JoJo Hermann: A Bayou Gratitude

 
I do feel some kind of sense of satisfaction that we are spreading New Orleans music and that we are spreading the gospel of Professor Longhair. I've got to thank those guys, because if it weren't for Professor Longhair or Dr. John or Allen Toussaint, I'd probably be in the Bowery begging for quarters from unemployed stock brokers.

-JoJo on the Mardi Gras Band

 
Photo of Professor Longhair from www.myspace.com/professorlonghair1

Getting back into your ska roots, would you revisit that in a more specific capacity? Seems like you have all types of Southern music dialed. Will we ever see you coming back with a ska band?

JoJo Hermann
I was kind of a support player with that. I just played the rhythms. To play that stuff, you need to have a bass and drum section that really knows what they are doing. You can't just get in a garage with a bunch of players who don't know what they are doing. If Sly & Robbie asked me to play, I would do it. But, there are so many different rhythms - ska, rock steady, reggae, rumbas and boogies - and they are all mixed in. You really need a rhythm section that is very, very hip to all the nuances of the music. We incorporate it in the Mardi Gras Band. It is kind of like a ska beat. It is called "blue beat" and basically, it is a walking boogie bassline with a ska right hand. It is kind of like ska, except with a boogie bassline instead of a reggae bassline. It almost sounds like all the rhythms are mixed with each other, and we bring a lot of that in the Mardi Gras Band. Those rhythms and the Caribbean rhythms are a big part of New Orleans music.

What is satisfying for you about the Mardi Gras Band?

I do feel some kind of sense of satisfaction that we are spreading New Orleans music and that we are spreading the gospel of Professor Longhair. I've got to thank those guys, because if it weren't for Professor Longhair or Dr. John or Allen Toussaint, I'd probably be in the Bowery begging for quarters from unemployed stock brokers. It is satisfying getting that music out there, but it is about having a good time.

What does the Mardi Gras Band do for you that Panic or Smiling Assassins don't?

It is all part of the same thing. It is like saying to a baseball player, "What is it about winter league in the Caribbean that does something for you that playing in the U.S. doesn't?" Well, its baseball. I like playing both. I love baseball so much that I'll play winter league, too. And the weather is good.

What is the state of Smiling Assassins right now? Will there be time with everyone's schedule to do another tour or record?

We are going to record some more. It's tough for all of us to get together these days. Luther [Dickinson] is so busy with The Black Crowes and Cody [Dickinson] has a band [Hill Country Revue] that he's got going. The North Mississippi Allstars, I know they are opening for Panic down in Orange Beach and I'm gonna hook up with those guys, you know, do an Assassins song down there. And a couple of songs made it in to Panic, "Smoking Factory" and others. We'll do a "Smoking Factory" in Orange Beach, reunited.

You had "Daisy Mae" out there for awhile and that kind of went away.

JoJo Hermann by Ian Rawn
Yeah, you know, "Daisy Mae" just needs to rest in peace. She had a rough life and I feel like out of respect I'll just let her memory kind of rest out in the pasture [laughs].

So, what's in your future?

I've been in contact with the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation. I've gotten together with them and I have been hanging out with Mac - Dr. John - and we've been talking about doing something in New Orleans together for the foundation. I've been working on that. We've just started the ball rolling and getting some stuff together to help the New Orleans Musicians Clinic. I've been working on that in the back room. Musically, Panic has some very exciting things in store and I'm not allowed to talk about it. But, the minute Buck [Williams - manager] says I can talk about it, I'll give you a call.

Tell me about living near Nashville. How does that influence you as a musician?

It really influences me a lot. It is not just the country - I mean they call it country - there are a lot of different sides to Nashville. There is so much talent in this town. I kind of hooked up with some really great songwriters and am hanging out writing some songs, learning their craft. I really don't do sessions. I'm just really bad at it. I definitely like to hang out with the songwriters more in the studios and the houses and such. I'm actually shopping a couple of those Assassin songs to some country labels. My lyrics country singers won't sing. It just doesn't fit that country thing, so I'm working some lyrics that just aren't so silly. Like "Daisy Mae," I just can't sell her in this town. "Daisy Mae" is like politics. There are certain things you just don't talk about in this town and "Daisy Mae" is one of them.

How have you changed as a songwriter then in Nashville?

JoJo's Mardi Gras Band
I don't know if I can say Nashville has influenced me. That would be hard to say. I've been very, very influenced by Dr. John lately and have gotten into his stuff. His songwriting is blowing my mind and I've really delved into it. That is where I am at right now, just going through every album Dr. John has ever made, and I'm just blown away by the songwriting. He just tells it like it is, man, he doesn't hold it back. His new album, The City That Care Forgot, I highly, highly recommend. It is the most honest record made about New Orleans I've heard in a long time.

How have you changed as a live musician?

I've calmed down a little bit, play more in the pocket than I used to. Some people are like, "How come you don't do all that crazy stuff, that rapid fire stuff you do with your hands?" Well, I've sobered up. I'm growing up. I don't want to say I've matured; I certainly haven't done that. I used to step all over everybody. God, I listen to some of those tapes from fifteen years ago and just go, "God, what am I thinking?"

Let's get into Panic. Three years ago, from an audience perspective, things we're cooking along. Earth to America just came out...

...I love that album.

Continue reading for more on JoJo...


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