Jimmy Herring: Talkin' Blues, Bluegrass and More
AAJ: That's beautiful, I wondered how you got that sound. And you know what else grabbed me about that song, towards the end there are some sections where your guitar sounds so much like a blues harp, like you're channeling Little Walter or something. Is that something you were shooting for?
JH: In a way I had been shooting for that, I'd been experimenting with the tremolo arm on the Stratocaster-of course Jeff Beck is the king that, but I'd been experimenting with that for a while. I'd found these things that kind of sounded like slide guitar, but I hadn't used it on my last record.
But about two-and-half or three years ago, I started experimenting with the twang bar on the guitar and found these little things that kind of sound like harmonica, and they started creeping into my improvisations. Sometimes it sounded like slide guitar, sometimes like harmonica, and now and then you might hear something that sounds like bagpipes.
Of course, after listening to Derek Trucks for all these years, some of his influence would start creeping in, as would Duane Allman, Elmore James, Little Walter, Snooky Pryor, and some of the other great harmonica players. Even Billy Gibbons, the stuff he did on the early ZZ Top records where he'd take a harmonica solo-these types of things just start creeping in.
So I'd found these little things, and the end of the song seemed like the best place to use them. I think I took two solos at the end of that song, and John Keane and I used parts of both of them.
AAJ: Also, there's a similar kind of thing on "Aberdeen" I wanted to ask you about. There are a couple of places on that song where your guitar sounds uncannily like a human voice, again, am I reading too much into that, or where you shooting for that?
JH: I was definitely shooting for that. That was a conscious thing. All of the melody parts were done on a Telecaster and I didn't have a twang bar on that, but the solo in the middle I used a Stratocaster twang bar on it, and I was going for a gospel singer. You know, singers like Mahalia Jackson and Susan Tedeschi-because I've been around Susan and heard her sing a lot, I'm sure when I was playing that, in the back of my mind I was drawing on that influence.
The twang bar on the guitar really helps you go to a more vocal place because it can kind of make the frets disappear, and at times you come off sounding more like a singer. Sometimes, a harp player, or a slide guitarist. You know, "Within You Without You" was done the same way, but they all sound different.
AAJ: Let me ask you something totally different about the very first track, "Red Wing Special." There is something really special about Western swing, to me it's almost like a mirror image of blues. It's every bit as intense, but instead of being aggressive and raunchy, it's sweet and happy.
JH: Absolutely, yeah I see that.
AAJ: That's got to be a blast to play, but keeping that swing moving seems like a real challenge?
JH: Well yes, but you're spelling the chord changes with the improvisation-just like in jazz, with the change it goes to a different scale. So my goal is to be able to spell the chord changes with the lines that I'm playing during the improvisation.
So this is a basic blues with a turnaround. It's coming more from a minor 6th blues as opposed to a dominant blues, which I'm more comfortable doing.
But that little tune came into my head, and once I wrote the tune I thought, I can't really improvise over this, I going to have to spend a lot of time shedding these chord changes, and approaching playing over these chord changes.
The idea is-it's not a Dixieland kind of tune or anything, but some years ago I really got into Pete Fountain, a brilliant clarinetist from New Orleans. Their approach to playing blues, the type blues they do, it's not about the dominant 7th like it is with the kind of blues I grew up learning. It's more about the 6th than it is the flat 7th and it's a whole other kind of blues.
So I remember learning several of Pete Fountain's progressions and lines some years ago and that's were some of that tune came from.
AAJ: And you had Nicky Sanders, a classically trained violinist who studied jazz and plays bluegrass, and a Cameroonian bassist, it's pretty wild! And Jeff Snipes' brush work is beautiful.
JH: Oh yeah, that is masterful! He blew us all away.
AAJ: I have a hard time picking a favorite on this album, because it changes with my mood. But I'll tell you, as a big B3 fan, the song "12 Keys" is wonderful, and Matt Slocum's playing is fantastic. Did he transcribe those duets you did together, they're so intricate? I love that, it's so light and airy.
JH: Thank you so much. Oh man, Matt is incredible. We were playing that originally as a sketch to improvise on, and I hadn't written a head for it. We would play the chord progression and then take solos over it, and we recorded that as a sketch.
But as we got ready to record it, I knew I had to write a head for it. So I got together with John Keane and did three takes improvising over the progression. We then narrowed down three pieces from those improvisations, and I ended up writing a head based on them. Then I recorded the head and sent it to Matt, which he then learned note-for-note. A couple of days later he came back to the studio and recorded his part, basically doubling with me. Of course his solo is totally his creation.