Jimmy; on love, loss and moving forward
Herring's new band, The Invisible Whip, stops by the Cox Capitol Theatre on July 27. Brad Evans got the Chance to talk to Jimmy last week.
American guitarist Jimmy Herring is a musician’s musician. His formidable technique is in service of a vast harmonic and rhythmic imagination, forged by decades on the road and a myriad of influences spanning jazz, rock, country, and the outer limits of improvised music. The North Carolina native has been playing guitar for close to 40 years – and he’s just getting started: The past five years alone have seen him share the stage with one of his musical heroes, reconvene one of the most influential outfits he helped form, set out with a versatile new ensemble, and release his most challenging, dynamic solo album yet. His new band, The Invisible Whip, stops by the Cox Capitol Theatre on July 27. Brad Evans got the chance to talk to Jimmy last week.
How are you doing, man? Where’re you at?
I’m at home; I’ve been for a little while. It’s really nice to be home for a while.
So, I was in a fishing tourney with you, many years ago now, down in Costa Rica – Taj Mahal Fishing Blues Tournament. You won the biggest fish, with a 500-pound Marlin.
Oh man – I won’t ever forget that. That was so much fun.
Our friend Bill Lucado put that tourney on.
Oh, yeah – love that guy, man. I was just with him the other day – we were looking at some property out there with him.
He has been my most legendary friend for a very long time.
He’s everyone’s most legendary friend! I absolutely love that guy.
Jimmy, you’ve played with The Dead, The Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic, Col. Bruce and the Aquarian Rescue Unit – just to name a few. Would you agree that you have the best resume in rock history?
Man, I’m so thankful for every breath and every day. I could never have imagined what was ahead of me when I was younger. I could have never seen the things that would happen.
When did you get your first guitar?
I was probably 10. I don’t think I really started doing much on it until I was 13. But by the time I was 16, I was very serious about it.
Did you know you were good at 16?
Ha. No. I’m still waiting for that realization. But I did know that I wanted to play for the rest of my life. I knew this was what I was gonna do for the rest of my life. It’s such an iffy business; I’ve never thought about that, though. I was never motivated by the business side of the music thing. Now that scared my parents. They were both upstanding, educated members of the community. But they were VERY supportive, so I always believed I was doing something right. My parents knew that I had found what I wanted to do with my life, and even though it was alien to them, they supported me. And I really can’t stress that enough, I would have gone nowhere without that support.
Being a parent, I can understand what a big deal that support is, and I can also understand how hard that support is to give, especially when your child is into something like music – which can be a little dicey when it comes to security.
I know, man. And It doesn’t have to be just music. My daughter is an artist; she’s 28 now. We didn’t push anything on them. We encouraged our kids to do whatever they wanted to do. I just felt like that was really important, because of the support I had gotten.
When Gregg passed, they did the big concert at the Big House with all the kids playing, I was standing there thinking, “Wow, it’s kind of strange that so many kids of the Allman Brothers got into music and are this good at it.” But really, it’s not that strange, is it? With something like that looming over you as a kid, something that huge, how could you not want to be a part of that? I’m sure your kids have felt that same thing. That’s a pretty huge force in life.
They are definitely driven to do what they do. I’m excited for them; of course, being their father, I’m biased. I think they are great at it. They know what they are doing with their life and they are going about it. But for me, I was 38 years old before I had any level of financial security, playing music. And at any point during that time, it would have been really easy for my wife to say, “Hey Jimmy, this isn’t working.”
It’s time to buy some khakis, Jimmy.
Exactly. But she didn’t. There was talk about getting a “real job” – but it didn’t last long. I just couldn’t do anything else. This isn’t a choice for me. It’s a way of life. I would still be doing it if it was $600 a month. I did it for a long time for less than that.
One of the guys that helped you along during those days was Col. Bruce Hampton. I would love to hear about your experience with him on the day we lost him. I will never forget how I felt when I heard what happened: It made me happy, and it seemed perfect. But I know being there, it didn’t feel that way.
No, it didn’t. Time heals all. It’s been seven weeks today. I’m still shocked; I’m still grieving. I miss him every day. But yeah, he would have thought it was perfect. He told me many times, that “everything is always perfect.” He said that more than a few times. On that level, you have that idea to try and help you through it. But the selfish side of me wants to talk to him again. He has been a mentor and a muse for so many of us – I still feel like one is better than the other – but in my experience, there are two kinds of musicians: Those who have played with Bruce and those who have not. And I want to play with those that have played with Bruce. I don’t mean one is better than the other. All the Panic guys hold Bruce in the highest regard; he is our Muse. And all the guys in my new band, they all played with Bruce and loved him. All our crew members loved him. All my family members, my mom and dad – they loved Bruce. Being around Bruce made you want to work hard. He was an inspiration. Losing him like that was hard – he was 20 feet from me. Really tough. And he wasn’t the kind of guy who you could go tell him how much you loved him. If it wasn’t for Bruce, I’d probably be working in a music store or something – I don’t know what I’d be doing. It was hard for him to accept those kinds of things. In recent years, I told him I loved him. And I’m glad I did. He knew, but I’m glad I told him.
Tell me about the Invisible Whip.
Well it’s a group of guys who want to get out of the way and let music take care of everything. That’s a term that’s been around for a long time. Bruce didn’t create the term, but it was him that introduced me to it. He used it sort of in a way to describe an invisible force that propels you. He used to always talk about playing like you had a cocked gun at your back. So, when they came to me and told me we needed a name, that’s what came to me. But I’ve played with these guys forever; we play well together, and I’m looking forward to going out with them. Excited to be coming back to Macon!