Interview | Part One | Jimmy Herring

Written By: Chad Berndtson

:: Interview - Jimmy Herring :: Part One ::

If it’s true that Jimmy Herring is one of the scene’s greatest and most versatile guitar players, it’s also true that he’s one of its nicest, most affable presences: a disarming, gregarious, easy-to- chuckle North Carolinian who’s gained respect the world over as both a musician and a person.

[Photo by Joshua Timmermans]

Here’s what’s harder to believe: he’s been lead guitarist with Widespread Panic for seven (!) years now, and he’s the busiest he’s ever been in his long, multifarious career. As Widespread Panic prepares to kick off the October/November leg of its fall tour this week, Herring opened up to us about the current state of all things Panic, from how he’s settled in behind the legacy of Michael Houser to the audiophile choices that make acoustic tours fun, but challenging.

Check out his comments below, and stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview, in which he delves into the Phil Lesh Quintet reunion, the Aquarium Rescue Unit, the Ringers and what he simply won’t do now that he’s an “older guy.”

JAMBASE: So you guys came back from hiatus and I know hiatus always sounds like a dirty word, especially if there’s tension or some weirdness in the band. But it really doesn’t sound like that was the case for Panic.

JH: No, man, not at all. Everyone’s got a family. People just…I mean, it’s a luxury afforded to a band as lucky as we are. The band, these guys built this thing and it’s been going on 27 years or something like that. They’ve been together long enough that it’s important to take time. There wasn’t anyone who felt like, oh, you know, this is a drag, or something. People need time to spend time with their kids and go to the doctor and have check-ups and whatever. I can’t think of the last time I’d gone to the doctor [laughs].

JAMBASE: Ah, so it’s you going for the check-ups.

JH: [My wife] was all over me, man! She was right, and I still haven’t done the full-blown colonoscopy or what you’re supposed to get done. [Yells into the next room] Hey we’re going to skip music, let’s talk about assholes!

JAMBASE: [laughs] We can take this any which way you want, but I do have to be mindful of our readers…

JH: I’m just teasing, man, I’m saying it loud enough so she could hear me. But yeah, everyone just wanted to do some other musical projects. Dave did. I did. Todd had all kinds of things he wanted to work on, you know? That’s what the time was about.

JAMBASE: You guys came back and sounded strong and it seems like it’s been a real solid year of touring. Any particular shows from the last six months stand out?

JH: Oh yeah, the John Fogerty show. That was fun. Vegas stands out. You know what it was about Vegas? We’d just played a bunch of high-altitude gigs and I’m not talking about Red Rocks so much as places like Grand Targhee. We did a whole string of those and, you know, we’re not young guys, most of us are over or near 50, and for whatever reason, you just don’t feel good and it just doesn’t always sound good up that high altitude. So we’d done several high-altitude gigs in a row and then going to Vegas after that it was like, wow, oh yeah, this is what we’re supposed to sound like.

And playing at that place the Joint, one of our really dear friends, John Rogan was there. He was our bus driver for a long time and during the off year he did some other stuff and got another really great gig, so we don’t have him full time anymore. It was great to see him and for him to be there on a night when we were on.

And then the John Fogerty gig, man, it was great and it wasn’t just that. The [Lockn'] festival had Derek and Susan with us the next night, and I sat in with Furthur, and it was like old home week. The Black Crowes were there, Phil and Bobby, Bruce Hampton, Jeff Sipe - it was so many old friends. And I didn’t know Fogerty but I felt like I made a really good new friend of someone I always admired and loved.

JAMBASE: Did you rehearse much with Fogerty before that show?

JH: No, just a little bit. The day before, we rented this theater in Charlottesville for the day and we played with John then. He was so much fun to work with. He was super cool, laid back, and so was his guitar tech.

JAMBASE: How did he communicate what songs you guys were going to do together?

JH: He and JB had been staying in contact over e-mail and JB had been keeping in contact with us saying, "here’s what I think he wants to do." That was a dream come true for me because I got to learn the songs before the day of the show – that happens all the time – so I got to pay special attention to his music.

If you listen to the Creedence records, what’s interesting is that John is playing all this syncopated stuff and there’s of course another guitar. Well we had three guitars up there with him, JB and me so I wasn’t sure what my role was going to be and I figured, I’ll learn it both ways – I’m down with whatever Mr. Fogerty wants to do. He was so generous with the space in his music. It was fun. I haven’t heard any of it yet and I’m not sure I want to. Sometimes you remember it one way and then you hear it and it’s not as good as you thought [laughs]. But I think it went pretty well.

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