New Life for the Dead
Big Shoes to Fill
Trust me, no one is going to be looking at Joan Osborne as a Jerry Garcia stand-in this summer (though make no mistake about it—she definitely has the pipes to do wonders with some of his songs). No, the poor sap who’s going to be analyzed and scrutinized and criticized ad nauseum is lead guitarist Jimmy Herring, Southern guitar phenom and veteran of such bands as the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz is Dead and, of course, Phil Lesh & Friends, where he shares axe duties with the incomparable Warren Haynes. Since I’ve never heard him speak a word or sing a note at any concert I’ve seen him play, I stupidly assume that Herring is shy and soft-spoken. Wrong! When I reach him by phone at his mom’s house in Georgia late one night, he turns out to be warm and talkative.
Asked about differences in his role as a guitarist in Phil’s band and in the Dead he says, “Playing in Phil’s band there’s less pressure, obviously, because, number one, I’m sharing the space with another lead player. It’s been the best of a lifetime playing with Warren Haynes, who I’ve known for years. But Phil’s whole thing in that band is that no one player is really the center of attention. He likes the idea of tossing the ball around constantly and his whole philosophy is, if you find yourself in your own space, stop, listen, react. He wants people constantly reacting to what they hear going on around them. You could say that in the Dead I’m more of a ‘lead guitar’ player: ‘Okay, you got it—go!’ At the same time, Phil’s philosophy for Phil and Friends is really just an extension of the Dead’s philosophy, which is also to emphasize the ensemble.”
Herring knows that he has big shoes to fill in the Dead, and to his credit he has not gone out of his way to imitate Garcia. In fact, Dead music is fairly new to him—though he “always knew that Jerry was a maestro,” Herring never saw Garcia perform and he was more influence by other guitarists.
“But I gotta tell you man, now I love Jerry’s playing,” he says. “The more I listen to it and the more I’m exposed to it—which has been a lot the last several years—the more enamored and just blown away I am by him. And it’s not just the licks that get me either, it’s his essence. His presence is incredible.”
Herring is not afraid to play the occasional Garcia lick—“to tip my hat to The Man,” as he puts it—and he understands that playing in The Dead perhaps requires a bit more of the Garcia approach than playing in Phil’s band does. Indeed, the night we speak, Herring is very excited about having recently discovered a new guitar pickup sounds that will get him closer to Garcia’s tone in certain tunes: “I’m never going to sound exactly like him—and I’m not trying to—but it was a pretty cool discovery. I can’t wait to try it out onstage.”
For their part, the other guys in the band have encouraged Herring to be himself. “These guys have made it so easy for me,” he says. “They’re very nurturing, every single one of them. They don’t care how a song was done before. They want to hear you, not you copying someone. Now, some of the fans may beg to differ,” he says with a laugh. “They might appreciate it if it’s more like it used to be. But you’re not going to please everyone. So all you can go do is go out there and do your best.”
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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