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
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
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
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
JAMBASE: That seems to have been true of most Phil Friend experiences,
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.
JAMBASE: How often do you talk with Phil these days?
JH: Quite a bit, actually.
JAMBASE: The reunion shows the Q played at Terrapin Crossroads last
year, was it
easy to just slip back in?
JH: It absolutely was. It was such a special band and is still is – it
felt like a
comfortable old pair of jeans
and when we played the first show, we were all like, wow, that never really went away, did
it? Sure, we’d get better at
it if we did it more often, and I had to be reminded of a couple of things, but come on,
the last gig with the Quintet
was in 2003, and my last full gig with Phil was probably in 2005 in Vegas.
Many years had gone by, but Phil says to me, Jimmy, you know my schpiel [laughs]. We’re
all a school of fish.
Sometimes you swim at the front, or the middle, or the back, and all of this could happen
within eight bars of music.
Phil thought of the band as a school of fish – not a perfect V-formation, but…he wants to
apply nature to music. He
wants people to play with him.
JAMBASE: Will there be more Q gigs?
JH: Well, I know there’s going to be the Christmas Jam, and I know
Phil wants there
to be more. I’m hoping
that he does. It’s my favorite incarnation to play with Phil. It’s so comfortable, and
everyone knows each other so well
and is such good friends and we all know each other’s little stuff, and habits. We lived
on a bus together, man. We
played a lot of gigs back then. It was another time, but everyone loves each other all the
way to their core. I sure do
want to do more.
JAMBASE: Earlier in our conversation you mentioned exploring different
your musical vocabulary. I
know one outlet for some of those parts was the music you’ve released solo and as a
bandleader. Will you be
returning to that you think?
JH: I loved doing that. But it’s a pressure cooker when it’s got your
name on it,
man. You have to be the
type of person who’s a natural leader and can say no to people. Being a bandleader is a
whole ‘nother trip – I
personally prefer to be in the band, but not leading the band. The bandleader piece, who
knows, it’s just a kind of
pressure I’m really not good at. I wouldn’t say no, these shows would never happen again,
but what I really want to
do next is play with the Ringers, which is a project with Wayne Krantz, Keith Carlock,
Michael Landau and Etienne
JAMBASE: Ah yes.
JH: The idea is a lot of fun because we’re all really different –
everyone in this
has a different voice. Wayne
would never be confused with anyone else, and Michael Landau, he’s one of the most amazing
musicians I’ve ever
played with. Etienne, who’s from Cameroon, plays all over the world with some of the
greatest musicians alive. Keith
can do everything and he plays with Steely Dan and all that but he can also play stuff
like the Meters like he grew up
doing it. What we’re doing here is meeting in the middle and trying to create super simple
music that we can bend
and shape together.
It’s not as much pressure doing the gig as there would be if it were something with my
name on it. It’s tough, man,
there are always financial frustrations for getting plane tickets together and hotels, and
all these things people take
for granted if they’re in a band that works all the time. Sometimes you’re not drawing
enough people that you can
actually affordably get a hotel. Music is that way sometimes. And I have no regrets –
music is worth it to do if it’s
something you really love to do. But there’s no question it’s harder.
JAMBASE: So you’ll be spending some of your free weeks with the
Ringers it sounds
JH: Well, I hope so. We’re talking about doing stuff. The guy who put
together is my friend
Souvik Dutta, he runs Abstract Logix, and he put out my two records. If it wasn’t for
Souvik, I wouldn’t have done
‘em. It’s expensive to record well and no one really wants to pay to make records anymore
because no one is buying
records anymore – it’s all about live gigs.
But I feel lucky because I’ve always been about live gigs. I have the luxury of never
being in a band that’s sold a lot of
records! [laughs] The Ringers was a cool idea. I’d only met Etienne and I didn’t know
Krantz or Landau. Souvik came
to me with the idea, and I was like, but you have Krantz, and he plays in trios and he’s
like the guitar player, the
percussion player and the other voices. I was like, these guys aren’t going to want to do
this. But then they were in
and I was like, OK, now I have to do it. It’s a low pressure gig that’s tons of fun. And
Souvik’s been trying to drag me
across the ocean to play in Europe, where I’ve never been.
JAMBASE: No way! Never?
JH: That’s what all these people I know say, they don’t believe it.
But I’m 51
years old and I’ve never been
to Europe. It’s not like I haven’t had opportunities. But I’ll tell you I’m kind of
spoiled. When you go over there and
you can’t take your favorite stuff with you, you have to rent back line equipment. And I’m
like, at my age, I’m going
to sound like I want to sound, and I’ve rented enough backline equipment to know I’m not
going to do it again.
It’s a crapshoot. There’s nothing worse than someone who expects you to sound a certain
way and they’ve told their
friends, oh man, this guy has this tone, and they all come to hear you play and you’re
playing through some piece of
shit backline amp. Anyway, Souvik, he’s working on me. If I ever get to do it, I’ll do it
with the Ringers. But who
knows with Panic. Panic’s been to Japan, and we’ve been to the Dominican and places like
that, and those guys have
been to Australia and Europe but that was before I was in the band. Who knows?