John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring with the 4th Dimension and The Invisible Whip: Live in San Francisco
John McLaughlin, Jimmy Herring, The 4th Dimension and The Invisible Whip “This recording of the final set at the Warfield
DRIFTIN’ ON A LIFEBOAT
Guitar great Pat Metheny once said, I’m still constantly amazed, considering how many guitar players there are out there in the world, how few really good ones there are. [*] In the opinion of the top-level musicians that he has played with, and the fans he has gathered from countless miles of touring: Jimmy Herring is well beyond the really good category.
Although he prefers the role of a sideman, Jimmy is making the move to solo artist with “Lifeboat”, his debut CD on Abstract Logix. “Lifeboat” is not just a showcase for Jimmy’s soulful / searing guitar work or a vehicle for his song writing. It is a direct link to the heart and soul of who Jimmy is as a person, and as a musician.
One of the goals of this interview was to serve as an introduction to people that weren’t familiar with Jimmy, his guitar playing, and his music. Well, information and links about Jimmy’s career can be found at http://www.jimmyherring.net/index.htm, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Herring.
But there is no way to convey how modest he is as a person; how loyal he is as a friend; how egoless he is as a musician; and how shit-hot he is as a guitar player in a print format. The proper way to introduce Jimmy Herring is to simply let the music do the talkin’ – because “Lifeboat” is Jimmy.
This conversation took place over the phone while Jimmy was home in Atlanta, Georgia. Although he did an interview earlier that evening, we managed to talk from 12:00-3:00 AM – musician’s hours. Jimmy was laid back (as always), funny, candid, and watched a television program about tornado disasters with the sound turned off while we talked.
Ladies and Gentleman…Jimmy Herring!
Rod: How ya been, man?
Jimmy: I’ve been good, I’ve been good. I’m relieved that we finally abandoned the record. Somebody coined that phrase a long time ago. They said, “No album is ever finished, only abandoned.” And that is kinda how it is, I guess.
Rod: A little birdie told me you turned it in kicking and screaming.
Jimmy: Souvik’s (Abstract Logix Founder and Executive Producer of “Lifeboat”) kiddin’ around, but he’s half right. But it’s finished and I can think about something else for a change.
Rod: I’m telling you, you have nothing to worry about. I listened to a copy of the CD before the interview, and “Lifeboat” is killer, man! It’s absolutely killer.
Jimmy: Thanks a lot, man. That means a lot coming from you and people who are real music fans. I hope people like it. Like tonight, I was doing this interview with a writer from Hittin’ The Note magazine. And he asked me, Do you think people are going to be surprised at the musical content being so laid back? I can’t remember his exact words. And I said, Yeah, probably.
But you know: you gotta do what you gotta do, as an artist. And that’s what it really comes down to. This is where I was at this time point in time. I finally got to express some sides of what I like to do, that I’ve never had the chance to do before.
Rod: Well, I absolutely love it. And I don’t get paid to say that, so it’s no bullshit – you know what I‘m sayin’? It’s coming from the heart. I really love it.
Jimmy: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.
It’s been a long time comin’. Souvik is the only reason it happened. Without him approaching me and talkin’ to me about it, it wouldn’t have happened. It’s so much to go through. And it’s a huge leap of faith on his part to fund it. I mean, he had no idea what it was going to be.
Rod: I don’t think there was much to worry about. I’m not speaking for Souvik, but I think faith had little to do with it. Fans of your playing already knew the potential was there. It was just a matter of getting you to finally do it.
Jimmy: Right, exactly; just finding the time. Logistically, it was pretty hard to get the people that I wanted to – and they’re all basically family. They’re people I’ve played with forever. But we haven’t actually gotten to play a lot together in a long time. Mainly the core people are who I’m talkin’ about: Jeff Sipe, Oteil Burbridge, and Kofi Burbridge. I just haven’t gotten a chance to play with them that much. Everybody’s schedule is taking them in different directions. And really, all of us have been doing things that are way removed from what our core, true musicality really is.
I kinda get lost in it sometimes, not knowing really what mine is. ’Cuz I’ve always had this whole thing about “too jazz to play rock, and too rock to play jazz, and too loud to play country.” [laughs] You know what I mean? There’s always something that makes it not. fit.
And with Oteil, he’s been playin’ in the Allman Brothers; which is only one side of him. And Jeff was doin’ some stuff with Shawn Lane; and that was really perfect for him. He was so great with Shawn and Jonas Hellborg. But since then, he’s been doin’ a lot of things that are different from what he normally does. And I’ve been playing with these rock bands; making good friends and having fun doin’ it.
I’m learning a lot about songwriting – just a general idea of it – by hangin’ around all these rock guys that write tons and tons of songs. And I think some of that rubbed off on me to some extent. That’s where the tunes on “Lifeboat” came from; even though they’re not your typical rock songs.
Rod: Well, that’s a good thing. For me, that’s one of the things that I like about “Lifeboat”. It’s not your typical “guitar gunslinger” kind of debut recording.
Jimmy: Yeah. That was a conscious choice, too. And that’s kinda what that earlier interviewer was talking about. For some people, I’m sure that’s what they expected. And some people are gonna be disappointed. But a part of me is like, “You know what? I hate that.” I mean, I really hate “guitar” records. People that I’ve always liked and learned from, and been inspired by and aspired to be like: they’re playing music. You know what I mean?
And that’s what I was tryin’ to do with this; not make a guitar record, but make a music album. My solos aren’t longer than everybody else’s. The idea is just to make music. It happens to be my vision of this group of songs. Well, I did take one or two songs where my solos are longer…
Rod: Well it is your show, for Pete‘s sake.
Jimmy: Well, yeah. This time it is. And that’s weird enough.
Rod: Before we get deep into “Lifeboat”, I want to pick a point in time where old fans know the story, and new listeners can jump right in. Let’s start with how you joined the jam band Widespread Panic in 2006. I understand their guitar player was sick?
Jimmy: Yeah, it was terrible. And that happened about six years ago. At the time I was playing with The Dead. We were rehearsing, and I got a phone call from Panic’s manager. I’ve known them since 1989. And he tells me about Mikey’s condition – Michael Houser was the guitar player. He’s says, Mikey’s got pancreatic cancer, and its terminal.
I was just buckling, because I’d known Mikey – I didn’t know him super, super well – but he’d been a good friend and acquaintance. When I found this out, I was just horrified. He has two children; it was just terrible. I thought their manager was just telling me about it. I didn’t realize what was coming next.
He said, Well, Mikey wants you to be the guy that continues with the band. And I was really baffled by that. Because as much as I respected him – and I know there was a mutual respect – we were so different. He was definitely a street musician. And he was a very smart cat: he did the whole four years of college and had a degree in chemistry. Of course, I’ve never done anything like that. I studied music, but I didn’t get a true degree. But I was coming from an academic place in music, and he was coming from more of a street place. But then again, that’s another debate. I always considered myself a street musician.
Jimmy: Totally, man. I mean, nobody taught me to play. Nobody can teach anyone to play. I never took guitar lessons; I studied music and I studied records. I probably learned a bunch of stuff from guitar players that teach classes in school, but it wasn’t about guitar. It was about music theory and arranging.
Mikey was a rock guitar player who came up with a bunch of great stuff. He had a bunch of great hooks and riffs. I was more into the world of – you know who I was into, the same stuff you’re into: Mahavishnu. You know, stuff that was more out there.
Anyway, I got the phone call and I was just said, Aww, Maaan. God. They needed me to go on the road with them at the same time I was on tour with The Dead or Phil Lesh. And I couldn’t do it. I was trying to figure out what to do, and they could sense my plight. They knew that I wanted to do anything I could for them, because they knew how I felt about them. They grabbed Aquarium Rescue Unit (ARU) and took us under their wing in 1989. If it wasn’t for them, that group probably would have never left Atlanta. They made it possible for us to go out and tour. I’ve never forgotten – and never will forget – how much they helped us. I wanted to do anything I could for them. And I felt terrible that I couldn’t do it. So they ended up getting another guy.
Fast forward four years later. At this point, I’d just left Phil Lesh’s band and I had some time off. And I really just needed it, anyway. I didn’t do anything but ride my motorcycle around, fish, and just reconnect with home life for a while without any real plan at all.
And then from outta the blue, I get this phone call one day; and it was J.B., the singer from Panic. Now I’m thinkin’ he’s callin’ me ’cuz he heard ARU might be playin’ again. I thought he was gonna extend a gracious offer for us to come open for Panic on the road. But the phone call wasn’t about that. It was about me comin’ to play with them. They were at a place where they really needed me.
Rod: Was there a problem with the new guitar player fitting in?
Jimmy: Mikey had died four years earlier. And they had gotten a guy named George McConnell. And George is a super good guy, man. I mean, I’ve known him as an acquaintance for quite a long time. And he’s a very, very personable guy; a very cool guy.
But Panic’s thing is different than anything else I’ve ever experienced or heard. It’s just different. They have their own language.
It’s some tough shoes to walk into. Mikey might not be Allan Holdsworth or John McLaughlin, but he had his own style. And his style, that was the sound of that band. I mean, all of their styles are the sound of that band. But it’s a guitar-driven band, and Mikey’s sound was a huge part of what that group was about. And to try to make a longer story shorter, it didn’t translate as well with a different guitar player, no matter who it was.
And I know what that’s like; to walk into the shoes of someone who was so revered by so many people.
Rod: Oh God! Does the name Jerry Garcia mean anything to anybody?!?
Jimmy: Yeah, exactly. Or even Dickey Betts? Either place.
So I could relate to what George must have been going through. And I know it couldn’t have been easy for him to do that. Especially right after Mikey died, man. I don’t know why, but they didn’t come off the road after Mikey died; they kept goin’.
Rod: It might have been their way of dealing with the grief.
Jimmy: Exactly, exactly.
But I got the phone call. And J.B. basically said, Man, we really need you. Can you do it? And I told him, Man, I couldn’t be there last time for reasons beyond my control, but this time…
You know, the group needed my help. And they had helped me, more than I could ever explain, many years earlier. They’re a great bunch of guys – they’re my buds, they’re my friends – and they needed my help. So I went and did it.
So that’s how that came about. I think that was in September or October of ’06 – something like that, I’m not positive. And I’ve had a lot of fun doin’ it.
Rod: And that’s been your main gig up to the present?
Jimmy: Yeah. I’ve done a couple of other little things. Right after I finished the first tour with Panic, I played a couple of shows with Oteil’s band. I’ve played a few ARU shows here and there. But yeah, it’s been the main thing. They don’t work all that much like they used to. I mean, we used to be crazy with ARU and Panic. It was nuts. We’d do 250 gigs a year; constantly working! It’s not quite like that, now. We do four tours a year: and the tours go anywhere from a month-and-a-half to two months.
And the guys are super cool people, man. I respect them because they got their own thing, they got their own sound. Yes, it’s different than most other sounds. I’m learning to try and understand their language. They do some things that are unique to them, and they have integrity, and they believe in what they’re doin’. They’re a great bunch of guys, easy to play with, and easy to work with. I get along great with everybody, and it’s fun. I just couldn’t ask for anything more.
If I wasn’t playin’ with Panic, I would never have had the time to do this record. So I’m really grateful to them for puttin’ me in a position where I could do that.
Rod: So when did the seeds for “Lifeboat” get sown?
Jimmy: Well, some of it’s been around for a while. I guess it started taking shape when I was on the road with Panic. We’d have a night off here and a night off there, and I just hit this real inspired place for a while. We would go back to the hotel after the gig, and I would play until the sun came up.
I started making some discoveries: finding some chord voicings I’d never known before. And it got me thinking about what my options were in terms of chord voicings for certain tonalities. So I started mapping things out on hotel stationary. I’d flip over a piece of stationary and draw a guitar neck on it, and then I’d put all the notes from one scale – say C-melodic / minor – and I would look to connect four notes together, one on each string. They’re called chord scales.
Rod: Was the idea of doing a solo record based on you being ready to make the move from being a sideman to a solo artist?
Jimmy: Well, no. Actually, it didn’t start out that way at all. The original idea behind this was it was supposed to be a band record. The group was gonna be me, Derek Trucks, Oteil, Kofi, and Sipe. And we were gonna have Greg Osby play on some stuff. In my mind, that was the core group. And Derek was gonna be on every song.
But what happened was, Derek’s record company couldn’t allow him to do that for a lot of different reasons. And they’re justified in it, too. I don’t blame them one bit. I mean, here he is signed with a big label, he’s done all this high profile stuff with Eric Clapton; and he is working on his record. If he would have played on every song, and this record came out with his name on it, then they would have been screwed. This would have been the first thing he did since his profile got real high. So it made sense that he could only play on two songs.
But I didn’t know that in the beginning, and neither did he. He was supposed to play on all of it – he wanted to play on all of it. When it became obvious that he couldn’t play on all of it, that is when it became “I guess it’s gonna have to be my record.”
Rod: So you were thinking of it in terms of a group thing…
Jimmy: Oh, definitely.
Rod: …and that fell apart, and it became a Jimmy record?
Jimmy: Yeah, yeah.
Rod: That’s funny. Because fans and friends of yours always ask, Why is it taking Jimmy so long to make a record?
Jimmy: Well see, I fought that all the way, man. All my life I’ve tried not to do that. I’ve always felt like music is such a collaborative effort, anyway – unless you’re gonna tell each person what to play. In which case, you might as well get machines and you program them to play everything. You know what I mean? So I just never felt right about actually having my name out front.
Plus, the real truth of the matter is just…it’s so much work.
I mean, you’re The Guy. You’re the heavy for everything. If it’s your album: you gotta pay people to fly in; you have to handle all the business; you gotta handle all the logistics. It’s just so much easier to be a musician that just works for other people. That way, you don’t have to worry about when somebody is late. You don’t have to worry about it when somebody doesn’t show up; or when someone’s drunk when they show up. You know what I mean? It’s not your problem. You do your job, and you do it to the best of your ability, and that’s all you have to worry about. And then your band leader loves you ’cuz you did your work.
But when you’re “The Guy”, awww God! Can you imagine me getting on someone’s case for being late or somethin’? Man, I can’t do that. It’s just not who I am.
When I was younger, I had this group when I was only 18 or 19. And the guy’s in the band would be slackin’ sometimes. And when they were, I got on peoples case. I tried to do it in a nice way, but they saw it as a personal attack. I was called an asshole. And I don’t like being an asshole. So that was when I made a conscious decision that I’m never gonna be a band leader again, ever.
That was when I was 18. And this is the first time I’ve done it. [chuckles] So from 18 to 46, I haven’t had to deal with tellin’ people what to do.
Rod: 28 years? I’d say you did pretty good in avoiding becoming a band leader.
Jimmy: I did pretty good. But even this time it wasn’t supposed to be my record. I’ve been a sideman most of my musical life. And along the way, I discovered that working for other people seems to be what I do best.
As a sideman, you should try to be aware what the gig is and give it whatever it needs; and not just be the same musician on every gig you do. When you’re workin’ for someone, you need to go to where they need you to be. And it might not be where you want to go every time you take a solo. You might have to play with a different sound. You might have to play fewer notes than you might normally play. You might have to play rhythm instead of lead all of the time – whatever the band leader needs. Also, as a sideman, I’ve had the chance to get to observe some really good band leaders and see how they work. And I’ve learned so much doing that. It’s made me a more rounded musician; it’s made me able to play in many different musical settings and environments.
When I found out that Derek couldn’t play on every song, I was like “Okay, the writings on the wall. I’m gonna have to do this. The Universe says this is what it’s supposed to be. I need to read the writing on the wall and just go with it.”
But that’s why. When people say, Well how come Jimmy waited this long? That’s why. Number one: everything I just told you about not wanting to be The Guy.
Number two: I didn’t have the tunes until now. I called Souvik and talked to him about it. I said, “Look man, Derek’s not gonna be able to play on everything, his record company, and blah, blah, blah. Most people put twelve or thirteen tunes on an album. I’ve got eight tunes here, and if I get two more tunes – I already had Kofi Burbridge’s two tunes in mind – I know it’s only ten songs but I think that’s enough for an album.” Souvik just said, “It’s time for you to do it, Jimmy. You have to do it.”
Rod: Well, “Lifeboat” was certainly worth the wait.
Let’s talk about some of the tunes. Lifeboat Serenade was originally titled Panegirika. I figured you called it that for a reason, so I looked the word up. It’s from a Greek word that means a eulogy, or to praise.
Jimmy: Yeah, that is what it was. I just felt like the word was too fancy for the tune. My mother, she went through a tough time with my dad’s passing. She took care of him all the way up until he passed. It just had to be really lonely for her after his passing and everything.
I had a small demo of that tune. It didn’t have all the parts on it, it was just a chord progression with me playing some melodies over it. I went to visit her and I had this demo with me. She asked me what I’d been doing. So I played it for her, and she started crying. And I was like, “Oh my God, Mom.” It’s an instrumental, but she could hear it; she knew what that song was about. And that’s pretty heavy.
So that song started out as a eulogy, and then it became her song. And then the eulogy ended up being Gray Day.
Rod: When Funkadelic were recording Maggot Brain, George Clinton told guitarist Eddie Hazel to think of something tragic. And I guess Eddie thought of his mother dying when he played that solo. And I bring that up mainly to say that I think you, like Eddie Hazel, must have dug down deep inside to play your solo on “Lifeboat Serenade”.
Jimmy: Man, thanks. I’m glad you can hear it because I wasn’t sure…
Rod: Oh, man! I said to a friend of mine, “Man, check this shit out” and had him listen – uh Jimmy, does my cussin’ offend you?
Jimmy: Hell no!
[both start laughing]
Rod: So I played him the song. And he said, “Man, this guy is playing his ass off!” He didn’t know who you were, but he could tell you were playing from the heart. It really comes through, man. It’s one of the highlights, on Lifeboat.
Jimmy: Thank you very much.
Rod: It’s a very majestic solo, Jimmy. The soul of your playing really comes out on that piece.
Jimmy: Ah man, thanks. You know it’s funny, I had a lot of anxiety about that one. With all these jazz tunes on the album, and here comes this song that’s so simple – it’s such a simple song. It doesn’t have any fancy drumming in it; and it’s just really blood simple. It’s almost like a Beatles song.
That song is probably one of the most difficult pieces on the whole album. In terms, of like, to really play through it and say something through it. That song goes through so many key changes, I haven’t counted them. But you don’t notice it when you listen to it.
That’s what I was tryin’ to do. I was tryin’ to write a song that sounded sooo super simple. But learn the chord progression and try to play over it, and you’ll find out how hard it is.
Rod: Oh yeah. That first growling note, aaw man! That just sets it up, and from there you’re just trapped. My friend at work kept listening to that solo over and over again.
Jimmy: Man, that’s awesome. I really appreciate that. You know, the song is a sad song. It’s sad all the way through. It’s got some moments where it sounds kinda hopeless. That section at the end is where there’s a sense of hope; there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s for my Mom.
Rod: I took it a little further. If you wrote some words to that song, and had Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle or Otis Redding sing it – really get down and belt it out – that’s what your solo sounds like. Like you’re singing lyrics to a song through the guitar.
Jimmy: That’s what we were shooting for with that tune. It doesn’t have lyrics, but Derek’s parts on it were intended to be “the singer”. There’s an intro, and then there’s verses like a regular song; and he’s singing through those verses. Then there’s my guitar solo in the middle of the tune, then it comes back to him singing again. And then to me, the solo on the outro. I was tryin’ to give him that outro, or at least have us interact with each other on it. But he was like, “Naaw, man. You need to leave that alone.”
Rod: Nothing against Derek, but I think his judgment was right on the money with that one.
Jimmy: Yeah, he’s so great. But he would have killed it, too. He would have done some amazing things over that. Again, it sounds so simple and so easy to listen to; but that stuff is hard to play over.
I had pieces of the chord progression for Lifeboat Serenade for a long time; probably for about three or four years. It was this kinda melancholy tune that came about as a result of loss and love, and my father’s passing. And then Gray Day came right about the same time. They’re about the same tempo, but they’re completely different harmonically. One is real strange obtuse chords, and the other one is very consonant sounding with just major and minor triads and stuff.
To me, they’re kind of an extension of the same song. And I almost put them back-to-back, because to me they’re comin’ from the same place; it’s family stuff.
Rod: For me, Gray Day stands out because that is the one tune on the CD where you solo from start to finish. That song sounds like it could be in a movie soundtrack.
Jimmy: Yeah, man. I was thinkin’ the same thing. It’s weird that you brought that one up. I feel like that one is the “sleeper” of the album. People are gonna listen to the other tunes and skip over that one at first. Then one day they’ll stop and really listen to that tune. It’s one of those tunes that kinda grows on you. And you have to be in that mood where you just want to sit in a chair and be frozen in a trance for seven minutes.
But it wasn’t supposed to be the way it turned out. The idea was there would be two soloists on it. We were in the studio real late one night; we had gone until five in the morning. The session was over, and we were just hangin’ out. I wanted to try and tackle “Gray Day” and play a solo over it during the next session. But the changes are kinda hairy; they’re hard to play through. I felt like I needed to practice playing through the changes. So I asked Rush, Man, can you put on Gray Day?
I didn’t even plug into an amp. I just plugged into a DI box and we went straight into a Wunders mic preamp. And I said, “Okay Rush. Look, don’t even record this, I just need to practice with it, man.” He goes, “Okay. No problem, no problem.” So he puts it on, and I start playin’. I soloed through the whole thing, ’cuz I was just tryin’ to play over the changes.
When the tune was over, Rush goes, You wanna hear it back? I said, Did you record that!? And he goes, I recorded everything. And I was like, You weren’t supposed to record that. No, I don’t wanna hear it back! And then he said, It has some pretty good stuff here. Maybe you might want to hear it.
By this time it’s 5:15 in the morning. And I’m like, Okay, let’s hear it back. And when I heard it back, I was frozen. So I said, Man, okay. Let’s do another pass. And we did another pass. I recorded through it three times and then we ended up taking the best parts of the three performances and putting them together. It’s funny, I thought this was gonna be somethin’ I was gonna have to labor over for hours; and it only took three times through the tune, and we were done. It’s not perfect, but I like the spontaneity of it – that it was being recorded and I didn’t know it on that first pass. I also like that it has such a clean, kinda icy, fragile… You know, the sound of that DI is very vulnerable sounding and it’s very, like…
Rod: It’s very crystal.
Jimmy: It’s very crystal. But it’s super like – it’s on edge of sounding like crap. Like it’s on the edge of crumbling like a dried-out leaf in your hand. It’s so close to breaking up and sounding bad, like a piece of glass breaking in the ice, or something. I was like, God! I think it fit’s the tune perfectly.
And to be honest with you, when we mixed it, we didn’t mix that guitar sound quite loud enough. We had mixed it at 5:00 in the morning on the last day. You know, it was one of those kinda deals. When I heard it later, I said, God dang it! It needs to be about 2db louder!
Rod: I don’t think dogs can even hear a 2db difference, Jimmy.
Jimmy: It’s so minute. It’s just that I had heard it enough to know the parts that were gettin’ buried a little bit were pretty cool parts. When I play low notes, they get buried a little bit. So I called Kinsey, and Kinsey was able to bring it out a little bit more through the mastering process by EQing. And so that helped. But just between you and me, I wish it was at least 1db louder. But I’m gonna leave it alone.
Souvik laughed at me. He said, [imitates Souvik] “Jimmy, it’s time to go to print. It’s time to go to print, Jimmy. You gotta let go of it!” And I just died laughin’. I said, “Okay. I’ll let go, I’ll let go.”
Rod: How did you come up with the melody for “New Moon”?
Jimmy: That was inspired by Derek, man. The progression was there, I was tryin’ to write somethin’ for us to play together. Like, one that we would play together like Jerry Goodman and McLaughlin. That was the idea. And I was tryin’ to catch some nuances that were kind of “slidey”, like what Derek does with a slide.
But when I got to his place, we started goin’ over the tune and he didn’t think it needed to be doubled. He said, “Man, you got that covered.” I was like, “Okay. I just wanted to throw it out there.” But yeah, it wasn’t just inspired by him, but I was thinkin’ about him.
Rod: “Only When It’s Light” is a beautiful tune, too.
Jimmy: Yeah. That’s Kofi’s tune, man. That’s a killer tune. I played that tune for the first time in 1986. Kofi wrote that tune in the 10th grade!
Rod: He also plays beautiful piano on that piece.
Jimmy: Yeah, Yeah. He’s playin’ piano and flute. And the keyboard part underneath is Scott Kinsey. Kofi plays a lot of piano and flute on the album. He plays piano on “Splash”, too.
Rod: Were the basic tracks recorded “live” in the studio as a group, or recorded individually as the musician’s schedules permitted?
Jimmy: Yeah, we recorded as a four piece: me, Kofi, Oteil, and Sipe. And on some of the tunes it was me, Oteil and Sipe and Matt Slocum playing keyboards. We recorded “live”, but I ended up not using any of my tracks. And there was some stuff I really wish I could have kept from the live session. But we were in a very small studio, and I couldn’t bring my favorite amp in there; I had to use a tiny little amp. But the speaker had this thing they call “cone cry” or “cone weeping” goin’ on: if you hit certain notes, sometimes it makes this strange “weeping” sound. And it’s not a good sound, it’s not desirable. I ended up having to redo all the guitars – which I’d probably do anyway.
We cut all the tunes in five days. Kofi did all his fix-ups within that five days; so did Oteil. But the solo Oteil played, he cut on a different day. And all my guitars were overdubbed over at Rush’s. And it took me much, much, much longer than it took the other guys. I’m a little bit, you know, ADD. [chuckles]
Rod: Production-wise, the CD has a nice over-all sound to it. The guitars don’t over power the songs. The piano sounds beautiful. The drums sound good, too; they’re not those heavily reverbed cave drums that are so annoying to listen to.
Jimmy: Well, a lot of that has to do with the guys that mixed it. I mean, I was there for the mix and I put my two cents in. But Rush Anderson and Jeff Bakos really mixed that record. I mean, we got real close before we took it to Bakos. What he added to it, I can’t even measure. He’s the one that got the low-end to sound right. He got the drums to come out; the kick drum sticks out where you can hear it right. He got the bass guitar to where you can hear every note Oteil plays. The low register of the piano sounds right. The guy’s good, he’s good, man.
The great thing about this project was that I got to make a record without some producer tellin’ me, “Yes…No…Maybe”. I got to make a record where if I wanted to overdub four guitar parts, I just did it and there was nobody to tell me, “No! You can’t do that.” You know, like, even the engineers. I’ve worked with engineers who think they’re producers, and they’re gonna decide how many tracks you can use. Well this time, that didn’t happen. This was the first time I really got to do everything I wanted to do on a given project; for the first time. And I’m glad I got to do it – I needed to do it.
Although Rush – my friend Rush Anderson who I’ve known for 20 years – he did think I was crazy when “Jungle Book” ended up with 70 tracks or whatever it was.
Jimmy: I don’t remember how many it was exactly. But it was a lot, because it’s an orchestra piece.
Rod: “Jungle Book Overture”, from the Disney movie “The Jungle Book”, is a unique choice to put on the album. I’d never heard it before, so I got a copy of the song and compared your arrangement with the original. You put a new approach on it, while staying faithful to the original.
Jimmy: It’s an incredible piece of music. The idea was to stay really true to the original, but I wanted it to have solos through it. And I also wanted there to be drums on it; the original version doesn’t have any. I don’t know if you remember, but there was a different intro on the original. It didn’t just start out with [sings] “do-do-doo”. It started out with this thing in a major key, and then it switched to minor: and it turned all scary and stuff. It sounds like you’re in the jungle and it’s dark.
I could play the original intro, and I recorded a demo with the original intro in it. After listening back to it, I didn’t think we needed that major part. I thought we should just start it right on the “do-do-doo”. But now, looking back on it, I kinda wish I’d recorded it for the album. Because then it would have been the entire piece.
Rod: The arrangement is just beautiful, man. Especially the way you cover the orchestrated parts. How did you get that sound?
Jimmy: It’s just three guitars, but it’s got this beautiful reverb on it. On the original, there’s a string section playing all the same parts, so it gives it this really huge sound. But some of it’s elusive: I could only pick out two distinctly different parts. And then I added a middle part myself which it goes along with it, but wasn’t on the original.
Rod: Yeaaah. I love that shit!
I understand that tune was one of your favorites as a child.
Jimmy: There’s a lot of great music in that movie. But most kids really relate to “The Bare Necessities”, or they relate to some of those other songs that have lyrics and stuff. But even as a child, to me the most captivating one was the intro piece, “The Overture”. I didn’t think about what it was called, or know what scales made up the melody or anything like that. I didn’t know what chords were. I mean, that song’s all about the minor-6th chord; which is one of my favorite chords. I’ve never really done anything that features the minor-6th chord, and this was the perfect time to do it.
So that’s where that melody’s comin’ from: it’s a melodic / minor scale and based off the root of the minor-6th chord. It’s just such a captivating, trance-like sound. And I’ve always loved it. When my kids were little, we bought “The Jungle Book” on video. You know, you always buy those little videos for your kids and stuff. And I said to my wife, “Aww Carolyn, remember The Jungle Book? Remember how great that was?”
We bought the video for them, and then it just all came rushing back when I heard that song again. It was even better than I remembered it in my head, you know. I’d been trying to incorporate that melody in improvisations with ARU. I’m sure if you dug back far enough through some of our live shows, you’ll hear me playing that melody. I didn’t have it note-for-note, but I was tryin’ to use that. And I always said, “God, one of these days, man. One of these days.”
And that day finally came. Carolyn went and bought me the soundtrack. ’Cuz I was tryin’ to get my son to take the video and make a CD of the intro song. [chuckles] And my wife said, “You idiot! Why don’t you just buy the soundtrack?” I said, “But we already got the video!” She just said “to heck with it” and went and bought the soundtrack.
And when she did that, I didn’t have an excuse any more. So I started listening and delving into it; tryin’ to pick apart the arrangement and just learn some of the different parts from the other instruments. I was just blown away by the incredible magnitude of the composition. I just thought, “This is genius, man!” And then the ideas just started comin’. I imagined how it would sound if I could get Kofi to play flute and Greg Osby could play soprano sax. And also how great it would be if we could take solos through the form.
And that’s just how it came about. I do love that piece of music. It’s incredible. And I’m just glad we had a chance to record it.
Rod: Let’s talk about “Lost” a little bit.
Rod: That’s another beautiful arrangement. The blending of the flute, sax and guitar playing the original versions tenor, alto, and trumpet parts sounds amazing!
Jimmy: Thanks, man. That’s exactly what I was going for.
Rod: Did you have sheet music to work from, or did you just transcribe the parts?
Jimmy: I just transcribed it from Wayne Shorter’s The Soothsayer record. I just figured out all three parts of the head, and then figured out the chord changes. And I just thought, instead of a trumpet, wouldn’t it be cool to have Kofi play Freddie Hubbard’s part on the flute? Greg Osby could take James Spaulding’s alto sax part in the middle. And I’ll play the low part, Wayne Shorter’s tenor sax part. And really, we didn’t change the notes; we didn’t change anything.
I love the three part melody; the three part harmony. I was kinda nervous about if the blend between the guitar, sax, and flute was gonna work. But once Kofi came and finally put his part on there, I was like, “Aww man, this is gonna work.”
Rod: Hell, you could replace your arrangement with the original and not miss a beat.
Jimmy: Well, the only real difference is that they had a little more dynamics. There were places with three horn players where they could hit a note and make it grow, and then bring it back down. They did that a couple of times, and we didn’t.
Rod: The original starts off with a piano intro.
Jimmy: Yeah. McCoy Tyner on piano. I love McCoy Tyner’s intro on “Lost”. I wanted to learn his intro and do it on guitar. But then I thought, “Man, I’m going too far.”
Rod: I understand you originally wanted to cover a different Shorter tune for “Lifeboat”?
Jimmy: “Angola” was the one I wanted to do. And that’s the one Derek and I had talked about a long time ago. But he went and did it with his band! They didn’t record it, they were playin’ it live. And I was like, “You son-of-a-gun! Maaan, Derek!” And he goes, “Well, I couldn’t help it. It’s such a great tune!” Next time we might do one from another Wayne Shorter album, like “JuJu” or “Speak No Evil”. All those albums have great songs on them.
Rod: Are you going to send Wayne a copy of your version?
Jimmy: Well, I don’t know Wayne. There are people around that you know that know him.
[both laugh loudly]
Rod: Well, that was subtle.
Jimmy: Well, it’s funny, Souvik said something to me about how would I feel about Wayne hearing the tune? At the time he said it, I hadn’t even finished the tune, yet. I said, “God man. I don’t know. That makes me nervous.” It still makes me nervous.
Greg Osby knows Wayne real well: Wayne sorta mentored him. So when I mentioned to Osby, “Hey man, we’re gonna cover “Lost” off of The Soothsayer, he was like, “Aww man, I love that tune.” What was weird was he had never played the tune before. He knew the tune in his head, but he never played it. So I said, “How do you think Wayne would feel about this red-neck rock’n’roll guitar player playin’ his song? I mean, would he be okay with it?” And Osby said, “Man, he would be thrilled. He thinks that’s wonderful.”
So now I feel like if we give him a copy of this, at least he’ll know that he reached some people he may not have known he reached.
Rod: And vice versa. “The Soothsayer” was recorded in 1965. You’ll be exposing people to a Wayne Shorter piece they may not have heard before, and they might check out the original version as well.
Jimmy: I hope so. I swear, I can see covering at least one Wayne Shorter tune on every record from now on. Wayne’s got so many brilliant tunes.
Rod: Were you worried about putting a lot of jazzier pieces on “Lifeboat”?
Jimmy: One thing I know I’m gonna take a lot of grief about is some people saying, [uses a stoner voice] “Hey dude, where’s the guitar??” The point is there are three songs on this album I didn’t play any rhythm guitar on: because I was more or less a horn player on those songs. I played the head, and I play a solo. Now, I mean, I coulda played chords on those songs; I coulda played the rhythm part – I coulda made a rhythm part. I coulda played comping and stuff.
But see, piano players, they hate that. Just like guitar players in jazz, most of ’em don’t like to play with piano players. Because they’re both ’compers, and they’re gonna get in each others way when they’re comping. And Kofi’s so good at that, I didn’t want him to be crowded by me. If you listen to the original “Lost”, there’s no one playin’ chords except McCoy Tyner. The other guys couldn’t play chords on their horns, you know what I mean?
Rod: There’s a lot of space. The tune sounds more “open” when you don’t have a lot of clutter.
Jimmy: Yeah. And it lets the piano player be free to comp any way he wants to comp.
Rod: Especially McCoy Tyner, for Pete’s sake!
Jimmy: Yeah man. I played “Only When It’s Light” for one of my friends. You know how it comes in with the piano intro before the head come in? And he goes, “Where’s the guitar!?” I said, “Man, it’s not a guitar record, it’s a music record.” There’ll always be people who think the instrument matters more than the music.
So many guitar players put out records that are – it’s just guitar, guitar, guitar. And there’s nothing wrong with that; I don’t see one thing wrong with that. It’s just not for me; it’s not what I wanted to do. And I was just determined not to do that.
I felt like it was important, because I get a lot of inspiration from other instruments besides guitar. Guitar is one instrument. This is a big musical world we live in, with beautiful instruments from all directions. And if you’re playin’ a song that lends itself to it, it’s okay to lay out. When Coltrane is playin’ with other people and they take a solo, he’s not playin’, he lays out.
Rod: I understand the lovely lady on the cover of the CD is someone special to you?
Jimmy: Yeah, that’s my Mom. [chuckles] That’s her; she was 23 and it was taken on my Mom and Dad’s honeymoon. I’ve always loved that picture; and I never, ever imagined putting it on an album cover – ever! I don’t know how it came up, but my wife and my daughter kept asking me, “Well, what are you going to put on the album cover?” We didn’t have any idea about the title of the record or anything at this point. And I went, “Where’s that picture of Mom? You know, the one I love so much; where she’s sittin’ in the front of the boat.”
Cameron goes, “I know where it is!” So she went and got it, and she brought it to me; and I said “God, look at this honey. Isn’t this the greatest picture of Mom, ever?” And then we decided that was goin’ to be the album cover.
A short time later, I’m on the road with Panic, and Carolyn phones askin’ me about all this stuff: “What are you going to name this album? Souvik has to know. You have to give him the information. Get all the “special thanks” together.”
So finally, there came a time where we both had the same day off. So I called her, and we were on the phone like an hour-and-a-half just brain stormin’, “What can we call this record?” And I thought, Well, I was thinking uh Tugboat [chuckles]…, I was tryin’ to come up with any name…, – “I don’t know what we’re gonna call the record!” ’Cuz I don’t think about things in terms of names. And finally, it came to me. And I just thought, “Wow. “Lifeboat” kinda sounds right.” Because it goes all the way back, you know. It took a while, but we finally came up with it. But the picture is what named it. It’s not “Lifeboat” in the sense of the Titanic, you know what I mean. Let’s hope it’s not, for Souvik’s sake.
Rod: I imagine there’s a bit of a learning curve getting your first record off of the ground. How has producing your first solo record changed you?
Jimmy: How has it changed me?
Rod: Yeah. Like before you didn’t want to be a band leader. Are you more comfortable leading a band? Do you feel more confident about your songwriting, now that you’ve made this record?
Jimmy: No, it was hell. No, I’m kiddin’ [chuckles] Well, I’m not totally kiddin’. It’s humbling, because you see how much work goes into it. And you get a new appreciation for people who are so good at being a band leader. I learned an awful lot about the way I want to approach it next time.
However, there are aspects of being a producer that I would rather leave in the hands of someone else. Like the logistics stuff. And sometimes there are decisions about musicians and what they played that have to be made; and I would rather not be the one who has to make them. That’s the toughest part.
But yeah, I want to do some more. Hopefully, next time I won’t go as hog-wild with all that many tracks and stuff like that. But I don’t know. I mean, I might.
You know, it’s a trip. Because I hope – I don’t know. We’ll just see what happens, see how it’s perceived; and see how it stands the test of time. It’s the first time I’ve ever gotten to do what I wanted to do, without someone tellin’ me, “No!” And I liked it; I liked that a lot.
It all comes down to one thing – which everything comes down to – it comes down to money. If you’ve got the money, people will make the time to do the session. But if they have to lose money to come make the session, it’s hard for them to do it. And, “Time is Money”.
Rod: Hey, it’s like B.B. King says, “As long as I’m payin’ the bills, I’m payin’ the cost to be the boss.” It’s your show, man.
Jimmy: Well, some people are really good at it, man. Some people have that gene, that Alpha gene. And I just never have had it. I’m more apt to just work with someone and try and give them what they want. I seem to be better at that, than I am about tellin’ someone that they’re not givin’ me what I need.
But with Sipe and me, we’ve known each other so long. With Oteil – I mean there was a time when I wouldn’t have been able to talk to those guys about that sort of thing. But now? I mean…man! We’re all so grown-up; we’re all in our mid to late-40’s. That makes it easy. Because we all know that to serve the song is the most important thing at this point in our careers. Unless we’re playin’ improvised music, in which case you would never have to say anything to anyone.
Rod: Well, that’s a Project Z record, not a Jimmy Herring record.
Jimmy: Exactly! That sort of thing. But it’s gettin’ easier. I just have to keep doin’ it.
Rod: And writing songs is not a painful process?
Jimmy: It’s not painful. It’s just [sighs] – I throw away a lot of stuff if it sounds like something I’ve heard before. It’s really hard for me to say, “Hey, listen to this song I wrote”, you know, and it sounds like McLaughlin’s “Meeting Of The Spirits”. I wrestled with “New Moon” a little bit, because the first two chords are the same as “Meeting Of The Spirits”. It’s in a different key…and I’m not doing the same picking pattern…the melodies aren’t the same…and the drum beat is not the same…and it’s not in the same time signature. So that makes it different enough, I guess.
Rod: Uhh…yeeeah. I’d say so.
Rod: So are you nervous about your first CD coming out?
Jimmy: I’m not whatcha call “nervous”, but I do hope that it’s well received. You know, I’ve wrestled with it in my mind sometimes. I mean, I hope they like it, but if they don’t – I don’t know what to say other than it’s just a snapshot in time, you know. That’s what Todd Nance, the drummer from Widespread Panic, said to me. When people get all stressed out about records, he goes, “Hey man, it’s just a snapshot in time.” And that makes you feel a little better if you think about it like that.
Generally, I don’t read reviews. But, now of course with this situation, I probably will just because it’s my first album. But I know the truth, no matter what they say. If they say good things, that’s very generous of them; but I know the truth. And if they say bad things, I also know the truth – Oh, c’mon. It’s better than that – or whatever.
But yeah, I hope people like it. But you can’t please everybody. And when you’re making Art, you can’t think about that sort of thing.
Rod: Well, I don’t think musicians and artists should have to spoon-feed their music to the public.
Jimmy: And I hope that it’s not disappointing to people who are somehow wishing that this was some kind of a “shred-festival”.
See, that was the road I was headed down Rod, before I started playin’ with Bruce Hampton. I was just gonna be one of those guys that was a guitar teacher, and might have an occasional article in a guitar magazine or somethin’. You know, doin’ meaningless solo albums that don’t say anything. That’s where I was headed. And then, Bruce Hampton saved me from that; and I’ll be grateful to him forever.
When I started this project, I thought about the musicians I wanted to play with, you know Derek, Oteil, Sipe, and Kofi. I wanted to do something that was worthy of playin’ with them. That was the biggest thing on my mind: I want them to be proud to be a part of this. I didn’t want them to do this as a favor to me; I wanted them to do it because they liked the music. And they know that it’s not just another “Hey, check out my bitchin’ chops” guitar record. Those are a dime a dozen. To me, it’s just gotta be more about the music than it is about the guitar.
I mean, look at John McLaughlin’s career. He could have played any instrument. The fact that he played guitar was awesome. But look what he’s done: he’s gone into different cultures and learned their ways of playin’, you know what I mean. Like, that guy is a total musician. And that’s an inspiration.
And the other guys that inspire me – you can name millions of ’em. But it’s like – Coltrane’s music isn’t “saxophone music”, it’s just music. And I was hoping somehow do to something that was just musical on that level – not on the level of Coltrane – but just…
Rod: Something that makes a personal statement, as opposed to a wank-fest?
Rod: Awww, man. Like I said earlier, the fact that “Lifeboat” isn’t a wank-fest is part of its appeal.
Jimmy: Thanks, man.
Rod: Now mind you, there’s nothing wrong with a good wank-fest every now and then. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with a good wank, period.
Jimmy: Oh, I’m with you on that one. I know what you’re sayin’. Project Z is just one big wank. And I’m guilty as sin of bein’ just another wanker. But this time, I wanted to try to do somethin’ – it was about the tunes; where the solos were not the focus of the song.
Rod: I think you did it. It’s almost like you’re a sideman on your own solo record.
Rod: “Lifeboat” is a beautiful piece of work, Jimmy. I think the songs make as much a statement about who you are musically, as your playing does.
Jimmy: Man, thank you so much. I mean, it’s a life’s work, kinda. And I think it’s gonna stand-up. I’m hopin’ it does; that’s all anyone can hope for. I don’t think there’s anything on there I’m ashamed of. I think we hit what we were tryin’ to hit.
I don’t know if Souvik’s had any feedback from any of the people he’s sent it to. But it also makes me a little nervous – you mentioned “are you nervous?”. Well, I’m not nervous in that I’m not worried about the release of it. If people pre-ordered it, that means they probably got to listen to a little bit of it, right?
Jimmy: Because Souvik put that sampler out.
Rod: And you have some of it on your website, too.
Jimmy: Yeah. If he hadn’t of done that, I would be worried. Because then people would be pre-ordering it not having any idea of what was coming. At least the people who pre-ordered it have some idea; they know it’s not gonna be AC/DC on steroids. I don’t know where it’s gonna fall – if they’re gonna be able to put it in a category or not. It’s not rock – well, some of it is. And it’s not jazz…
Rod: It’s Jimmy Herring. I think that’s the only category it needs.
Jimmy: Well, I hope so. See, a lot of this – there’s a lot of people who think I’m a Sellout. Which is – it cracks me up…
Rod: A Sellout?!?
Jimmy: Yeah. Because there are people that are like, Why is he playin’ with this band or that band? or whatever they think about whoever I’ve played with. And they think it’s all about the money, and the glamour, and the limousines, or whatever. But the truth is, I’ve never done anything I didn’t want to do. I’ve been so blessed and lucky in my musical life. I’ve never taken a gig that I didn’t actually want to play.
Now I do know a lot of people who have. And some of them are the ones that think I’m a sellout. To some people, if you play fusion oriented music, they think if you do anything that’s not fusion oriented, then you’re sellin’ out. But why does it have to be that way? That’d be like sayin’ if a rock’n’roll guy made a jazz record, then all of a sudden you’re gonna call him a sell out? Well, they won’t call him a sellout because jazz doesn’t pay.
The point is, there’s a lot of sides to people. This record is – some of it, on some level – it’s for all those people that think I’m not pushin’ myself, musically. Because they see you playin’ with Panic, or they see you playin’ with The Dead, or they see you playin’ with Allman Brothers; or whoever. And they’ll say to me, “You can’t even use 80% of your vocabulary in those bands.”
Well that may be true. But it does strengthen other parts of your vocabulary that you didn’t even have before. And that’s what some people don’t seem to understand about playin’ with other bands that are not into fusion, or jazz, or whatever you want to call it.
But see, these other bands have different strengths than those – like I know jazz musicians who don’t even know 50 songs. They’ll go out and do a tour with 15 songs. And every night they play the same 15 songs. But they can’t play a 4 hour gig ’cuz they don’t have enough material. They can’t even play three shows without repeatin’ every song they know.
But in this world that I’m playin’ with Panic, their thing is they play – God, how many do they play? – about 5 gigs before they start repeatin’ songs. So, that’s 100 songs that you’ve played before you even think about repeatin’ the songs.
Now, they’re not hard songs. That’s not the point of what they’re doin’. The point is they just want to give their crowd a different show every night. To you and me, it’s like, “I’d be happy to hear the same 18 songs every night with musicians who are takin’ liberties with the tunes; and they’re doin’ different solos every night.” They’re playin’ the same tunes, but, “Hey, they did it in 7 last night, tonight they did it in 5.”
Now see, you and me, we’d be impressed by that. But their crowd, they don’t care if you did it one night as a swing tune, and the next night you did it as a polka. To them it’s the same tune – “I heard this tune last night.” So it’s just that these bands have different muscles to do a different job.
I’ve been blessed, every different band I’ve played with has got a different set of priorities that’s taught me something new about playin’ music. And I think all of that contributed to this record. I hear it; I don’t know if other people will. But I can hear things in there that I’ve learned from playin’ in these other bands; even though the music doesn’t sound anything like it. It’s just weird.
Rod: So what are your plans for the future, Jimmy?
Jimmy: Well, I was talkin’ to Souvik about doin’ a few gigs in support of the record. Looks like I’m gonna have some time next year in the spring. I kinda want to leave March and April alone. But maybe February into the early part of March, I’m lookin’ at maybe doin’ some gigs.
Rod: You think you can get Sipe, Oteil, Kofi together for a live band?
Jimmy: Probably not. Again, we’re back to logistics with people’s schedules. I planted that seed in Souvik’s ear, and I got him on it. And he’s thinkin’ about it. But see, he wants me to go out with a quartet; it makes a lot more sense in terms of finances.
Rod: Depending on the instruments, five people is sometimes “too many chefs in the kitchen”. A quartet would give you more space to play.
Jimmy: I agree with you, things can definitely get cluttered up. But a tune like “Jungle Book” has a lot of parts. If all those parts are gonna get covered, it would take a minimum of six people. We can forget that. Even if you make a sacrifice, five people are almost imperative to cover all those lines and stuff.
We’d have to rearrange the music; we’d have to rearrange the parts. And we can do it. But I’m gonna have to think about it a lot. And I’m gonna have to work on it and figure out some way to simulate these other parts. Or some parts will just have to be left out..
Rod: Awww, man. Hearin’ you guys play “Lifeboat Serenade” live would be killin’!
Jimmy: See. That tune’s got an awful lot of tracks, man. It could be done, though.
Rod: When McLaughlin performed the Apocalypse record, he didn’t tour with the London Symphony Orchestra; he pulled it off with just a four-piece string section and two horns. You wouldn’t have to duplicate the record note-for-note. In fact, when I go to see bands live, I don’t want to hear the same thing as the record. I could stay home for that.
Jimmy: I would love to go play the music; I would love to. I really want it to be at least me, Sipe and Oteil; as far as the “family band” goes. To me – and for it to be complete in my mind – I would like it to be those guys. But who knows if they can afford to do it? It’s not gonna pay a lot of money compared to what they might already be doin’. I don’t know if they could afford to do it. Unless it fell during a time when they were off the road, anyway. In which case, it would work.
Rod: Well, it’s time for the “open mic” part of the interview. Is there anything you want to say or talk about before we finish?
Jimmy: Uhh… [pauses]
Rod: How ’bout: “I love my wife and kids.”
Jimmy: I love my wife and kids.
Actually, I really don’t – [pauses] I don’t really have anything. Except to thank the musicians for goin’ above and beyond the call of duty. And to thank Souvik, you know. [pauses] I’m never really very good at an open mic thing because I respond better if there’s a question.
Rod: Okay, here’s a question. If someone told you that you could say anything you wanted to say, what would you say?
Jimmy: That’s a really good one. That’s one of those things – you know Bruce Hampton said to me years ago, he said, [uses a deep voice] “Freedom can be a prison.”
Jimmy: And that’s my stance on what I would say if I could say anything I wanted. You’re givin’ me the freedom to say anything I want, but I see it as a prison. ’Cuz I don’t know what to say.
Rod: No, I understand. I interviewed Ranjit Barot, who’s the drummer on McLaughlin’s new record, “Floating Point”. I mentioned that John gave him a lot of freedom to play whatever he wanted. And he said that it was scary having that much freedom, almost dangerous, because you have to say something.
Jimmy: That’s a good point. Ever since Bruce said that, I thought that was one of the greatest things I ever heard. Because it’s so true. You know, like you get out there, and without any preconception of what you’re gonna do – I mean, that’s what Project Z was all about. We went and played gigs with no songs. It was like lookin’ in the mirror and goin’, “Okay. There’s nothing there.” You have nothing to fall back on.
And that’s what Bruce meant when he said, “Freedom can be a prison.” Because you find yourself – sometimes when you’re not inspired with that kinda freedom, you’re just wankin’, playin’ complete bull. But then sometimes, if you can get outta your own way, some cool stuff can happen.
Rod: I think that makes a nice open mic ending.
Jimmy: Yeah, it is. But it’s not my lick, I stole it from Bruce.
Rod: I’ll make sure he gets the credit.
Jimmy: “In the immortal words of Bruce Hampton…”
Rod: “In the words of that great philosopher, Bruce Hampton…”
Jimmy: However, we both know that he stole it from somebody.
Rod: Jimmy, I really appreciate you takin’ the time to talk to me. I really do.
Jimmy: Hey man, it’s my pleasure.
Rod: I had a lot of fun. And I hope you did, too.
Jimmy: I did. Yeah.
Rod: I think “Lifeboat” is a great introduction for people that have never heard you, and will show fans of your playing other sides of your musicality. I just hope it doesn’t take years before the next Jimmy Herring CD comes out.
Jimmy: Man, thanks so much. I appreciate it.
Rod: You take care, and say hello to Carolyn for me.
Jimmy: I sure will, man. Talk to ya soon, Rod.
John McLaughlin, Jimmy Herring, The 4th Dimension and The Invisible Whip “This recording of the final set at the Warfield