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Jimmy Herring Band plays Aspen

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
The Jimmy Herring Band plays Belly Up Aspen on Tuesday.
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ASPEN – Jimmy Herring finally has a reason to talk about himself. The guitarist, who has played in the Allman Brothers Band and Phil Lesh & Friends, and is currently a member of Widespread Panic, has, in his mid-40s, at last put his name in lights, with the album “Lifeboat,” released in October, and several months of touring as the Jimmy Herring Band.Herring, though, is in the habit of deflecting attention away from himself. So within minutes, he has steered the conversation away from the namesake of his current project, and toward other figures in the music world: Souvik Dutta, who persuaded Herring to record “Lifeboat” for his Abstract Logix label; Narada Michael Walden, the drummer and composer who wrote much of the music on Jeff Beck’s 1976 “Wired” album, a favorite of Herring’s; and Kofi Burbridge, the keyboardist/flutist who contributed two tunes – both written when Burbridge was in 10th grade – to “Lifeboat.”Onstage, Herring has that same reticence to be in the spotlight. In the band that bears his name, he doesn’t occupy center-stage; that honor belongs to saxophonist Greg Osby. Herring, who doesn’t sing, says that he needs to be close to his amps and to the drummer – Jeff Sipe, in the current band – which dictates his positioning off to the side.”I just always felt like music was a collaborative effort. At least, the kind of music I’ve wanted to do,” Herring said of his preference for being a band member, rather than a band leader. “It’s not one person’s vision. Putting my name on music – that’s hard for me to do – unless you’ve written every part of it. A set of chord changes and a melody – that defines a composition. But everything else, what other people play on it, that adds to the whole thing.”Avoiding the spotlight, though, may be a matter of personality as much as philosophy. Herring’s easy-going, sunny manner is welcomed among his musical partners – guitarist Derek Trucks, who has a longstanding association with Herring, says Herring is affectionately known as “the redneck Buddha” – but is probably not suited to giving directions.”I don’t have any problem with people taking the leadership role, criticizing other musicians,” he said. “But it’s really hard for me to see myself doing that. As a kid in the small town where I grew up, I was the leader, really gung-ho. But how do you tell someone they need to practice more, they’re not cutting it? That’s such a personal thing. I can’t tell someone else what to do.”In the Jimmy Herring Band, he doesn’t have to play that kind of role. The group features veteran players: Sipe, who accompanied Herring in the Aquarium Rescue Unit and Jazz Is Dead; Osby, a prominent jazz player who also toured with the Dead in 2003; Scott Kinsey, keyboardist of the fusion band Tribal Tech; and bassist Neal Fountain, who has played often with Sipe.”I’m the leader in that I pick the tunes. In rehearsal, I have to make sure that everything is right. I’ll give a few technical pointers,” said Herring from his home in Atlanta. “But it’s really just a bunch of friends playing.”Souvik Dutta’s original idea was not the Jimmy Herring Band, but a band that included Herring and some collaborators playing in the vein of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Herbie Hancock’s fusion groups. As it turned out, Herring was the only musician available for all the recording sessions, and he had a few song sketches developed that were too jazz-oriented for Widespread Panic. The project became Herring’s project.It also falls on Herring to be the one letting fans know that his current band plays a very different brand of music than Widespread Panic, the Southern jam band he joined in 2006. This band is all instrumental, specializing in the high-wire rhythm and harmonic changes that mark jazz fusion.”A rock ‘n’ roll person might come and say, ‘There’s no vocals. I have to go home,'” said Herring. “It’s another side of music that’s just as valid as any kind. It’s not better; it’s just different.”stewart@aspentimes.com


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