iv: TURNING IT UP WITH ABB
VB: Let's dive into your new gig with the Allman Brothers Band. I think it must've been easier for you to jump into this than into the Phil thing because you were more familiar with the material, maybe...
JH: More familiar, yeah, but at the same time it is such a different adjustment technically. Playing with Phil, musically, it was a big adjustment to learn the material but the stage sound I was accustomed to. I don't play as loud with Phil as in the ABB gigs... I mean, you know me, I always have played pretty loud, I mean most people have always thought so, at least they told me so...
VB: Yeah, but here, you're outdoors, you're on these big-ass stages...
JH: Boy, what a difference...
VB: ...with three drummers...
JH: ...three drummers, yeah. I got out there and I had that amp that everybody always said, "Damn, that thing's too loud," and these guys laughed at me. They were saying, "You've got to be kiddin' me." And I was like, "No, that's it. That's all I've got and as far as volume, that's as loud as they'll get." They were shaking their heads, "That's not gonna fly, you need to go to the music store." I wound up getting one of those Marshall reissue 100 watt heads, which I like. I thought I was gonna use my same kind of rig, switching between two amps and it just didn't work. Maybe it would've if I'd have had two 100 watts...
VB: So what are you using now?
JH: I'm using one 100 watt head powering two cabinets. I just step on the Tube Screamer when I need to do a solo and then when I want to clean up I cut that off and back the volume pedal way off and it cleans up quite a bit. Not quite as much as I'd like it to, you know. The Allman Brothers have this amazing guy on the road, Eric Cartwright, he can fix anything and he re-tubed my old hundred watt which I'd been using as a fifty for years. He re-tubed it with four new tubes...
I have a great fifty watt that I used for a long time. I used it with Jazz Is Dead, I use it to record with a lot. I've used it for quite awhile. This new album I'm doing with Jeff Sipe and Ricky Keller, that's all I used on that - I used the Super Reverb and that.
VB: You first played with ABB in 1993?
JH: I subbed for Dickey on one gig in '93.
JH: I sat in with them a couple of other times but he was there then and he was really, really cool. The only time I subbed for anyone, it was in the summer '93 on the H.O.R.D.E. Festival. Dickey wasn't there and Warren Haynes asked if I wanted to jam that night. It was the first day I met him and he said, "Do you feel like playin' some tonight?" and I said, "Are you kiddin'? - play with you guys?" He says, "Yeah." Of course, I said, "Man, I'd love to." I was thinking, "Wow, what are we gonna play... 'Elizabeth Reed', 'Whipping Post'" ...I was trying to think of what song I was going to get to play and Warren says, "No, you don't understand - do you feel like jammin' the whole night?" and I was like, "Huh?" - stunned, you know. Warren said, "Yeah, man, Dickey isn't gonna be here so we'd like you to play longer if you would." I said, "Well, sure, I'd like to but I don't know these songs," and he said, "Ah, you know these songs". So he and I got together in a dressing room with a couple of acoustic guitars and went over a few things. That was it and that was only 30 minutes before the show."
VB: Thrown to the wolves, baby...
JH: Yeah, but it wasn't like it fell all on me, John Popper was up there and he carried a lot of weight. So did this other keyboard player who was in Warren Haynes' Tales Of Ordinary Madness group - he and Gregg were friends and they played. So it wasn't like it was just me.
VB: So that was after Johnny Neel was in the band...
JH: Yeah, I guess it was 'cause Johnny wasn't there. It was Gregg and Warren and Jaimoe and Butch and Allen Woody and Marc Quinones.
VB: One thing that was cool about the show at Hershey the other night (6/20/00) and from what I'm hearing on the web is how many different tunes you guys are doing now that the Allmans don't usually do - a lot of stuff that hasn't been in the book for awhile.
JH: Right, and we need to get a lot more. A lot of that falls on me, but they don't do soundchecks. See I had three days of rehearsal (laughs). They didn't really want to rehearse on the gigs at soundcheck because we were playin' with other bands and it just didn't make sense. I've got a few other tunes ready to play but I kind of wanted to go over them at least a little before we play 'em live and iron out the kinks at soundcheck. But we haven't done a soundcheck since we started. Except for the first day we had a tech day and we got there the day before the gig and we set up and that's when I realized that they were laughing at my amp and I was like, "Man..."
JH: But, I already had another amp that I was using for the other side, the clean side but I had to switch that to the main amp and just use that.
VB: It makes sense, not only musically but also personality-wise that you're the guy that the ABB called. Obviously, your background with Frogwings and Derek Trucks and all these guys you've known forever - it must help a lot to be surrounded by these guys that you know personally and that you've played with extensively.
JH: Oh, it does. Oteil and Derek, they're like brothers to me and Butch I've gotten to know quite well and Marc Quinones (ABB and Frogwings' percussionist).
VB: A lot different than in Phil's band where you have to learn, not only each others' style, but the way you communicate, the way things get passed around onstage. You've got a lot of experience with these guys so that must help.
JH: Right, it's quite a bit different and it definitely did help.
VB: Looks like you and Oteil are having a lot of fun standing next to each other up there...
JH: Yeah, big fun.
VB: I noticed that a lot of the cues are coming from him. The show really turned a corner the other night after a couple of tunes when Oteil really pumped it up another notch during one of the instrumentals. It really seemed to turn the energy of the show around. Everybody sort of got a shot of extra something and was looser, more inspired and from that point on, the set really took off...
JH: Yeah, oh yeah. Oteil is a natural leader. He kind of was the unspoken leader of the Bruce Hampton- era ARU and then when Bruce left he kind grabbed the reins. He was the leader anyway. It was never really said but everybody looked to him for cues and stuff.
VB: Is that a reflection of his overt musicality...
VB: Or does he really have a great grasp on what's going on...
JH: He really has a grasp of what everybody is doing up there. He's the most natural leader, other than Phil, that I've ever worked with. Phil is just a natural leader. As far as my peers go - I don't consider Phil a peer or Gregg Allman or any of these guys, they're the masters. Oteil is a master, without a shadow of a doubt but I came up with him. He was always our Michael Jordan.
VB: You've got to get him a Nike deal or something.
JH: We joke about that all the time (laughs). "You need a Reebok deal, man."
VB: I know that sometimes on the last Jazz Is Dead tour with two drummers in the little clubs it was a bit tough for everyone to hear each other onstage. Well, now you've got three drummers but you're playing outdoors with the Allmans. Their rhythmic approach is so radically different than Jeff and Rod's, what is it like to play with that train rolling behind you?
JH: It's absolutely unbelievable. What they are seeking isn't the most busy thing in the world. They create a vibe with the way they play. Butch Trucks is still the sound that defines an era. When you get him and Jaimoe playing together, man, I mean, those two cats are masters. Then you've got Marc Quinones adding the icing on percussion. Like you said, it's a freight train. Playing with them, I have to consciously try not to play like Dickey. The things that I have learned from Dickey, which is only a minute part of what his musical being is - I could never learn everything he ever did - but the stuff that has leaked into my playing, when I'm playing with Butch, I just want to do it all the time because of the amazing way the two of them play together.
VB: Because you love to hear his parts.
VB: It's like Warren Haynes said, "I have to try to be myself but still play those Duane signposts that are going to make the music what he wanted it to be."
JH: Well, that's exactly the way I feel about being in this spot, playing Dickey's songs. Playing stuff that he made timeless. There are certain things you've just gotta play, and believe me I'm fighting not to play more like him! The guys in the band don't mind if I play like Dickey, but I know that if I'm gonna do this I can't just go up there and try to copy Dickey - as much as I'd like to because I love the way he plays. It is perfect for this style of music but like Warren said, there are certain things you've got to play because that is what the music calls for.
What's funny is that there are certain tempos that I favor. If it is slow enough to double-time or if they are fast enough to really play uptempo - that's the stuff that I got into with the Rescue Unit and the Dregs influence...
VB: Right, like the bluegrass and shredding elements coming together into one thing...
JH: Exactly - and the Allman Brothers have zero songs at those tempos. There is one song that is kind of close but most of the songs are at my weakest tempos. The tempos where I can't double-time because I can't play fast enough to pull it off. If I tried to... even if I could, it wouldn't be right for this music. That's what I love about this gig, it makes me explore some of my most prevalent weaknesses. I'm getting biceps in my fingers! I think that by the end of this summer I'll be able to pick up 100 lbs. with my pinky!
This gig is very physical. I'd always bent a lot of notes in my playing but compared to this music, I didn't do it at all! Where I would normally play a barrage of notes and then bend one, now I'm bending four and not playing as many notes. Which is great to not play the way I normally play. The same thing happened to me with Phil.
VB: Knowing your music in a lot of different contexts, it's great to watch your style develop, to see you pull things from all your influences, and to watch the "Jimmy Herring" sound come out in a different way in every circumstance.
JH: Oh man, thanks a lot. It's refreshing to me because I don't get bored. Of course, I never got bored with ARU. I've got this project with Jeff Sipe and Ricky Keller picking up where ARU left off.
VB: Is this instrumental?
JH: It is largely. There may be one or two vocal songs on the record. I don't know yet. We've got Bruce Hampton in the studio to do some stuff. It's gonna be fun. It's not meant to be taken seriously. This is sort of "anything goes" music. Here there really isn't such a thing as a wrong note.
VB: Here we go back to Sun Ra.
JH: Yeah, exactly. (laughs)
v: IT'S NICE TO HAVE FRIENDS
VB: Let's talk about Phil & Friends. Most Deadheads are under the impression that because you knew the tunes from Jazz Is Dead that Phil was hip to that but I hear he really liked your playing with ARU.
JH: There were some nice people like J.C. Juanis and people like that who had been trying to get Phil to hire me for a long time before he finally called. They were playing him Jazz Is Dead. I think, if Jazz Is Dead was the reason he was going to hire me, he would've hired me a long time ago. Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes were telling Phil, "You need to talk to Jimmy." Finally, Phil's people called me and said, "Phil would like to hear what you've done other than Jazz Is Dead."
I sent him my only copy of the live ARU album, it's out of print. Then they called me immediately. I went out and rehearsed and when I got there the first day Phil said to me, "Man, I really dig that ARU stuff."
JH: Oh, absolutely. It totally helped to have a little bit of an edge knowing a couple of the songs.
VB: What were rehearsals like for that tour?
JH: They were very concentrated. They were very effective and they were very focused.
VB: Does Phil give a lot of verbal philosophy talking about what he's looking for with the band or is it a more organic process where he was leading you more by example with the music? How did it work?
JH: He wants to hear each and every person's personality and he doesn't want you to get tied up in your own space. He wants a "conversation," he doesn't want some guy's blistering solo. That's his whole thing - he doesn't really want any solos. He said, "When you play you are the first among five equals and if you find yourself in your own space for a little while, stop, listen, react." He described his vision of the music as if we were a school of fish - like watch a school of fish when predators come around - safety in numbers, you know, the way they move together. He also compared us to a flock of birds - look at the V formation of birds flying - they might break up for a minute but they fall right back into formation.
VB: Sometimes they switch who's leader... changing places while flying in the same course.
JH: Right. It's very interesting. John Molo heard it described as "psychedelic Dixieland." Which is a great way to describe it. Phil wants everybody playing at the same time. He doesn't want you to fall into the conventional rhythm/lead role and that's hard, man.
VB: Especially with two lead players. You and Jeff Pevar are basically lead players.
JH: That's right. Jeff Pevar and myself would work at the hotel for four hours after a 6-8 hour rehearsal and the next day we'd do it all over again. We did this for a week. We'd be going, "Man, this is really weird." Jeff would say, "Yeah, you take the fill on this verse and then I'll take the next solo and then you take this one..." and then we'd show up at rehearsal the next day and have all our parts worked out and Phil would just start laughing. He'd say, "Guys, you really sound good. Boy, you've been rehearsing again haven't you." He'd laugh and say, "But, don't do that." (Laughs)
VB: I thought it was interesting at the soundcheck in Philly that Phil brought a boom box out onstage and played the Workingman's Dead version of "New Speedway Boogie" while you were all plugging in and milling around. I don't know if you guys had rehearsed that before...
JH: No. (Laughs)
VB: And you guys just picked it up, ran through a verse or so and Phil says, "Someone should sort of cop some of Jerry's riff." Which Jeff does and then that's it. A couple times through the harmonies and then it becomes a highlight of that night's show. Also at that soundcheck you guys played "Dark Star" in 5/4 time which was so hip...
JH: That's another thing Phil does, he messes around with the time signatures a lot.
VB: I really like the recasting of "Terrapin Station", the new harmonization...
JH: Oh, I loved that. He changed it to minor (hums the original then the reharmonized phrase).
VB: And also the tempo changed there...
JH: Oh yeah, that too. It changed the whole mood of it. And the way he put that was, 'You know there's a train out-of-control, guys." (laughs) He says, "The music has to reflect that this train whistle is screaming..." He referred to the lyrics in directing us.
VB: The great jazz tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon once said, "If you don't know the lyrics to a song you might as well not try to play it."
JH: Right. That's the same kind of approach Phil has.
VB: Most rabid Deadheads can quote a moment or feeling of discovery, when something in the music hit them just the right way and they understood that it was touching them on levels they'd not yet noticed. Suddenly they were "on the bus" and understood the ramifications and depths in the music that were just right for them. After having played the music with JID and Phil, you mentioned to me mid-tour this past spring that you finally "got it", what is the "it" in your perspective of this music that makes it so unique?
JH: For me I finally really understood that in recreating themselves every night, the Dead's philosophy was true improvisation - ensemble improvisation. What I didn't get before is that when I'd hear things I'd be critical from some other space, "Oh they're out of tune," or something else... but that's totally missing the point. The point is that this is a shared improvisation not an individual thing.
(VB: an afterthought: Collective improvisation: Like sharing air. Music as ecosystem. Group improv as metaphor for daily living. Chances are that someone may stumble, someone may run over them, or heroically pick them up or on a good day everything might find its mark. Personalities coexisting and creating a new moment. Ah ha.)
VB: One of the nice things about seeing Phil with a rotating batch of Friends is, as Deadheads, we are seeing Phil reinvent himself as he gets to know new musical friends - all within the context of that music. Magic... it's really hip.
JH: It really is. It keeps it so fresh and new.
VB: And it teaches you how to listen to other music - you start looking for personality and seeking realistic honest emotion in the music you come across. A lot of us Deadheads went from the Dead and discovered other forms of music after having learned how to listen.
JH: Right. That's very well put. So true.
VB: What were the most memorable moments of the tour, any gigs you really cherish or songs that you can't wait to get back to?
JH: The night Branford played was great. The night Greg Osby came and played was really great. Playing with these guys was really inspiring because nobody really takes a solo. That's why I can't wait to hear tapes of this stuff because I'll get to hear myself objectively. You can't possibly remember how you played when you don't play the way you normally play. I'm leaving holes and taking breaths where I normally wouldn't because I'm not the featured artist, nobody is.
thanks Jimmy Herring and to Carolyn for her help and kindness.
Jimmy will be touring with the ABB through September. Catch these guys if you can. Current tour schedule here.
Jimmy will then be rejoining with Phil & Friends in October. See him, Warren Haynes, Rob Barraco, John Molo & Phil Lesh reinterpret the GD and other fine songs. Current tour schedule here.
Listen to Phil & Friends Spring Tour 2000 with Jimmy here.
Mitch Cohen (1961-2000) next to Jimmy Herring and Jazz Is Dead. We miss you Answer Man!
interview or any photos contained within may not be reprinted