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Published: 2014/01/29
by Dean Budnick

Jimmy Herring Returns with The Ringers

So you played that handful of gigs last year and I was wondering what surprised you when you finally found yourselves together on stage?

I was surprised every night that I was up there playing with these masters. Krantz surprises you every time he plays a note, you know? (laughs) But all of them do, man. There are left turns in the music which is always a surprise. I was surprised at how well everyone got along, but I don’t know if that would be a surprise so much as it was just a good thing. I was like, “I can’t wait to play with these guys again.” And I was surprised to find out that they felt like playing again, too.

The bottom line as far as music goes is I just really wish we had more time to develop this group to where we had enough music to play five shows in a row without repeating a song. Or that we got a chance to play more away from the actual stage, just to develop our thing a little bit before we go on tour. But you know how that goes, everybody’s so busy so you have to just take the opportunity when it comes and just go out there and do it.

But one of these days it would be so cool if we could work up enough music where we could really tour, and where we could play three or four nights in the same town and play different songs each night. And all of that stuff is stuff I’ve gotten from playing with Panic and Phil Lesh and the Dead, and the notion of having enough music to do that is so cool. But this music isn’t standard, obviously, so it would be different. But still, I would love to be able to bring those two worlds together in that way.

This time you’re doing so many more dates than the first time around. I’m curious about the material that you’ll draw from over the course of the tour?

We’ll be doing most, not all, of the tunes that we did last time. You know, a little bit of Wayne’s material, a little bit of Etienne’s material, a little bit of Michael’s material and I brought in a couple sketches. And that’s still not enough to do a whole gig so we’re drawing on a few covers. We did a couple of Meters tunes that are always fun because they allow the group a great song to play, but at the same time they allow a real free solo section—a jumping-off point for improvisation—and then we still have a great song to come back to. So that’s what’s great about those Meters tunes because it is a groove-based thing, and what better than the Meters as far as groove goes? So you know, we’ve got a few covers, a few originals, and it will still be a lot of what people heard on the last one but hopefully we’re gonna drop a couple of the old ones and add a couple of new ones. I know Michael has a new tune, Wayne has a new tune, and I have these two sketches so hopefully that will be three or four new songs right there.

In terms of your own recording efforts, do have any plans to work up a new album this year or in the near future?

I don’t have any plans right away to do another album because I don’t have enough material, even if I could afford to do it. You know how it is in the music business, it’s hard to make records nowadays with the way things are with the industry and everything. I think we wanna make a live record and I think that’s important. I don’t know if that’ll happen this year and I don’t think it’s gonna happen on this run. It’s an expensive endeavor to get the really good recording equipment there and you sort of need to have more than one gig, if you ask me.

To be honest I don’t know if Souvik has plans to do that or not. I know we were talking about more gigs in May or April. Just a few, mostly because of my need to have some time to be a human being off the road. We’re only doing a few things in April or May, but you know, there might be a record involved in the near future. I really don’t know.

Just in passing, because people would be disappointed if I didn’t ask you, Widespread Panic has announced a stretch of spring dates. What else is on the horizon for 2014?

We just recently wrote a bunch of songs. We all came together and decided to just write stuff. I came in with some fragments, some people came in with some completed songs, almost. We kicked them around and jumbled arrangements around and we came up with quite a few new songs, not enough all the way for a record but I could be wrong, it could be enough. Some of those songs will probably start coming out when we start playing again. But I don’t know that we have any set plans to do a new record; I haven’t heard anything about studio dates or anything like that. But I think that was the purpose of the songwriting session to compile new material for when we do record. We’re going to do those Wood dates; we’re going to do the Dominican Republic and we’re going to do the West Coast when we get back from that. I just know that’s what’s going on in March.

Do you enjoy going back and picking up the acoustic? You rarely play it, at least publicly.

J: I love playing it. What I don’t love is the sound of a pickup as opposed to a microphone on an acoustic instrument. But you kind of have to use the pickup when you’re playing with a real drum set and you need the acoustic instrument to be loud. A microphone is not going to get that done. So that’s my big thing that I struggle with; plugging an acoustic instrument in and it not sounding like an acoustic instrument. But yes, I do feel like I need to spend some time with an acoustic to get ready for that kind of tour. It takes a different set of muscles; you’ve just got to play it a little while before you start playing in public.

I can remember interviewing you a number of years ago before Panic did any of these Wood dates, and my recollection is that you had some reservations about playing an acoustic.

That’s probably true—and I’m sure it’s true because you would remember—but it’s mostly based on the sound, not the instrument itself. It happens with electric, too. The better the sound is, the better you play. If you have a bad sound, or if it’s harsh or if it’s not quite enough of whatever it is you’re trying to do, you kind of involuntarily try to compensate for that, and you pick harder than you should. And the same thing can happen with the acoustic. If you hate the sound you hear when you produce a note, what that does is it will make you compensate involuntarily in one way or another. Like, you’ll move your picking hand closer to the neck to get a warmer sound if it sounds harsh. Or if it sounds too bassy, you’ll move your picking had towards the bridge to try and compensate. You don’t even know you’re doing it. You just do things involuntarily to compensate and it can affect how you play or it can affect your stamina. So really what that comes down to is spending more time with the instrument and trying to find that happy medium between the sound of a real acoustic instrument and the sound of one that’s plugged in.

Last time I played a really nice acoustic instrument, an exceptional instrument, but, at the end of the day, it has a pickup in it and that’s what people heard on recordings and at the shows. They’re not hearing the guitar as much as they’re hearing the pickups. So I need to experiment with different pickups. I’m not talking about going all techno, but I just want it to sound as professional as possible. That’s not easy to do, so I need to spend some time with that. Of course it’s not my true instrument. Someone like Tommy Emmanuel, that guy is unstoppable. He just sounds magnificent and the acoustic is his instrument. You know, John McLaughlin can play the acoustic better than anybody alive. But to me, the acoustic is not my primary instrument, although I love it and I love the opportunity to spend more time with it.

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