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Published: 2014/01/29
by Dean Budnick

Jimmy Herring Returns with The Ringers

The Ringers are back. The group which debuted over five nights in February of 2013 has returned for an extended run of shows that continues through February 8. Once again the band features Jimmy Herring along with fellow guitarists Wayne Krantz and Michael Landau, bassist Etienne Mbappe and, for these shows, drummer Gary Novak (who is swapping in behind the kit for Keith Carlock). In the following conversation, Jimmy Herring discusses the band’s development (you can click here to hear them in action), while also sharing some tidbits on Widespread Panic and the art of acoustic guitar.

Last go back and briefly revisit the origin of the group. How did it come together?

I had really wanted to do something that wasn’t jazz or jamband and then Souvik [Dutta] came up with that idea. I really thought there was no way. I thought it was laughable because, “Yeah, Wayne Krantz is gonna wanna play with me.” But as it turns out, he was into it.

Can you talk a little about some of your interactions with him musically and interpersonally, during those initial shows last year?

He’s a visionary, number one. I’d be weighing him in the same way that I’d view someone like Allan Holdsworth. He’s just one of the most individual people in the music industry. And he’s mostly doing trios, because really he doesn’t need any more instruments because he covers everything. When you hear him play, you can hear the piano, you can hear the percussion, even. You can hear the melody, the chords, the accompaniment and the syncopation. It’s all there, just in this one dude’s hands, which is mind-blowing to me. And the level of creativity is just unprecedented. So that’s how I think of Wayne Krantz.

You know, when Wayne was asked about doing it, he really wanted to do it and I was shocked because I didn’t know I’d ever meet Wayne Krantz or become friends with him. I think he’s just incredible and I’ve always loved him but I never imagined playing with him either because I didn’t think he needed anybody to play with him except drums and bass.

But, at the same time our group is sort of like three different trios sometimes. It’s like Wayne and Etienne and Keith [Carlock] – or this time Gary Novak on drums, and other times it’s sort of like a trio with Mike and Etienne and Gary or Keith, and then sometimes it’s a trio with me playing, which is kind of cool but then sometimes there’s interaction with all of us and anything could happen.

Plus, you know, the more we play together the more stuff will happen. I even talked to Wayne about that. I was like, “Man, are you sure you want to do this? Isn’t this boring to you?” And he said, “No, man, it’s not boring at all. I want to do something different, too.” Plus, we both love Mike Landau, we both love Etienne. Now this time, it’s Gary Novak not Keith but Wayne also has a history with Gary Novak, and so does Mike Landau. So it’s really awesome and there’s a comfort zone there. I’d never played with Wayne or Mike or Etienne, even though I knew Etienne but, oh man, it was such an easy hang. We only did a five shows last year, but we drove a lot together and we left Raleigh and we had to drive all the way to New York City overnight – we got almost all the way there and it was a really great hang. You find out that sometimes your heroes can be real people, too.

You know, Derek [Trucks] and Warren [Haynes] are the only two guitar players I really imagined playing with, because it can get real redundant when you’ve got more than one guitar player. And Bob Weir obviously, when I was playing with the Dead but the roles are pretty clearly defined when you’re playing with Bob Weir. You know that he’s not gonna be the primary soloist. What he does is interactive and it’s the same thing with JB [John Bell], he’s looking at you to be the primary soloist. But Derek and Warren – my oldest friends – I’ve known them so long and we kind of came up the same way. We all love the same music and we just know each other so well that that’s really easy to do. Generally, if I do another project, another guitar player is the last thing I think of. But the idea was to have three guitar players but no keyboard player. I love keyboard players, but with three guitar players we can cover a lot of range.

You mentioned Mike Landau. Can you talk a little bit about what he brings to bear?

Mike played with Joni Mitchell, Mike plays with James Taylor, Mike’s played on hundreds of albums. He was one of those first L.A. studio guys. When Steve Lukather was getting so much work in the 80’s that he couldn’t keep up with it, he recommended Mike Landau. And it didn’t take but one or two sessions for people to start demanding Mike Landau. He’s a chameleon, he can always do what any song needs and he’s got blues at the core of everything he does. When I hear someone like that it gets me excited. Plus he’s a superlative human being. Like I said, I never knew him before that last trip, but we bonded.

How about Etienne?

I first heard him with John McLaughlin’s band and was automatically knocked down by his presence. And talk about a nice guy. He’s the most humble, easy to get along with, easy to work with person you could imagine. When Souvik said that Etienne should be the bass player, I was like, “Etienne? He’s not going to want to play redneck music with me. Are you crazy?” And it’s funny because I guess it’s somewhat interesting to him because he’s from Cameroon, but he lives in Paris. An African guy that lives in Paris, I guess to him a redneck take on whatever the hell it is that we do, it must be fairly interesting to him, just like when I hear African music and I’m curious about it. But, man, he’s the coolest guy in the world.

By the way, what’s the story with those gloves? Do you know why he likes to wear them?

Yes, I’ve inquired about that. They have a sound, the gloves have a sound. He can play, obviously, just as well without the gloves, but the tone is a bit different with the gloves. I don’t know if it helps him play better, I think it’s just the sound he’s going for. It’s an important part of the puzzle, they have a unique kind of sound so that’s why he uses them.

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