latest Jambands.com reader interview was conducted with a musician who has been profiled a few times on this site over the years in a variety of contexts. Jimmy Herring has appeared with such groups as Aquarium Rescue Unit, Project Z, Allman Brothers Band, Phil & Friends, Frogwings and Jazz Is Dead. We received well over a hundred questions from our readers, most of which focused on Herrings tenure with Widespread Panic which began in September 2006. Herring took time off from laying down guitar tracks for his forthcoming solo record to address a number of these queries.
Lets start out with this question, which seems appropriate since youre in the studio as we speak. What do you have planned for the next WSP offseason, any touring or recording? I’ve heard mention of an album with you, Jeff Sipe, Oteil Burbridge and Derek Trucks. Any details that you can shed on this? Question from HP
Its my first album. Ive never done an album before. I mean Ive worked with other people but this is the first one thats my vision, my songs. Well theres six of my songs, two of Kofi Burbridge’s songs and two covers. Ive never done anything like this before. I dont even know what its going to be called yet. Its not going to be the Jimmy Herring Band or anything like that but its going to be my first solo album, I guess. *Who else plays on it? *
Jeff Sipe, Oteil Burbridge, Derek Trucks, Greg Osby, Kofi Burbridge and Matt Slocum, the keyboard player who plays in Oteils band. Did I leave anyone out? Oh, Ike Stubblefield is going to play on some stuff and maybe Bobby Lee Rodgers, too. But you know everyone is not on every song. Oteil and Jeff played on every song but Derek is only going to be on two. And then Kofi played on five or six songs and Greg Osby played on five or six songs and Ike Stubblefield and Bobby Lee Rodgers are going to play on at least one song. *Do you have any idea of when it will be released? *
Thats the big question. Man, my goal was to finish my guitar by the end of today. I dont know if thats going to happen, it might have to be part of tomorrow too. Im close but Ive got a lot to do because these tunes are hard. Ive never done my own songs my own way before and theyre my orchestrations and its a very compositional-based album. Its got a lot of improvisation on it but its all within the context of songs. And these songs are very hard to play on because the chord progressions are very demanding.
So Im having to do a lot of takes when Im doing solos and my engineer here Rush Anderson is absolutely integral in this process. Ill do like ten solos and then well listen to them and Ill say, Oh the beginning of that ones good but I dont like what comes after. Then well switch to another pass that Id already laid down and Ill go, Oh, I like the middle of that one but I dont like the end.
But thats a typical way that Pat Metheny and John Scofield cut solos when theyre in the studio. Im determined in this project to use the studio for what it is. It is not a live gig and if I dont get one performance all the way through on a solo that Im happy with, I dont have qualms about using a piece of this one and a piece of that one. As long as when its over and Ive used pieces of a few of them, if it still sounds like something I would have played, I have no problem doing that.
I havent had an opportunity to do that that much because most of the time youre on a real strict time thing with the budget and everything. Im at my friend Rushs house and hes being real lenient with me and very patient with me and hes a great engineer and hes allowing me a lot of time to explore the possibilities of what I can do with the tunes. I couldnt do this in a big expensive studio because it would cost too much money. *Since you mentioned Jeff Sipe and Bobby Lee Rodgers, quite a few people asked about the future of Herring/Rogers/Sipe. Do you have any upcoming touring plans with that band? *
We havent done that in a long time but we had a blast. I had so much fun doing that. That was kind of splitting the difference between Project Z and a song-based band. We had ARU and then Project Z kind of picked up where ARU left off in a way as far as philosophy went. ARU had some songs but then one of our favorite things to do was, wed be standing in a dressing room five minutes before a show and say, Okay no tunes for 45 minutes, no tunes. So we would improvise the first 45 minutes of the show without playing a song. But there was pressure on ARU because people came to hear those songs that Bruce sings. With Project Z we figured, Well, we dont have to play any songs if we dont want to.
The first [Project Z] album we kind of had a few songs and then the next Project Z album had zero songs on it, it was just all improvisation from start to finish. And with Bobby Lee and Jeff and Neal Fountain, the idea was Bobby had all these great songs, hes a genius songwriter. So lets play some of his songs but really crack them open and improvise on them.
The status of it is that everybodys busy. Bobbys got his band [The Codetalkers], Jeffs on the road with Keller Williams, Im on the road with Panic and its real hard to find time to fit all the stuff in.
With Panic its been very demanding especially at the beginning because I had to learn so much music in such a short amount of time. I didnt have time to do anything else and then when Id get off the road I would have to spend the entire time off continuing to work on their music before we went and did something else. Plus, Panic had a real busy year last year. We would do a tour and the tour would end and two days later we were in the Bahamas doing pre-production for the album that we were going to do in the following months. Then wed go back out on tour. Then wed get off the road and we were home for one day after a two month tour and then boom straight to the Bahamas for two weeks. That year was so busy and with me learning their material and making the record and doing pre-production for that record, I didnt really have time to do any more Herring-Rodgers-Sipe stuff but I really want to do it again. I dont know when. We talk about it all the time, me and Bobby Lee, me and Jeff talk about it all the time. We all love each other and we want to do it but its just a matter of finding the time. *As you can imagine we received quite a few Widespread Panic questions. On the subject of your initial days with the band, a number of people were curious how much time you had to prepare for your first Panic shows. *
I was on the road with Bobby Lee and Jeff Sipe and Neal Fountain when I got the call about doing the Panic gig and I didnt get to work on the music until I got home from that tour because I didnt feel right about working on Panic music when I was on tour with another group. So when I got home I had two weeks to work on their music and then I had two days of rehearsal with them. It wasnt real rehearsal, it was just us sitting in a room with Todd playing electronic drums and everybody playing through tiny little amps. Then we went to New York to do the Radio City shows and we had two more days of rehearsal in a real legitimate rehearsal studio. So I had four days of rehearsal if you count those two in Athens. And I was probably playing 10 or 12 hours a day during those two weeks before the rehearsals, and continued that pace even during the rehearsals. Id be practicing before the rehearsals, after the rehearsals and even when the gigs started.
They were very kind to me. They would give me the list of songs: Okay these are the ones were going to play the first night of Radio City. So I knew what I had to do for that gig. And then they gave the second night of Radio City and said, Okay, heres what were going to be doing the second night, and then, Heres what were going to be doing the third night. They normally wouldnt be doing that but they did it for me because I didn’t want to be up there and not know the freaking songs and screw it all up, although I screwed up some stuff. I think we played six gigs without repeating a song on my first six gigs. Thats 100 songs. *Also along these lines, someone asked, When Jimmy first started with Panic he had big notebook at his feet, I was wondering what was in the book? [Tim B.] *
I had to make charts. Im not hung up on them anymore but I still have them out there. I just lay them on the floor. Theyre just form charts. I still have to remember all the melodies and Mikeys signature parts, I didnt write any of them out. What I wrote out was, Heres the verse and heres the bridge and then it goes back to a verse and then it goes to chorus. Thats what I did and thats what the charts are for because I dont want to go to the bridge at the wrong time or go to the chorus when Im supposed to be going to a verse. *In your preparations, how did you land on definitive versions of particular songs, some of which have evolved quite a bit over the years. Some people mentioned that they heard your iPod is stocked full of live Panic shows, is this the case and how did those come into play? *
Ill tell you what, I like their records. Im blown away by the records they have made. I would learn the songs primarily from the records in the beginning. But then they started giving me live stuff and said, You learned that off the record and we dont do it that way anymore so check this out. Thats when I started to see what the fans love so much about the live shows.
I think their records are grossly underrated. If you listen to Til The Medicine Takes, Dont Tell The Band, Bombs & Butterflies, that era of records John Keane was making, man theyre devastatingly good. They sonically sound so good, the performances are excellent and the guitar-playing is just mind-blowing.
So I primarily started out using the records but then they quickly started giving me stuff I put in my iPod. I would spend a lot of time listening to three, four, five versions of one song, after I felt like I had a grip on the big picture or was starting to get a grip on the big picture.
- Jimmy, You’ve pretty much got the Panic catalog down by now, but are there certain original Panic tunes that you find yourself revisiting to get just right/tweak? Nick B.*
Some of Vic Chesnutts stuff is that way, like you know that song Expiration Day? Great song, great song. That one’s hairy. Its got a lot of chord changes in it. Its easy to play the changes, its easy to play the chords but when I solo through it, I want to spell those chord changes with melodies based off the chords, like jazz players do. The idea in my mind is when Im soloing that if the band wasnt even there and somebody heard it they would still know what song it was, thats my goal. Panic has a few songs in that realm where Im trying to play the song in the solo and Expiration Day is one of those songs. And whenever it shows up on a setlist Im scrambling to go look at it before gig and make sure Im not going to screw it up because a lot of their songs dont happen but twice a tour. A song like Bowlegged Woman doesnt show up in heavy rotation and I still dont feel like I have a total grip on that song. Its fun to play, I know that.
Dave is so funny the way he tries to help me get through it. Im like. Dave, what is this part right here? What do I do? And he says, Just play big bonehead rock. [Laughs].
- What are your favorite Panic songs and have you been working on any songs in the back catalog that you have yet to play with the band? Derrick H and many others*
I have a new favorite just about every other day. Two of my favorite songs are Gradle and Glory. They both come from the same record [_ Bombs & Butterflies_] and theyre back to back on the record. Those are great songs and we werent doing either of them for a pretty long time and I finally went to JB and went, Man, can we do Gradle? He goes, Oh you like that one? I was like, Man, thats one of my favorites. So he said, Yeah, we can do it, lets talk it over with the band. So then I asked, Man, can we start doing Glory again? We never do Glory. I love Glory.
I love Pilgrims. Pilgrims is one of my favorite songs in their catalog. A lot of Mikeys stuff is just great. *What about songs you havent played yet? *
Theres one they wanted me to learn, Dream Song. They said, We should be doing Dream Song, and so what I did was listen to a couple versions of it. I didn’t have a whole lot of live versions, so I ended up really just going to the record Everyday and I listened to it and I learned JBs part [laughs]. So when we tried to play it, I was playing JBs part. Thats when they said, Oh yeah, you learned the wrong part.
You see that happened a lot at the beginning. When I first learned Pigeons I was playing JBs part. Thats the thing about a band like this and its a credit to them, and thats what I mean about these records that John Keane made, you cant tell whos doing what. The way he mixed it, the way it marinates, these guys are a real band. Its not like you can go Oh, this is his part and this is his part. Its not that easy and sometimes I end up learning a hybrid. I mean they dont teach me the songs, I learn the songs on my own and then I come back and play with them and they go, Yesnomaybe.
And quite a few of the songs I had either learned JBs part thinking it was Mikey or I would learn partly Mikeys part and partly JBs part. So its a process of learning it and then going back with JB and then him saying, Yeah, thats great. or Hey man, thats my part, youve got to learn the other part. So Dream Song got put on hold because I learned the wrong part, so I still have to revisit that and learn the right part. *In terms of Widespread Panics latest material, do you have a favorite song on Free Somehow? [Question submitted by many]. *
Its hard to say, its really hard to say. I like each and every one of them for different reasons. Walk On The Flood came late in the sessions. We didnt have that song when we went into studio. JB had a rough idea of what he wanted to do with that song but we didnt learn it until we were in the studio and basically what you hear, thats the live track. The solo was live, all the rhythm guitars were live, I think I went back and doubled the rhythm guitar but the live track is the track. So that one is kind of cool for that reason.
I really like Already Fried. I think that one is really cool. Its real quirky and its different from any song on the album. The fact that its the only one on the album that doesnt have a whole lot of strings or horns or any outside elements and its not a typical Panic song, thats what I like about it.
But then for a big production number I think Her Dance is one of my favorite ones.
- I would like to hear about the evolution of Lockwood Folley from your Endangered Species days into what is now known as Her Dance Needs No Body. Alex*
But then I played it for JB and he said, Oh man, we can do something that. And I said, Great because this song never did get finished. It did get recorded on an instrumental album, though. Do you have a problem with it already being on another album as an instrumental? He said, No, so we added a whole bunch of new parts to it, we put it in a new time signature and he put vocals on it and completely changed the arrangement of it. So the way that happened, the parts you hear that were from Lockwood Folley I wrote and then a lot of the new parts I wrote too but Panic got their hands on it and we Panic-ized it. And the producer [Terry Manning] also had a hand in that one and it evolved into a completely different deal.
Pretty much the process is everybodys a writer. Sunny writes tunes. Todd writes tunes, Todd writes complete tunes, with lyrics and music. Dave and Jerry Joseph write tunes together, music and lyrics. JB obviously writes. Jojo obviously writes a ton of songs. And then I have stuff too. So everybody comes in and says, Heres what we got. Then if a song gets picked to be one of the songs that were going to develop, everybody plays it just like it is and then things start to happen to it, it starts changing. People go, Hey man what if we just out an extra two beat tag at the end of this phrase? And then JB will go, Hey man Ive got an idea, what if we went to this change right here and took it in a completely different direction? And then Davell go, What if I change the bass note from a G to a C right here, what does that sound like? And the next thing you know youve got a whole different song.
- By and large you are known as a lead guitarist and for good reason your solos are insane, but to me perhaps the most impressive part of your playing is your rhythm work. Could you expound a little bit on your philosophy for playing rhythm guitar? Marc L*
The more Ive played with these songwriters like Warren Haynes, Bobby Weir, JB and Jojo the more I see how important playing rhythm guitar is. The song is the king and thats the main thing about playing this music, youve got to get out of the way of the song and youve got to play what the song needs. If the song needs you to play the simplest little rhythm part in the world then thats what youve got to do.
I think that playing rhythm is grossly underrated with a lot of young players that are just starting out. Me too. When I first started out, I heard Fillmore East and Jimi Hendrix and it was those leads that spoke me and thats what made me want to play.
So I think that rhythm is overlooked by a lot of young people when they first start playing. Ill tell you, the best rhythm I know is Bobby Lee Rodgers. Man, that guy is devastating. Hes one of the best rhythm guitar players Ive ever heard and he can blow solos over everyones head. He can cut you and leave you laying bleeding on the stage playing solos but man when it comes to playing rhythm he cuts everybody. Hes the strongest rhythm player. I think that would be a good question for him but I dont know what I would say other than I think rhythm is incredibly important and when you play in a band where the songs are the most important thing, you better play rhythm and better play it right and you better play what the songs needs. And dont get your ego involved where you start thinking, Hey Im a lead player this is below me. Some people think like that.
- What is your favorite scale to improvise on and which key is your favorite to really stretch out in and explore? Nate D.*
See I don’t think like that anymore. I used to think like that and you go through different things that are your favorite but Im getting older now and at this point in my life its just all music. I dont think about specific keys being my favorite or specific scales being my favorite. I tell you what I do like though, the freest I ever feel is when its just one chord and youre in a position where you can really take liberties with the harmony.
Actually you know I like B-flat a lot because in rock and roll you dont get to play in B-flat that much but in B-flat whats cool about it is when you play the B-flat then you hit the low E string thats the interval of a tritone which is real kind of bizarre interval that shows up in a lot of horror movies. I like that key because you can be playing in B-flat and be playing blues or something and then you hit that big low E and it sounds kind of scary. *As you can imagine, a number of people asked about your work with various bands, including Jazz Is Dead, Phil & Friends, Frogwings and the Allman Brothers Band. I mentioned Herring-Rodgers-Sipe earlier but in terms of future gigs, I think the group that most people asked about was Aquarium Rescue Unit. What is the possibility of an upcoming ARU tour? *
Well, you probably know this about me Dean, I may have even talked to you about this before. Im just not any good at spreading myself thin. Somethings gonna suffer if you try to do too much at one time, youre gonna hit that syndrome: jack of all trades master of none. I like to do one thing at a time and this is the exception, even me doing this record during Panics time off, I normally wouldnt be doing something like that. But during this last tour I started making these discoveries through various mathematical approaches to finding out what my options were for chord and scale fingerings and stuff like that. I started finding these chord scales that inspired songs to come out. So when the songs started coming out I thought, Man, Ive got to record this stuff.
I had six tunes and there were these two cover songs I really wanted to do and I started talking to Kofi and he threw a couple tunes my way.
There are two tunes that he put on this record, one of them is called Splash, which actually got recorded on an old ARU album right after Bruce left the band in a perfect world. Then theres one called Only When Its Light and the first time I played this song was 1987. Let me just tell you about Kofi, Kofi was a prodigy. When Kofi was 12 or 14 years old he left home because he got a scholarship to this place called the School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Kofi was writing songs in the 10th grade that are on a level with Herbie Hancock and people like that. I met Kofi and Oteil and Jeff Sipe in 1987 and they were living together in Sipes house and Kofis tunes were the hardest ones to play because they have all these intensely difficult chord changes. Its easy to play the changes and its easy to play the melodies but when its time to solo, playing over Kofis tunes can be a real bitch because those changes make it really difficult. You cant just play out of one scale, you have to change scales every two beats and these tunes are so intelligently written. This guys on a musical level that not many people can appreciate because it goes over their heads. But his delivery is very calm and there doesnt seem to be any big deal until you try to play one of his tunes and you go, Holy shit, this is hard. Kofis a genius.
So we had ten songs and I was like, Screw it, lets go record this thing. It was a real quick spur of the moment kind of thing but Ive working on it for a while. I got off the road in November with Panic and man, Ive been playing 10 hours a day for the three months that Ive been off. Thats all Ive been doing. I havent ridden the motorcycle, I havent been fishing or anything, the things I would normally do off the road, Ive just been so inspired to get this done and now Im almost finished [laughs] *Okay, final one. This was probably the most popular question and it was posed by a few dozen folks: Can you describe your favorite show or favorite musical moment since you started performing with Widespread Panic. *
I cant do that because Todd put it in a good perspective. I was hung up on this one thing we were trying to do in the studio and he goes, Jimmy, take it easy man, its just a snapshot in time. And that put everything in perspective and thats the way the gigs are too.
Its hard to say I have a favorite gig or one standout moment because they were just a snapshot of that time. Id never played Radio City before I played it with Panic but those three shows were nervous nights, man. My first three gigs with the band were Radio City. No pressure or anything [Laughs] So that was freaky and I was too nervous to even remember if they were good gigs or not. I couldnt even eat that day, I just had all this music in my head and was like, Oh god, Im going to screw this up, oh god Im going to screw this up. But those three gigs were pretty important. And then we also played Radio City again the next year. I have to say thats one of my favorite places that Panic plays because it is a big place but it sounds better than most big places. So I would say that Radio City was a standout moment for me in my musical life because Id never played there before. So that was cool.
Theres others, too, Dean. On that last trip we did I remember going, God, that was a good gig, after several gigs but I couldnt tell you where we were. We were in the middle of it. It was somewhere in that stretch of a two month tour and I couldnt tell you any one specific thing, but Radio City was a cool place to play.