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The Dead Summer Getaway Diaries

Published: 2003/06/25
by Dean Budnick

Jimmy Herring on Hartford and Mansfield, 6/21 & 22

I spoke with Jimmy Herring on Tuesday afternoon. He was a bit overwhelmed following the recent passing of Ricky Keller. Jimmy had spent much of the previous night on the phone with other people who had known and loved Ricky, talking through their loss. I asked Jimmy to comment a bit on Ricky and this will appear on the site tomorrow in conjunction with a piece that we will run. With this somewhat somber intro, here are Jimmy’s thoughts on the preceding two shows at Hartford and Great Woods…
What was your musical highlight from the last two nights?
There were great moments in both of them. I remember one of the "Spaces" really was crazy but you know we just did eight in a row so they’re kind of bleeding together. "Hard To Handle" went some interesting places I remember that. I think we went really out in "Hard to Handle" and then it went into "Drums" and then out of "Drums" we came into a "Space" that was real interesting. So it was really out for a long time because there was this long out thing that built into "Drums" and then when we came back after "Drums" we were playing it again and it was really crazy.
I definitely remember a couple times feeling, "Oh man this is taking on a life of its own" and the chemistry is definitely starting to come into its own. I’ve definitely felt that and the guys, good lord, they’re so happy. Billy, Phil, Bobby and Mickey they’re just tap-dancing they’re so happy and I’m happy for them. I know I’m in a precarious spot but I’m enjoying it a lot and I’m learning so much. Their philosophy is so similar to Bruce Hampton’s philosophy. The energy’s different but the philosophy is very similar. As far as other highlights I can say that both nights there were massive highlights but I was so lost in the music I couldn’t tell you what they were.
You mention feeling of being in a precarious position. I think perhaps if this were 1996 it might be different but right now I think people out there are quite willing and interested to hear what you can bring to bear.
By precarious I just mean the magnitude of that particular place on that stage with that particular group of people is pretty heavy duty. People have been extremely gracious and the band has made it clear to me that there are no limits I should do whatever feels right. But out of respect for the gig I realize that some of things I do with other people, would not be appropriate here and even the sound I use would be too aggressive and the energy would change. Plus I’m really enjoying playing within this energy. I’m learning something new and that’s a most welcome challenge. And these songs are obviously so great so I really do feel indebted to fans of the band everywhere to keep it within the kingdom of the Grateful Dead.
I try not to stray too far from what the actual thing was about and try to keep the same philosophy. But within those parameters I have so much freedom and the band is evolving. It’s changing and growing and it’s already a much better band that it was last fall. Everybody agrees to that. Bob Weir is so happy and that thrills me to death. On the last tour we had some volume issues but part of that was the venues we were playing were indoors and you know how boomy those arenas can be. But now he’s having the time of his life and I’m having the time of my life watching him and the rest of them. Playing with icons is such a cool thing, like Gregg Allman or Butch Trucks or Jaimoe or Phil Lesh or Billy or Mickey or Billy Cobham or Alphonso Johnson and all of them are such wonderful people.
You get a lot of chances to make something happen in this band and that freedom is so liberating and the more I play with them the more I’m embracing that freedom and testing the waters but it’s still important to play within the kingdom of the Grateful Dead. Jerry was great and I’m really enjoying learning. I’ve found a lot of his little things that make his musical personality what it is and I’m doing some of that stuff and maybe the longer I play the less I’ll do it but I’m enjoying it. It’s fun for me because I wasn’t a Dead Head and now I’m becoming one. So now I just happen to be a Dead Head who’s playing in the band.
What can you about the new Phil song ‘A Little Peace’ for those people who saw it on the Hartford setlist but haven’t heard it yet?
It’s a rich, harmonically beautiful Phil Lesh tune in the tradition of "Unbroken Chain." It’s not quite as complicated as "Unbroken Chain" but it’s a lot like it. It’s got a bunch of verses and all of them are a little bit different and the choruses are just a little bit different. It’s a beautiful tune, and we’ve only played it one time so we have a lot to work on. The three part vocals sound beautiful in rehearsal and they’ll be devastating.
What song that the band hasn’t performed yet do you most look forward to playing?
If I didn’t think about it and just reacted, it would be "Althea."

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