Interview | Part One | Jimmy Herring

JAMBASE: You’ve been with Panic now for seven years full-time and I can’t believe how fast that’s gone by. What do you want to accomplish with the band? You, personally.

JH: You know, I want to stay true to what the band has always been while pushing it forward. That’s not always easy. Here you have a bunch of guys who basically grew up and learned to play together. JB told me something that kind of blew my mind and that’s that he’s never really been in another band. That’s incredible.

I always wanted to have that: be in one band and grow up in that band. It didn’t work out that way for me – and I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy playing in all these amazing bands – but JB did what I think all young musicians want at some point, which is to really be in a band and not just be a hired gun or a guy that sits in with a lot of people.

JAMBASE: But it doesn’t sound like Panic ever made you feel like a hired gun.

JH: No, no, but I want to continue to write with the band. Writing is not something that comes easy to me. I throw away a lot more stuff than I keep and often people have to talk me out of throwing something away. I come up with a lot of ideas that may have come from things I’ve always loved, and that could be Bach, or Coltrane, or Led Zeppelin, or McLaughlin or P-Funk or Dixie Dregs. It’s so easy to write something that sounds like someone else, and it’s so hard to write something that people go, that sounds like you, or they instantly know who it is. That’s something I’m always working on with the band.

With Panic, I’m still in some ways trying to find my way. There are parts of my musical vocabulary that just wouldn’t fit in with his group, but that’s true of just about every band I’ve ever played with. We have a lot of songs in Panic in minor keys, and what happens to me sometimes is that I find it easy to exhaust my particularly vocabulary on one subject.

If we’re doing a show on a particular night, and in the setlist we have five minor-key songs in a row, sometimes I’m worried we’re having the same conversation a few times. So personally I want to bring in some other tonalities, maybe some we don’t commonly work out of -- some other spice in what we do, so I can keep adding.

[Photo by Ian Rawn]

JAMBASE: If you don’t mind my asking, when after you joined Panic did you start feeling like more of a member of the band and less of, if not a hired gun, a new guy in the lineup?

JH: Well, they’ve been my friends for so long – I’ve known them from ’89 – so I always felt welcome. But no one is as hard on you as you are. I’m not really an Internet person so it’s not like I’m going on message boards looking for dirt, but I also know there has to be some frustration out there sometimes about how I play – you’re just not going to please everyone.

You’re dealing with a band with 27 years of history and a lot of diehard fans, man! I know what that’s like. When a band like Panic loses one of its shining lights…[pause]…when Mikey passed, that’s just hard. For anyone who was his friend or near his family or a big fan of the band, it’s just never going to be the same. That’s a testament to Mike, you can’t just go replace a guy like him, he had his own sound.

I think Panic was similar to the Dead in that way. Those guys in the Dead all learned how to play coming up with Garcia. And after Garcia passed, they all had to find a new way to play – they could try to play the way they always did when he was alive, but if Jerry’s not there to be part of that, it’s just not going to sound the same. The guys in Panic had to react much the same way. They came up together, they lived together, they were longtime friends – it’s a deep thing. I mean, they can get someone else to fill that void, but it’s not going to be the same, and you know that, and I know that.

I had a long talk with all of them about this when I first joined. I didn’t know that they would want me to stay – I really did think this was going to be temporary. They’re a family organization. They don’t want some bitchin’ guitar player, they want someone they can get along with and feel comfortable with.

I’m not hung up on it anymore. I’ve gone through periods where I felt real comfortable with the band and that I had a balance in between how much I wanted to play Mike’s lines and how much I could put my own thing in there. There are still times when I’m uncomfortable, and I think, I’m not paying enough attention to the original here.

JAMBASE: How do you wrestle with that?

JH: I go through changes and cycles. My basic approach was to listen to the records and listen to the live stuff, and if there was a certain type of thing every time – say, Mikey played the intro to "Surprise Valley" a certain way – and it’s on literally every version I’ve ever heard of it, well, I began to view that as a part. I need to play it that way every time we play the song. And when I heard him do things completely different, I knew it wasn’t something I needed to learn because he was changing it.

It’s always a work in progress. But this is the third major incarnation of the band and they guys are always telling me, man, don’t be hung up on playing like anyone else but you. But I do wrestle with it. If you’re going to stand in the spot where a beloved person once stood and that person reached people deep in their hearts, you have to be respectful of that territory.

I tell you, I never saw this coming. And I never believed I’d play with the Allman Brothers, or play with Phil and Bobby, either. I never thought I’d get a call from JB saying come play with Panic – you could have knocked me over with a feather! So to get back to what you had asked about, I know I play more on the jazz side of rock ‘n’ roll, but I have long hair, and I play a solid-body guitar through a really loud amplifier. There are things with me that are going to come into the music, and some people will say, well, this isn’t what I remember, but you just have to play from the heart as much as you have to do your homework.

Check back on Thursday for the second part of our chat with Mr. Herring.

[Published on: 10/22/13]

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