Jimmy Herring: Tales from a Ringer
RR: About your comment regarding variety and openness and that line of thinking, as I told you in our 2009 site interview regarding your debut solo album, Lifeboat, I loved the work due to numerous musical reasons. But your second solo album, Subject to Change Without Notice, is a double whammy of kick ass. The variety of music on that album is played with such quality and intensity and passion that you make it sound so easy, and, yet, there is nobody that plays quite like you, Jimmy. I was very impressed with your latest album and I was wondering how long it took you to gather those particular sections together for the complete work.
JH: Man, thank you so much. I appreciate that so much. You know, sometimes, you get tunnel vision and you don’t know if the things that are important to you come across on recordings. But, man, you just seem to notice the little stuff, and I really appreciate that. I guess I start writing music whenever it comes to me and I would say, “There’s an idea.”
I’m not very organized. It seems like I’m always working on someone else’s music [Laughter.], so my stuff is very disorganized, and that’s part of the reason that I’ve only done two records. I mean, now, there’s all kinds of cool ways to organize stuff with computers and stuff, but I just haven’t done that. I don’t write things out. Sometimes, I’ll write out a rough sketch of a tune, so I won’t forget it, like a rhythm or a chord chart, or whatever, but I found myself going, “O.K., I know I want to do another record, but I don’t have enough material,” which is very common in my world—I never have enough material for a record.
Souvik said, “Jimmy, we’ve got to get into the studio; we’ve got to do this,” and I said, “I know, but I’m not ready.” In any other world, you’ve gotta plan for things, you’ve gotta do things in advance. So, he booked the studio time, and he let me do it the way I wanted with John Keane [producing]. I love John Keane and I have an immense amount of respect for his prowess in the studio. The guy knows how to make a record sound like a record. I wanted to do that this time. I made a record with him with Panic, and, actually, I’ve worked with him a lot in the past, but I had never made my own record with him. I went to him and asked if he was O.K. with co-producing a record, instead of just producing it, and he said, “Yeah.”
Upon further thinking about it, I just told him, “Look, man, I don’t want co-production credit on this record. My only reason for even asking you that is that I want the final say about my own performances. When you work with producers, a lot of the time, they won’t let you make yourself happy. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because you can drive people crazy: “One more take! One more take! Oh, I’ll get it this time.” And I’m notorious for that and I can be a real pain in the ass in the studio. I said, “Look, John, I want you to produce this record. I don’t want any production credit for anything, but can you do it, and just let me have the final say about my own performances? If I’m doing a solo, and I can do it better, will you be able to let me do it?” He said, “Yeah, we can do that.” So, I said, “O.K., you produce the record, but I have to have the final say about my own performances.” Even after saying all of that, I still gave him the final say about a couple of things that I thought I could do better. There were a few things that happened that I thought I could have done better, but he just said, “Hey, Jimmy, it’s just a snapshot in time.” I said, “You’re right; I’m going to leave it in your hands.”
I had the studio booked, and people were being flown in from Czechoslovakia [Laughter.] and Poland or somewhere and I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve got to get my shit together.” I needed two more songs, and, strangely enough, two days before the session, those two tunes just came to me. I, literally, did not have melodies for them, yet. They were just chord progressions that kind of came to me in grooves. The last two tunes that came to me were “Bilgewater Blues” and “Aberdeen.” “Aberdeen” is the gospel-flavored song.
RR: Yes, sweet tune, and “Bilgewater Blues” has quite a riff on it.
JH: Yeah, it’s like a baritone, grungy tune. That baritone—any time you pick that thing up and you haven’t played it for a while, if you play it for 20 minutes, a new riff will come out because the instrument is so different. The strings are slinky and it’s tuned real low. It’s fun to play. Came down here and picked it up, and in five minutes, that riff came out and I was like, “Damn!”
RR: You also recorded a masterful studio reading of a George Harrison tune, too—“Within You Without You.” Very well done.
JH: Thank you. Thank you very much. We’ve been doing that for a while. I had that idea years ago. I’ve always loved that song. When I was growing up, Sgt. Pepper’s was a very…I mean, I didn’t hear it when it first came out. When did it come out? ’67?
RR: Yeah—June, 1967.
JH: I was five years old. It was 1975 by the time I was really able to fathom and get inside those tunes and that tune, for some reason, all my friends that used to listen to that album all the time that was their least favorite tune, but, to me, it really spoke to me. I don’t know, maybe the drone—they couldn’t get into that. It wasn’t that they didn’t like it; sometimes, they would just skip over that tune, and I’d say, “No, go back.” [Laughter.]
But that was ’75 and I was 13. It has been in my subconscious all of that time, but I never imagined trying to play it until around, I guess, five years ago. It hit me—that would be a good tune to try to do as an instrumental, and then we could have a section in the middle where it breaks down, so we could improvise, and then we could come back to the tune. It seemed to have the makings of a jazz type of version of it where improvisation was encouraged. We had a lot of fun with that one. That was always fun to play.
RR: I understand why you may not, but I hope you find the time and space to make another solo record—hopefully, it won’t take another four years or so. It is wonderful to be busy and it’s wonderful to see you out there, Jimmy, in whatever configuration you choose to explore.
JH: Oh, man, thank you. I appreciate that you are always so keyed into the small stuff. That is the stuff that no one ever seems to notice. [Laughs.]