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Published: 2012/12/21
by Dean Budnick

Jimmy Herring’s Perspective: "The Same Song, Three Completely Different Approaches" (10 Years on)

In less than two weeks, Jimmy Herring will return to the stage with Widepread Panic. This will carry him into a new year in which he will balance shows with his own group, Panic, the new project known as The Ringers and one hopes, the Phil Lesh Quintet as well. Of course Herring has long been able to deliver inspiring music in multiple contexts, as this 2002 conversation with site editor Dean Budnick reflects.

Photo by Aaron Williams

Jimmy Herring did not grow up as a Deadhead. The Georgia resident gravitated towards the Allman Brothers Band, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and a host of other musicians during his formative years. Yet he has now interpreted the music of the Grateful Dead in three separate contexts: first with Jazz Is Dead, then with Phil & Friends, and most recently joining Dead veterans Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann in the Other Ones. The guitarist's path has carried him from the Aquarium Rescue Unit to many settings, including Project Z, Frogwings, Endangered Species and a stint with the ABB. However, it is the music of the Grateful Dead that is now his primary focus as he lugs thirty years of music on the road to keep himself up to speed (which in Herring terms is quite rapid indeed).

The following interview took place the outset of the Other Ones fall tour [The band will closes out the year at the Oakland Coliseum]. Along with a discussion of the Dead’s music in these various settings, it touches on the D and the Z. Plus it contains the inevitable query about an ARU reunion.

DB- Let’s start with the Dead catalog. How many songs have you now worked up with the band?

JH- We went over 130 songs. A lot of them I’m hearing for the first time.

DB- What is your approach in that setting when they want to work up something that’s new to you?

JH- When they call a tune that I haven’t heard before I’ll say, "Please let me study this at the hotel and then we can do it tomorrow." But this time they gave me a list of 130 songs in advance. I put stars next to the ones I didn’t know and I’ve got I don’t how many Grateful Dead CDs- I’ve got live tapes, studio records, the boxed set. So I took that library and looked for the ones I hadn’t heard that they had on the list. I was able to familiarize myself with them before going to rehearsal.

I’ve carry this library with me everywhere I go. I have 3 CD bags, every one of them Grateful Dead. When I’m on the road I don’t bring other music because I don’t have room. The only music I’m bringing on the road now is my Grateful Dead library because I don’t know when I’m going to have to refer it.

DB- So that’s pretty much all you’re listening to as of late?

JH- I don’t have much time to listen to other music because there’s so much to think about with this gig. If I start bringing my other CDs I would be listening to that stuff and at the next gig there will be some song I should have worked on last night but instead I was listening to Coltrane. {laughs]

DB- When there’s an older song that you don’t know on the list will you typically go for the studio version first or the live version?

JH- If it’s a song I haven’t heard before and there is a studio version I go there first. I have everything out with me except Wake of the Flood. I think my wife took it, I think it’s in her car. [Laughs]

DB- Well I’d assume you’re reasonably familiar with that one because you recorded it with Jazz Is Dead [On Laughing Water]

JH- Right, that was Michael Gaiman’s concept for that second record so I’m familiar with it somewhat. Although that was a situation where I was learning the songs in matter of a week.

DB- That leads me to a question about context. Certain songs you’ve played with Jazz is Dead, Phil & Friends and the Others Ones. I’d like to hear how your approach to a particular song has changed from one setting to another. How about with "Eyes?"

JH- "Eyes of the World." When I first heard it, it was E major seven, E major seven and quickly I was like, "Wow, I’m running out of ideas here." Because major seven chords in my experience have always been something that didn’t come all that much and when they did you’d have a tasty thing to play over them and then you’d move to another chord. So my first impression of the song was I needed some new major seven ideas because I kept running out stuff to play.

When Jazz is Dead played it, I approached it the way I play rock and roll with a more aggressive sound. Allan Holdsworth is a big influence on me and I tried to draw on some of the stuff I’ve learned from him while playing over that.

T Lavitz and I were the primary soloists in Jazz Is Dead but then playing in Phil’s band, he didn’t want a primary soloist. He wanted everybody to play at the same time, sort of like Dixieland music which is what he called it, psychedelic Dixieland That was a new approach and I found myself interacting more with other people rather than taking a solo. By that time I was playing with a more subdued, less aggressive sound because Warren [Haynes] had a more aggressive sound with Humbuckers. So I started playing Strats for contrast reasons. With Jazz is Dead I had a creamy big Marshall sound and a lot of sustain and feedback. With Phil’s band I went for a more percussive thing and that impacted the way I played it, along with Phil’s concept of psychedelic Dixieland.

With the Other Ones, one difference is I’ve listened to Jerry a lot more now and I’m trying to draw on some of the ideas I’ve heard him go for. Also I’m using a clearer sound that’s a little more aggressive than in Phil’s band. Tone affects what you’re going to play. If you play with a real clear tone it doesn’t sustain like with a distorted tone so you’re going to play more percussive and probably more notes because it doesn’t sustain. So it’s the same song, three completely different approaches. In Phil’s band with the Dixieland thing going on all the time, he never really wanted anyone to take what you would call a solo per se but in the Other Ones they want me to be the lead guitar player, to take solos.

DB- The dynamic is quite different as well since you’re working with Bob Weir rather than Warren.

JH- Bob is stunning to me man. Sometimes you don’t get things the first listen and the more I listen to Bob the more I get it. Every time I play with him, every time I listen to the stuff I hear on tape I’m blown away because that guy is an ever-changing chameleon, he never stays the same. He does what jazz musicians try to do, he’s constantly changing and reinventing himself. He changes his sound all the time, he changes chord voicings all the time. You listen to Europe 72 which is one of my favorite things that I’ve been exposed to that they’ve done and Bob is playing some of the most inventive chord stuff. He’ll be playing two note stuff and then he’ll go to three note stuff then he plays four note chords. He’s improvising the stuff like a lead player would improvise lead lines. It’s really a pleasure playing with him. He’ll change your whole approach.

Playing in Jazz Is Dead we didn’t have a vocalist so I was playing those songs with the view that I have to play something similar to the vocal melody. Then I’d just approach the songs in terms of solos the way I would normally play. Then playing with Phil’s band we had our own way of doing things and a song like "Scarlet Begonias" I’ve played it with Jazz is Dead, I’ve played it with Phil’s band, I’ve played it with the Other Ones. And playing it with the Other Ones it sounds more like the Grateful Dead because of the drummers but also because of Bob’s parts. He crafts beautiful parts. Now I’m starting to see what he’s doing and hear what he’s doing because I’m standing right beside him. It’s really interesting.

DB- Plus there are all of those subtle cues.

JH- He loses me on that stuff a lot because I haven’t been playing with him that long. I watch him like hawk but sometimes his cues are so subtle that I don’t pick on them. So I might miss the first bar of the cue.

In Phil’s band he changed the keys of a lot of the songs and some of them really worked well and some of them I felt weren’t as good as the originals because changing the key of the song is changing the color and kilter of it. A song like "Scarlet Begonias" we played it a major third lower than the original key which is a long way. Now it’s like the real deal, it’s like the inner gears of the clock.

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merry xmas December 24, 2012, 14:11:44

dude needs an ipod

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