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Published: 2012/09/07
by Brian Robbins

Jimmy Herring: Many Tones, Many Changes

I have a K&K system on my Taylor that I like. It doesn’t change the guitar’s voice – just makes it bigger, which is what I was after.

That’s wonderful to know, man. Taylors are great guitars.

We have recordings of some of those acoustic sets you did with The Other Ones back in 2003 – there’s some beautiful playing there, Jimmy. I would’ve said you were playing a Taylor back then.

I probably was; I had a Taylor and an Alvarez, which I still have. My Taylor was probably the cheapest one in the store; but of all the guitars I tried that day, that’s the one that sounded the best, you know what I mean?

Exactly – same for me. God bless Harvey and Mac at K2 Music up here in Camden, ME. They never try to just sell you something; they help you find what’s right.

That’s cool, man. That’s the way it should be. It’s a matter of what feels comfortable to play.

“Emerald Garden” is a great example of the versatility of the rhythm players you have on the album. Jeff Sipe and Tyler Greenwell both play drums on different cuts, while bass duties are split between Etienne Mbappe and Neal Fountain – and there are various combinations of the four throughout the record, playing all kinds of stuff. “Emerald Garden”, for instance, pairs up Etienne and Jeff. It’s a really versatile bunch.

It’s so cool to have people at that level be willing to participate in this thing. I mean, any one of these people could’ve played anything that the other person played – Neal and Etienne or Tyler and Jeff, you know? It was just a matter of let’s try this – an experiment; go with people’s different desires and interests. They’re all so good that there’s nothing you can throw their way that would trip them up – that’s the absolute truth.

We talked about your guitar technique on “Within You Without You”, but thinking about the song in general – why did you choose that Beatles tune in particular?

Well, it’s one of those songs I’ve been listening to my whole life, you know? When I was growing up, a lot of my friends liked The Beatles, but that song didn’t get as much attention as some of the others did, for some reason. I’m not exactly sure why … maybe because it was coming from an unfamiliar culture – from George Harrison’s influence by Indian music? Maybe that’s a part of it.

But it always resonated with me in a big way, although I never imagined playing it until I got older. I figured we could play that melody with a drum groove behind it – we didn’t have a tabla player, but we had Jeff Sipe! (laughter) He knows more about that kind of music than any of us, man. Jeff pointed out things about that song that I didn’t even know.

I figured I’d try to play the vocal melody on the guitar; and for the middle section, instead of going back to the top of the tune, I thought we could have a free section – you could call it a solo or you could call it an “instrumental exploration” – and then take it back to the melody. I figured that would be cool, as anybody who might cover that song probably wouldn’t have the instrumental excursion in the middle.

I hear you. I’d ask the same thing about the cover of John McLaughlin’s “Hope” – what led you to covering that particular song?

John is one of my favorite musicians ever and that song sort of stood alone on the Mahavishnu albums that I had. It was a mantra … it never had a B section, you know what I mean? It was that one section over and over that kept gaining intensity. I found it very hypnotic and interesting … and nobody took a solo over it! It was just melody, which was awesome. And I thought that what I’d like to do someday was to re-harmonize the chord progression and come up with a simple progression that was derived from the original and have that be the B section. Once we had those changes, I thought it would be cool to have Bill Evans come in and play a sax solo over that.

The challenge was having the chord changes I came up with fit the original song – and have it sound natural.

Which it does.

Yeah, I was really happy with the way it came out. And the other thing was, I wanted to play a solo over the original changes. I didn’t have any pre-conceived notions, because John never played a solo on the original recording. It was a chance to play without being influenced by what had already been done, you know?

So, yeah – both “Hope” and “Within You Without You” were chosen because I felt like we could do something with them that was ours and still pay tribute to the original. That’s what I like to do with a cover: make it ours while letting it be known that we have the utmost respect for the original.

It’s cool to have Bill Evans there on sax – not just to hear him, but to compare his tone and phrasing to yours on guitar.

Oh, man … I’m a tremendous fan of Bill Evans. Neal, Jeff, and I all got to play with him – along with Bela Fleck – at Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam last year and it was just … wow! He’s a great guy and a world-class musician – I’m thrilled to death that he could play on the record. Same thing with Bela and Nicky Sanders … it’s incredible to have friends like these.

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