Jimmy Herring: Tales from a Ringer
Photo by Joshua N. Timmermans
RR: What are your thoughts about the lingering effects of the hiatus? Do you feel the decision to take a break was a good call at that point in time?
JH: Yeah, I think it’s really healthy that when a band has been together for 25 years, and they decide, “Hey, let’s take a year off.” That’s a luxury that a lot of people are not able to have, and this group can do that. They can take a year off, and come back and be just as strong as ever. I think everybody needed…everybody had a family and there is just all kinds of stuff that you don’t necessarily get to do whenever you are touring quite a bit, so, yeah, I thought it came at a real good time. I thought it was going to be a year off, but it turned out to not be. [Laughter.] Dave, too, because Dave [Schools] was working a lot with Mickey Hart, and I told those guys, I told Souvik, “Man, look, all I want to do is make a record,” and they’ve been on me to do some type of instructional DVD type of thing and I have not done it for years because I’d say, “It’s the same information that everybody else uses. What’s the point? You can get this information from anywhere?” But Souvik and all the guys said, “No, no, no, they want to get your take on it.” I said, “That’s flattering,” but I’ve shied away from doing one; I haven’t done one. In 2012, I told Souvik, “This year, all I want to do is make a record and, finally, I’ll do one of those instructional DVD things, but you’ve got to let me think about it and let me do it my way,” and he said he would.
But, of course, when you do a record, it’s very consuming. We started writing in April , and started recording in May. In June and part of July, we were getting the mix done, and before that, I had special guests, and I needed to mail the file to them to play on it because they couldn’t be there with us, like Bill Evans, Béla Fleck, and Mickey Sanders. They couldn’t be at the original sessions, so I had to mail the file. It’s all real time-consuming stuff.
Finally, when that got done, man, within two weeks, it was like, “Oh, we’re going on tour.” [Laughter.] Then, it was like August, September, October, November, there was touring goin’ on, and then, December, it was Christmas: “Holy crap, it’s Christmas! ” And, then, Panic played New Year’s: “Oh my God, it’s New Year’s.”
So, the year was real busy, but it was a good busy. It was a real good busy, and I had a great time playing music, and I think it was healthy for Panic because everybody had a chance to do the normal things that people do in life. Also, there’s some new music floating around. We haven’t started playing it yet, but people have been writing in the off time.
RR: I saw Dave Schools play with Mickey Hart’s band, and I haven’t seen him in such a small venue in quite a while. He was pretty relaxed and happy—not that he isn’t in Panic, but you could tell that he was enjoying Hart’s gig. Like you well understand, some of the pressure is off, and you’re just having fun; you may not know where any of the music is going to take you, but it’s worth the effort.
JH: Oh, yeah. Absolutely, man. He loves Mickey, and Mickey’s a supercool guy. He’s done so much cool stuff throughout his career. It’s really cool to play with people that you’ve looked up to, and to get a chance to just see how other people do things. There is so much to learn, and I’m sure Dave was just having the time of his life doin’ that.
RR: Speaking of the holidays and the Dead and a blast from your past, you reunited with Phil Lesh in December, and played with his quintet at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael with Warren Haynes, John Molo, Rob Barraco, and Phil. What was it like to play with that group again, and how does it feel to play at Terrapin?
JH: Man, it was so fun. I mean…it was wonderful. It was like going back and puttin’ on an old pair of shoes that fit perfectly. You know, man, we all love each other, and we’ve known each other for a long time, and all of us look up to Phil, obviously, because Phil is just a musical juggernaut. That guy, that guy, is tireless. It’s so inspiration to know someone that is in their 70s, and still so driven to play music that they do it…I mean…we’ll go…here’s a typical week when you go to Phil’s place to play four shows—O.K., you fly in, and then the next day are rehearsals. It starts about 2pm, and you get out there about 10 or 11 o’clock at night. And it’s not like he rehearses everybody to make everything perfect. We just go over a bunch of music.
That’s the thing. [Phil] doesn’t drag you down by making you play everything a certain way. What he does do is that you go over a bunch of tunes. You may not get a lot of perfection, but you’ve gone over a whole lot of music. He’ll work tirelessly from 2 o’clock to…usually, there might be lunch when we get there, so we’ll eat, and we usually don’t get started until around 2:30 or 3, but then it goes to 6:30 or 7, and he doesn’t even sit down in that amount of time. He doesn’t even sit down, man. We’ll eat dinner, and then we come back and he doesn’t sit down, again, for another three hours. It’s just like, “Geez, this guy is tireless.” And, then, he does it again the next day—the same thing. Then, we have four shows in the days after that.
Man, it is very inspiring, not to mention getting to play with Warren and Rob and John Molo, and just, you know, all the wonderful people that work for Phil and Jill that we come to view as family. I love them so much, and I can never express how much I’ve learned in the process of working with Phil over the years. Anytime he calls, if I can do it, I will do it if the schedule allows it.
RR: You mentioned rehearsals and a bunch of tunes, so let’s segue and circle back to our discussion about the upcoming gigs with The Ringers. When will this group rehearse, and how will that material come together before you play?
JH: You know, that’s a real good question. Well, the idea basically, loosely, is that each person will try to bring in three to four songs, and we’re trying to get that music to each other through sending CDs, or sending files on the Internet, or whatever, so that people have an idea of what we will be playing. Then, we are going to try to choose some covers. So, if each guy has three tunes, and there are five people in the band, that’s fifteen tunes, roughly—we’re talking loosely, now—and if we each bring in a cover or two, that’s like twenty tunes, and that’ll be enough to get us through. We’re not a full-time band that’s going to have enough material to play to not repeat a song in five shows. We’re probably going to get a set that we think works and keep doing it and, maybe, the encores will be different every night. I really don’t know. We’re not trying to take over the world or anything; we just want to have some fun, and we want to try to keep it loose, and not have it be super-rigid and rehearsed and have everything sound perfect.
The idea is to find common ground between the five members of the band and give everybody the chance to just have fun and be able to do what they do. That’s going to be
the fun part of it. As far as getting together to rehearse, I think we’re going to try to rehearse two days in a row right before the first show. Hopefully, by that time, people will already know what we’re going to be playing, roughly, and there is always going to be that chance that someone might say, “Hey, man, check out this little riff right here; maybe, we can do this,” and then we just do it on the fly at a soundcheck or something. That might happen, too. I’m just trying to keep an open mind. And that’s not hard to do with these people because all these people are so open to everything. Nobody’s like “I play jazz,” or “I play rock,” or “I play funk.” Everybody plays music and we all love music and we don’t really look at music in categories, so it should be a lot of fun.