In Case You Missed It
Boulderganic Fall 2009
Student Guide 2009
Boulder Weekly Sweet 16 Anniversary
Summer Scene 2009
Best of Boulder 2009
Annual Manual 2009
Newspaper of the Future
Kids Camp Guide 2009
Wedding Marketplace 09
Student Guide 2008
Best of Boulder 2008
Annual Manual 2008
Join Our Mailing List
June 4- June 10, 2009
Captaining the lifeboat
Jimmy Herring finally steps into the
spotlight with his debut solo album
by Dave Kirby
After 20 years playing lead guitar as ringer for bands like the Allman Brothers, The Dead, Aquarium Rescue Unit and Widespread Panic, guitarist Jimmy Herring finally takes a breather from all the stadium-venue MVP stuff and cuts a smart solo debut, tours his own band and tries to be the guy in charge.
We usually try not to ambush musicians with echoes of interviews long past, but when Herring’s solo debut landed on our doorstep, and we saw a slew of local dates announced, we had to scurry back to our archives for a little… perspective.
We caught Herring back in 1999, just as Jazz Is Dead was coming through town for a two-night stint at the Fox. Wrangled by longtime producer and band manager Michael Gaiman, the surprisingly effective fusion/Dead cover project initially featured Herring on guitar with legendary fusion monsters like drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Alphonso Johnson, although the lineup evolved with each subsequent tour.
Herring had been playing with the group for a couple years by October of that year, since its inception, and he told us at that time that he was planning to take a little time off to do a solo record. Ten years later, Herring’s solo debut, Lifeboat, a guitar-fusion tour de force and a million miles from the freeform improv groove of the JID days, drifts into view.
Ten years is a pretty wide arc, so we wondered…. was this the record that subsequent stints with Phil and Friends, The Dead, The Allman Brothers Band and Widespread Panic delayed?
“To be honest with you, I don’t know what it was I was referring to. It was so long ago. Was that… was Derek playing at that show with us? ’Cause I think… yeah, it was Jazz Is Dead, but he was a guest those two nights, when we did the album Wake Of The Flood all the way through.
“He was there, because I remember his van broke down, and we all had to help him push.”
The good ol’ days.
“But the album I might have been referring to at the time was something with [drummer Jeff] Sipe and him and Oteil [Burbridge] and Kofi [Burbridge]. And we’re still trying to make that album.”
So much for closing the loop.
But like any observer of the jam scene over the past decade already knows, it’s not like Herring has been languishing in solo-artist stasis. First cast on a national stage as the sparkplug lead axe-man for the manic-virtuoso outfit Aquarium Rescue Unit in 1989, regulars on the groundbreaking H.O.R.D.E. tours and headed by longtime Atlanta-based madman Col. Bruce Hampton, Herring moved through a series of lead-guitar jobs — anchoring Jazz Is Dead, touring with the Allman Brothers in 2000, joining Phil Lesh initially on the near-Dead project The Other Ones, then as part of Phil and Friends and eventually The Dead in 2003 and 2004, playing with Bobby Lee Rodgers in The Codetalkers, and winding up in George McConnell’s vacated lead-guitar seat in Widespread Panic in 2006.
Not a bad resume, but one likely to relegate a solo career as kind of a second-job distraction.
“I see it all as a tremendous blessing of luck… to have this opportunity to play in these different contexts, with different people. I never saw that coming for myself. I was never looking for that. I was looking for one band to get in being with for 30 years. Like when I look at Panic, you know, and realize JB’s never been in another band. That impresses me.
“And I thought ARU was the one, the band I’d be in for 30 years, but you know, it just wasn’t meant to be that way.
“So… when the phone rang, I would just go ‘Hello…?’, and it would be T. [Lavitz] going, ‘Hey, you want to play with me and Billy Cobham and Alphonso Johnson?’ And I’d just say, ‘Man… send an ambulance. Course I do.’
“And then the phone would ring again, and it’d be someone else… I mean, it was just amazing, and it’s still amazing, every day.”
But if Herring brought to all these groups an empathetic virtuosity and a keen ear, persuading a different shade of each band’s character rather than applying broad brushstrokes of his own style, you may never tell from Lifeboat, a record, in some ways, that pays homage to the great guitar instrumentalist records of the ’70s and ’80s — ranging from the gnarled and frantic fusion licks of “Scapegoat Blues,” the Zawinul-ish skip of “Transients,” the poised, anthemic blues ballad “Lifeboat Serenade” and the gauzy impressionism of “Gray Day.” Liberated from the constraints of each employer’s oeuvre, even the relatively relaxed ones of improv-sympathetic bosses like Phil Lesh, Herring has his own sandbox to play in and serves up tightly managed six-minute bits of pure fusion jazz, fire without undue showiness, poise without posturing. Think more Carlton and Coryell, less Betts and Garcia.
And backed by longtime co-conspirators like Sipe, the Burbridges, Rodgers and keyboardist Matt Slocum, it comes across as a decidedly organic band record… even if it really wasn’t one.
We wondered how the 47-year-old guitarist is taking to life as the bandleader.
“Man, I’m really digging this, but I’m not digging the bandleader part of it. I don’t look at it like that. I never wanted to do that.
“I’m playing with all these people I’ve known for so long, like Sipe and Oteil… at least with the core of the group, it’s like I’m playing with my buddies that I’ve known a long time, you know? I’m playing with friends, and these musicians are so good, I don’t want to tell people what to do.”
But while Sipe and others were in on all the sessions, a few of the other contributors — Derek Trucks, for example, who delivers a weeping slide lead on “Lifeboat Serenade” — had to contribute remotely, or after the fact, or in another studio. Precisely the kind of process that can lead to a kind of punch-card sterility.
“That’s very true and that was my biggest concern. But it didn’t start out that way, and I didn’t know it was going to be that way… but once it was known, you know, ‘Well, if you want to get these people to play, they’re not going to be able to play at the same time,’ I was just like, well, it’s the studio. It is what it is.
“This all happened because it was going to be a group album, and when it turned out differently, all them just said, ‘Jimmy… just make it your album.’”
For More Info:
Jimmy Herring performs with his friends at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10, at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.
Herring also performs on June 7 at the Telluride Jazz Fest in Telluride, June 9 at the Belly Up in Aspen, June 11 at Aggies Theatre in Ft. Collins, and June 12 and 13 at Cervantes in Denver.
Respond: email@example.com to top