Jimmy Herring Crafts His Own Lifeboat (Relix Revisited)
Photo by Ellis Jones
Herring acknowledges that along the way some of his acquaintances questioned these pursuits.
“I’ve had this conversation with people in the jazz world who thought it was a sell-out thing if you played with people who play in front of huge crowds and generate a lot of income. I don’t feel I have to defend myself but I would try to explain, ‘Look, this is part of who I am, too.’ I like to play loud and I like to play distorted and I like to bend notes and vibrato like Angus Young. You always have to be in touch with your roots. So when I’m called to play with The Allman Brothers, they’re totally my roots. Then with the Dead, that was a challenge and I’m always up for a challenge. I couldn’t copy Jerry because that wouldn’t be right, but yet I couldn’t play the way I normally play. And for anyone who thinks that was an easy gig, I challenge them to learn 280 songs.”
Then in 2006 he received an offer that he had declined four years earlier. Michael Houser originally had envisioned Herring as his successor in Widespread Panic but Herring had declined due to his prior commitments. When John Bell called him with a similar offer in 2006, he opted to give it a go and the impact would lead Herring to his Lifeboat.
“Being around them and learning their catalog and just talking to JB, his philosophy is very similar to a jazz musician. He never really does it the same way twice. If you listen to him play, he’s totally improvising almost all the time and when he sings he’s totally improvising all the time. I was so inspired. We were playing gigs and when we’d get to the hotel room I would play another three hours some nights. And I started studying some and that’s when the nucleus for these tunes started popping up.”
However energized he was about the new material, Herring retained his initial reluctance to serve as a band leader. Instead, he envisioned a group project with Derek Trucks, Jeff Sipe and the Burbridges. Trucks’ label commitments and the fact Herring already had songs good to go, ultimately led his friends and colleague to nudge him toward his solo debut recording. However, in many respects, he sees this as a Jimmy Herring project in name alone.
“To me it was all about making a record of music and not guitar music. Some people might be disappointed because they thought it would be a guitar shred festival the whole time but I didn’t want to do that. The idea was to have the music be the main thing, not the guitar. That’s why the flute and the horn and the different musicians are featured as much as I am.”
Lifeboat offers ten instrumentals delivered by a core band of Herring, Sipe and Oteil, with Kofi appearing on most tracks and Trucks on a pair as well. The focus is on the compositions, which are the product of an avowed “rock and roll musician who loves jazz.” One senses Herring’s deep admiration of Mahavishnu, the Dregs, Allan Holdsworth and Wayne Shorter. Yet while there is a complexity to the compositions, they rarely come across as flashy. Herring explains, “Being around all these songwriters for the last eight years, hanging around Bob Weir, Warren [Haynes], Bobby Lee Rodgers, JB and the boys from Panic, kind of rubbed off on me a little bit, even if these songs are very different. What I was hoping to achieve with this record was to have a spiritual connection but in the context of the songs.”
One can also call Lifeboat progressive music in the sense that it builds on the spiral of Herring’s career, while remaining true to his core passions that have long animated him. To underscore this point is a version of the “Jungle Book Overture,” a song that first captivated Herring as a five-year-old, long before he picked up a guitar. So too, the performances carry a certain fitting resonance, as Herring affirms, “It reminds me of 1986 all over again when Sipe called me and said ‘These brothers just moved into my house from Virginia Beach and they’re killing it.’”
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