Jimmy Herring is a legend. He is the guitarist for Widespread Panic and has also released several solo albums. His latest project is the Ringers, who are touring this winter. Jimmy recently wrote in to discuss how the Ringers came together, how Widespread Panic creates a setlist, and his love of John Coltrane. For more on Jimmy Herring, check out http://www.jimmyherring.net/
You played the saxophone in high school. What first got you interested
in playing guitar?
The records that my brothers played. They were older and I wanted to like everything they liked. The music of that time was very inspiring: Hendrix, Allman Brothers Band, etc.
How did the idea for the Ringers come together?
Souvik Dutta had the idea. Then he contacted everyone to see if they would be interested in doing it. I was excited to find out that everybody wanted to do it.
What do you enjoy most about playing with the Ringers?
The diversity…everyone’s background is so different and it makes for some very interesting collaboration.
What is your creative process when writing songs?
Struggling!….No, I just play until something comes to me and other times I just hear things when I am not playing and I go from there.
No matter whom you are playing with, you always put your own spin on
things. You have played with such a wide range of bands over the
years. How do you change your approach depending on the band?
In the beginning it’s not a conscious effort to change anything. I just listen to the music without playing it until I have somewhat internalized it. Then if there’s time I grab a guitar and try to play it.
How did you become involved in Widespread Panic?
I met them in 1989. I was playing with Bruce Hampton and we went on tour opening for them. We became fast friends and stayed in touch. Years later we reconnected, started playing together again and had a blast!
How does the setlist writing process work with Widespread Panic?
They have quite a large catalog of music and it’s continuously growing. The process usually begins with me begging to get it as early as possible. (laughing)
It’s important to the band to have good flow and just the right combination of old and new music. Also, a balance between originals and selected cover tunes.
How did your touring with the Dead come together?
I was in The Phil Lesh Quintet when they decided to put The Dead back together and I was fortunate enough to be asked to join them on their tour.
You seamlessly blend together so many different styles of music within
your playing. Are there any genres that you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
What I like more than anything is basically to have no genre at all. Where elements of different styles of music come together to form something pure that has no definitive category. Having said that, if I had the opportunity I would love to be in a blues band!
Your solo work has more of a focus on jazz fusion. Who are some of
your favorite jazz players and why?
That list is so long that we could talk about it for a week and still not cover everyone. Obviously there is John Coltrane. There is a purity in Coltrane’s music that sets him apart from most musicians who play jazz. He can play the most complex chord progressions but still be connected to earth. His music sounds like the street, not like it came from books and that appeals to me. Music is subjective and it’s hard to put into words. A wise man once said, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture”.
What musicians would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?
Off the top of my head- Jeff Tain Watts, Jerry Douglas, Mark O’Connor, Bobby Vega, John Medeski, Gary Husband and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
What are your hobbies outside of music?
The great outdoors!
Do you have a quote or motto that you live by?
Just to treat everyone like you would like to be treated.
What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your career?
The biggest obstacle for ANY touring musician…time away from home and your family. It takes a very special person to keep it all together at home while their significant other is on tour.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about having a career in music?
“Just keep showing up!” Words of wisdom from my mentor Col. Bruce Hampton.
What advice would you give to guitarists just starting out?
That’s a tough one cause each person is different. Being a working musician has a lot to do with getting along with people. In many situations being a team player is more important than playing fancy licks. Ultimately, a musician is seeking their one true voice. That can be a lifelong search.