Interview | Part Two | Jimmy Herring

Written By: Chad Berndtson
:: Interview - Jimmy Herring :: Part Two ::

Earlier this week, Jimmy Herring filled JamBase in on the state of all things Widespread Panic and opened up a bit on his approach to Panic’s music over the past seven years. Herring, of course, is involved in many other pursuits outside of the band, and here in Part 2 of our interview, delves into the Phil Lesh Quintet reunion, his work with the Ringers and other pressing topics.

[Photo by Ian Rawn]

JAMBASE: You’re part of upcoming reunions of two beloved bands in the scene: the Phil Lesh Quintet and Aquarium Rescue Unit. Regarding the Q, you played in a bunch of different Phil lineups and also with The Other Ones and The Dead, but I take it you’d agree that the Q was really a special lineup.

JH: Absolutely. There was absolutely something special there. I think friendship was a big part of it. I’ve known Warren for so long. We’re both from North Carolina and grew up listening to many of the same influences, and we just got to be such good friends, you know? That enters the music.

I didn’t know Rob [Barraco] before I played with him with Phil, but it didn’t take long at all to feel like he’d been one of my best friends for 30 years. He’s just that type of person – he’s so cool. We called him “The Oracle.” If you ever had any question regarding Grateful Dead music or what it sounds like, it was “Ask Barraco!” He had the answer to any Grateful Dead question, talking about the tunes and whatever else, he just knows that stuff so well.

And John Molo, I mean, shit, he played with Bruce Hornsby, and I’d done a tour opening for Hornsby with ARU and gotten to be friends with John then, and that was like, I don’t know, ’95-’96? But that I actually got to meet with him and play with him four years later – it was 2000 that the Quintet came together – it’s incredible.

And then of course there’s Phil. Any band Phil Lesh is in is going to be great because of Phil and his philosophy – the way he approaches music – is just so unique. I looked at it like an incredible learning experience.

JAMBASE: That seems to have been true of most Phil Friend experiences, especially the four of you guys.

JH: Yeah. Being around Phil, Phil never tells you what to do, he just gives you an outlet. Bruce Hampton is like that but a different flavor. Both are a different color, but what they do is give you this outlet to be yourself, and have this freedom – this freedom you can’t get playing with anyone else.

With Bruce, it was always, I don’t want to hear Steve Morse, or Jimmy Page, I want to hear you. What do you sound like? You’ve got a little girl? She’s two years old? Great, play that. That was Bruce’s thing. Phil was different, but he’d set these unique parameters. He’d want you to listen and react. He doesn’t want you to be in your own space. He doesn’t like solos – I remember early on “solo” became the S-word in Phil’s band. We didn’t use that term because Phil doesn’t like it because it means one. In that band we’re having a conversation.

It was such a joy, and I learned more about that type of playing from Phil than anyone else. Some people never quite understood it. We’d come to a show and there’d be people there who knew me from ARU, and they’d talk to me after the show and be like, man, why aren’t you playing? They couldn’t quite understand how completely and utterly different that was than just going up there to play solos, and people who didn’t know Phil and the Dead thing thought I was holding back!

I tried to describe it as that conversation – people trying to talk with each other. If I sit up there and just play a bunch of notes all night, no one else gets to talk, it’s just me talking. For us it was like going through school of some sort – we called it PLU. Sometimes there would be songs where Warren, or I, or Barraco might take a solo, but when we were improvising and really going deep, that’s what Phil was after and where he wanted us to be listening to each other.

His whole thing used to be, if you find yourself in your own space, stop, listen and react. It’s hard to do if you’re just to just playing songs. But we were able to do that and I believe we got as close to what Phil was shooting for with that band than anything I ever did with him. It’s not something you can turn off and on. But we played a lot of gigs together. After a long time, that’s when it got really good.


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