Jimmy Herring: Many Tones, Many Changes
Speaking of Bela, did you have his banjo in mind when you wrote “Curfew”?
No, not in the beginning. Once the chord progression came to me – well, you’re a musician; you know what it’s like – once you have it in your head, then it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. I’d be out in the yard, or out on the lake, or trying to go to sleep and the chords would just keep going through my head over and over again, you know? I didn’t have the melody at that point; I just let it come to me, listening to the chords in my head rather than sitting down with the guitar and trying to force something to happen.
Sometimes, you know … you have to go somewhere where there isn’t any other music – no radios, stereos, anything – so that you can kind of go into a trance and listen to that music in your head.
The melody for “Curfew” came to me before I ever picked up a guitar. And as soon as it did, I thought of Bela Fleck. I could hear him playing as that melody was coming to me – and I knew I had to call him.
Bela is such a prince of a guy; he just played his ass off and brought so much to the tune. He brought harmony; he brought drama; he brought a sense of what the tune really needed … it’s a happy tune and Bela brought that to it.
It’s named “Curfew” after a friend of mine who’s one of my favorite people.
And he’s named “Curfew”? That sounds like a Col. Bruce-ism. (laughter)
You got it, man. Curfew was out on the road with us when he was really young – road managing, packing the truck, getting us into the hotels, and things like that. He was really too young to be with us – not underage, but a lot younger than us – and Bruce started calling him “Curfew”. His name is Matt, but to this day, I still call him Curfew. (laughs)
Wicked. When I first heard that tune I scribbled down “Danny Gatton”.
Oh, wow – that would be in my dreams, man. (laughs) I loved Danny Gatton; I was blown away by him. I consider him to be a real Telemaster – a complete master of the Telecaster. Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanon are two masters of the Telecasters.
I hear you. Jim Weider’s another one, in my book.
Oh, God – yeah. You hear him and realize that’s not a pedal steel; that’s not a twang bar – that’s Jim Weider playing the Telecaster, man. The guy is incredible; I’d put him in that category, too. Those three are like the Kings – Albert, Freddie, and B.B. – of the Telecaster … and there’s only B.B. left, man.
But yeah, Danny Gatton. Thank you for saying that … he left us a lot.
Okay, so “Bilgewater Blues”: growing up here on the Maine coast, I’ve seen, smelled, pumped, wallowed in, and tasted my share of bilgewater in my life. You gotta tell me where that name came from.
(laughs) I love boats, too, man. I’ve been around them all my life – when I was a little kid, my father had a boat.
That was another tune that came to me a day or two before the session. I was messing with a baritone guitar – I plugged it into a Fender Pro Reverb and cranked it up just to see what would come out. The baritone is a good thing to go to when you’re looking for something new; it’s so different from what you normally play that something’s likely to jump out. If you play it for 15 minutes, you’re going to find a riff, you know? And that riff popped out almost instantly – I knew I was onto the beginning of something, so I just kept messing with it.
By the time it was over, I had written the basic sketch of the tune. I didn’t have melodies over the chord changes yet, but I had the general vibe of the song: really dirty; kinda dank; it had a real guttural thing to it in certain places and real funky.
I didn’t have the title for it right away, but after I thought about it for a little while … it was a blues; something down and dirty; kind of guttural … that’s when the title came to me. (laughs)
Yeah – ‘cause we all know how nasty bilgewater can get, man. (laugher)
So you guys are headed out on the road for a bit; for those who don’t know, can you run down through the lineup of the Jimmy Herring Band?
Sure: Neil Fountain on bass; Matt Slocum on keys; and Jeff Sipe on drums – the four of us are the band … we’re only a four-piece but we make a lot of noise. (laughter)
Jimmy when you look back over the years, it’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it?
It sure has. It’s one of those things that’s staggering to me when I think about it. Really – I have to pinch myself.
I‘ve never had a resume in my life; I’ve had people tell me I needed to have one, but I’ve just gone through my life not looking backwards and just going with what comes my way.
I can’t believe how incredibly blessed I’ve been; it’s one of those things you can’t think about too much, ‘cause if you do, you’ll start to freak out, you know? I mean, people I idolize that I’ve worked with … so many incredibly talented people.
I hear you. But I’d offer that life is just one big old mirror, Jimmy. If you weren’t who you were – both personality- and talent-wise – a lot of those opportunities wouldn’t have come your way.
Thank you so much, man. We all know how hard life can be and we all know that hard times come on to people … how lucky is an individual that loves what they do for a living, right? I mean, my God … I’m so grateful.
I know a lot of people in this world who are fantastic musicians who haven’t had the luck that I have. I mean that; luck plays into it. Some people will say, “Luck is where skill meets opportunity,” and I’ve heard that. It may have some truth to it, but I think in my case? I’m just damn lucky. (laughter)
I never went looking for anything, man. You have all these people who bust their ass trying to get their names out there; get out there and get known …. and maybe that’s part of the problem, I don’t know. Maybe they try a little too hard and they should just go out there and play.
Bruce Hampton said to me a long time ago, “Just show up – just keep showing up.” And that resonated with me in a big way, because that’s really what it all is. Just show up.
Just show up and do your best: don’t get too high to play; don’t be an asshole that can’t get along with people; try to be prepared when someone you’re working for expects certain things from you. That what Bruce meant by “showing up” – at least that’s what _I _ took away from it.
Don’t talk about it; just get out there and play. Go do it and keep doing it.
I feel so incredibly lucky; I know a lot of great players who haven’t been as blessed as I have.
“Just show up.” I guess you could apply that to life in general.
Yeah – I think that’s what he meant, man. Bruce has a way of saying these things that 10 years later have a way of coming back again really true … like you said, in life.
Just keep showing up. (laughter)