My first Jimmy Herring experience came in the early 90’s. I was in the midst of my formative years as a guitar player, and I was soaking up all kinds of guitar-based music like a dry sponge. I had just started branching out from my strict diet of thrash metal and classic rock when I stumbled upon Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit. Not long after my first listen, during the summer of 1994 (I remember because I still have the shirt…), a few friends of mine and I went to the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, OH to check out Col. Bruce and the ARU live for ourselves. The jam band scene was big at the time…bands like Phish and Blues Traveler, along with events like the H.O.R.D.E. Festival, were all going strong. This band, however, seemed to have a virtuoso on every instrument playing incredibly diverse, yet universal, music. Once the show started, I knew within a few notes that the Aquarium Rescue Unit were, musically speaking, a notch (or three) above most of the bands I’d seen up until then.
Of course, as a young guitarist, my eyes were alertly focused on Herring. My jaw, however, was on the floor. Here was a guy calmly dominating the room and effortlessly morphing his style from nasty blues rock to authentic bebop, dense fusion, and blazing country. The beautiful sounds were all coming from an old Fender Stratocaster, but perfectly executed and “tone-appropriate” for every song in the varied setlist. I hadn’t ever seen anything like that up close, and needless to say, I was hooked.
Fast forward eighteen years and things haven’t really changed too much, except for the fact that the rest of the world now knows Jimmy Herring as one of the most respected and hardest working guitarists around. Having done time with The Allman Brothers, The Dead, Phil Lesh & Friends, Derek Trucks, Jazz is Dead, Frogwings, and currently, Widespread Panic, Herring has managed to log an enviable career playing with some of the most noteworthy bands and musicians in the world. In between all of his various band projects, he’s released various collaborative efforts as well as two solo albums, the latest of which is, Subject to Change Without Notice.
Herring’s diverse musical tastes take center stage on this album, and the tracks range from gypsy jazz influenced (“Red Wing Special”) to beautiful acoustic textures (“Emerald Garden”) to burning B3 funk on Jimmy McGriff’s, “Miss Poopie”. The core rhythm section revolves around Jimmy Herring Band members Jeff Sipe (Drums….Apt. Q258 for you ARU fans), Matt Slocum (Piano/Keyboards), and Neal Fountain (Bass), as well as guest bassist, Etienne Mbappé. Featured artists include, among others, Bela Fleck (“Curfew”) and Bill Evans (saxophone on the Mahavishnu Orchestra cover, “Hope”). In addition, Herring’s son, Carter Herring, contributes cello to “Hope” as well as a cover of George Harrison’s, “Within You, Without You.”
Herring will be at Martyrs’ (3855 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago) this Friday night, 8/31. While this is definitely a great chance for guitar dudes and dudettes to get some up-close looks at a six-stringed maestro, there’s really plenty for all music fans to enjoy. Whether you dig virtuoso musicianship or merely prefer a beautifully crafted melody and a good beat, you can expect to get heavy doses of both. But in what musical context you ask? That…is subject to change :)
Check out “Subject to Change Without Notice” by the Jimmy Herring Band and don’t miss them at Martyrs’, Friday 8/31 @ 9pm