A Jam band man that's everywhere
Interview by David DiPietro
In an achievement that can hardly be overstated, Jimmy Herring has managed to live, what can only be called 'The Rock and Roll Dream,' of any kid growing up in mid-America during the early 1970's.
Where most aspiring guitarists of the time entertained dreams and aspirations of someday playing in a band similar to those of their heroes (The Allman Brothers, The Dead, Mahavishnu Orchestra, etc.) Herring has achieved an amazing, yet deserving feat of one-upmanship on nearly all of his peers: Jimmy Herring has played with or in all of those bands, and, astonishingly, with even more rock/fusion/jazz royalty, including Billy Cobham, John Popper, and Alphonso Johnson. The list of Herring's credits over a nearly 40-year career is as long as it is admirable.
Herring graciously hosted me on his tour bus recently for a candid interview, shortly before taking the stage for a sold-out show at Trees in Dallas, Texas, this past September 1st.
PSF: This is your first tour in five years where you will be concentrating on your original music. How has the tour been received thus far?
JH: The audiences have been wonderful! Like any new band, we've had our share of moments where things didn't go exactly as we planned in rehearsals... but we all feel this is normal... most of the time our ability to recover will somehow take us somewhere interesting, even if it wasn't the original plan. It's been a ton of fun.
PSF: Your musical resume features a who's who, cream of the crop of members of the jam band/jazz fusion scene from the 1960ís on. Is there one artist, or group, you have played with that stands out from all the others in exceeding your musical and personal expectations?
JH: I could never name just one artist or group. I've had the good fortune to have many musical adventures that were life changing dreams come true... I love drummers, so I feel so lucky to have had the chance to work with Billy Cobham, Rod Morgenstein, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, Richie Hayward, Lenny White, Jeff Sipe, Keith Carlock, Gary Novak, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart. Each one of these guys in one way or another, is my hero.
PSF: I read once that the Dixie Dregs, and in particular, Steve Morse, was one of your biggest early influences. Can you name any others, and do you still follow Steve Morse's work in Deep Purple?
JH: Yes, Steve has been a tremendous influence for sure. I was lucky enough to see them live many times. I even got to hang out around the band and crew a little bit. Steve was a great role model for a young guitarist- he didn't go to parties after the gig, he went back to the hotel and played for another 3 or 4 hours in his room! This is huge for an 18 year old kid to witness, and his compositions are just incredible.
There were many other influences too. All the rock and roll of the time. I was 13 in 1975 and it seemed like everything on the radio was good back then! But by the time I was 17 or 18 I got heavily in to Mahavishnu Orchestra and the Dixie Dregs. I also got heavily in to Frank Zappa. Looking back at these records, these guys I loved led me to Miles Davis, Coltrane, Stravinsky and more.
PSF: Before playing in the Other Ones and then in the Dead, would you have considered yourself a Dead Head?
JH: I wasn't a Dead Head. Unfortunately I never saw Jerry play live. My brothers had Dead records- Europe 72 was on their turntable often- but at that time I was 11 and I kept bugging them to play Hendrix again!! By the time I started to really get the Grateful Dead, I was always on tour and almost never had any time off. I missed my one opportunity to hear them live in Vegas around '93. It's one of my biggest regrets!
PSF: Your early career seemed to be more steeped in jazz fusion than in rock per say. How excited are you to be playing with John McLaughlin and do you plan on tackling anything from Bitches Brew or In a Silent Way?
JH: To say that we're excited to be playing with John would be an understatement. This falls in to the "pinch me" category and is an official goose bump worthy event. There's no way I can exaggerate how excited we are about this tour.
I don't know yet if we'll be playing anything off Bitches Brew or In a Silent Way. I hope we do because I love those records!
PSF: I do not normally check setlist.com, as I like to be surprised by what you'll pull out at the show, but will any of your sets feature any nuggets from the Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead or Widespread Panic?
JH: It's hard to say... there may be some. We still have a lot of music we want to do but rehearsal time hasn't been able to happen because we're all so busy doing other gigs. One of these days we hope to have a much bigger body of music!
PSF: When you first got recruited to play Dickey Betts' role in the Allman Brothers and then Jerry Garcia's part in the Other Ones and the Dead, how long did it take you to get your head around and grasp the reality that was happening?
JH: Never! I still can't believe it ever happened. The truth is, if you think about that kind of stuff too much it can really weigh you down. I thought about it as little as possible at the time. Now, I look back on it and just can't believe how lucky I've been through the years. With the Allman Bros. and the Dead, we're talking about iconic figures in American music. It still freaks me out! I Wish I had another shot at it- I could do it better now. Just kidding!
PSF: What was an early rock album you purchased that had a big effect on you? What was the first rock concert you attended ever and what was the best concert youíve ever seen?
JH: The first record I ever bought, with money my Grandmother gave me for my birthday, was Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull. I was probably in the 7th grade. To this day, I love that record so much. It was my introduction to prog rock and it's a brilliant piece of music.
The first concert I attended was Alice Cooper. I was 10 and I went with my friend and his parents. It was the Billion Dollar Babies tour where they chopped Alice's head off. Incredible show!
Not sure I can name a favorite concert- there have been so many great ones it's impossible to name one!
PSF: As a fusion musician, fairly early in your career, playing in Jazz is Dead project must have been overwhelming. Was this an achievement of a dream to be onstage with members of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and the Dixie Dregs? Any memories of that tour would be appreciated.
JH: Playing in Jazz is Dead was an incredible experience. Billy is so unbelievable! I got to play every night with three of my big heroes. One memory that comes to mind is when we were playing a jazz club in LA during the week of the NAMM show, all these great musicians were in town and came to see Billy (Cobham), Al (bassist Alphonso Johnson) and T (keyboardist Tom Constanten) - they were friends of theirs, but to me they were legends I had listened to for years. Dennis Chambers and Lenny White sat right in front of me. I was trembling all night!
Then when Billy Cobham left the group, (drummer) Rod Morgenstein came in. That was another dream come true because I had seen Rod so many times in the Dregs and had all their records. Then later, (drummer) Jeff Sipe joined and we had both Rod and Jeff (Pevar, guitarist). It was incredible.
PSF: The music industry has changed quite a bit since you went professional in 1987. This has changed a lot for bands who depended upon studio LP/CD sales for their livelihoods, but jam bands such as yours have just continued to thrive by doing what they do, playing live. What advice for succeeding in rock music might you give to a kid and just getting into listening and playing?
JH: I've never made any kind of living from record sales during my life as a musician. It's always been about the live shows. It seems to me that live shows are here to stay, so if I were to give advice to a young musician, I would tell them to get up on stage and play as much as possible. Start out learning how to play the music that made you want to pick up an instrument in the first place. But there is no substitute for playing gigs You will learn things on stage you can't learn anywhere else!
Also see Jimmy Herring's website
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