Whole Lotta Herring: Taking to the skies with one of the premier guitarists of our time

When it came time to go to the airport on November 13, little did I know what the journey held in store.

 

Just moments after stepping in to the security line of the Atlanta airport, I soon came to realize that this, like so many journeys before, was about to become another in the long line of my memorable adventures with the notorious Rev. Buddy Greene.

 

Before Buddy arrived, I turned around to see Jimmy Herring stepping in line just behind me.  While I thought it seemed obvious that I, too, was heading to Denver for the weekend run of Phil and Friends shows, Jimmy’s first question to me was “Where are you going?”  Before long, the friendly hellos turned to talk of music, which led to my asking if Jimmy was heading to Boulder after the flight to sit in with Govt Mule.

 

Much to my surprise, Jimmy was completely unaware of the show.  By the time we made it through security and headed to the Crowne Room, my campaign to drag him along with the Rev. and I was in full swing.  While Jimmy was unable to make a definite commitment at the time, not knowing what was in store for him once we landed, I knew the groundwork that had been laid would somehow lead to his appearance that night.

 

As we said goodbye leaving the Denver airport, the Rev. and I put forth one last attempt at hijacking Jimmy to come with us to Boulder.  Unsuccessful, we persisted with “We’ll see you there,” “It’s going to be a blast,” “That Paul Stacey in Chris Robinson’s band is great, you’d love playing with him,” and anything else we could think of in an attempt to pique his interest in joining our journey.

 

We then headed to Boulder, where we were promptly greeted with, “There are no tickets for you” at the box office.  Freezing cold, and surrounded by ticketless fans trying to get in, we soon wondered if this trip was going to become the antithesis of our amazing trips throughout the previous year.  As we were told that the show was over sold, and that 25 names had been dropped from the guest list to keep the crowd within legal limits, our concern grew greater.  However, we kept in mind the fact that, even under much more daunting circumstances than this, neither the Rev. nor I had ever been shut out of a show.

 

And then, the moment we were waiting for – the sign of a final guest list being bought to the ticket window.  Suddenly, all of our concerns were eased, tickets and passes were in hand, and we headed in to the show. 

 

And what a show it was.

 

Robinson and New Earth Mud opened with the best set I’d ever seen them play.  By the time Mule worked their way down “Monkey Hill”, I realized they were playing their self-titled debut album. From beginning to end, a near flawless set, and, before it would end, the Rev. and I were rejoicing on many accounts, including the fact that much of the crowd joined us in chanting, “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy” as our friend was suddenly spotted on the side of the stage.

 

The New Earth Mule Unit

The reaction on the faces of each member of Mule as they looked over and saw Jimmy told us all that no one, except for the Rev. and I, was expecting his arrival. As he looked in our direction and smiled with that infectious grin, our anticipation of the next set grew all the more intense.

 

While set two would bring forth no more (original) Mule, it did bring Chris Robinson back to the stage.  The set opened with a pair of classic covers, “Hard To Handle” and “Almost Cut My Hair”, and the show would only get better from there.  “Sometimes Salvation” has long been one of my favorites, whether performed by Mule or by the Black Crowes.  Having Robinson on stage to share the vocals with Warren only made it all the better. 

 

Then, the moment we had cheered for was upon us as we looked behind Warren and saw Jimmy strapping on a guitar, all the while looking our way, continuing to grin, and giving us a thumbs-up sign as he walked on to the stage for “Dreams.”

 

“Let Jimmy sing,” a chant that will seemingly follow this stellar musician through the rest of his career, rang through the crowd between songs.  This left Jimmy shaking his head “no” as he gazed down laughing at the perpetrator, none other the Rev.  Then, Jimmy and the rest of the band raged through a memorable cover of the Cream classic “Politician.”  From there, an all out jam, Mule style, ensued, starting with a great “Drums” in which Matt Abts was joined by New Earth Mud’s Jeremy Stacey.  This was followed by a battle of dual lead guitars as Jimmy and Paul Stacey took the stage, leaving Warren in much the same state as us, a smiling bystander, watching as these two sensational players matched each other note for note.

 

Through years of touring with bands such as the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz Is Dead, and Project Z, Jimmy Herring has always remained somewhat of an underground secret, a man who, with a guitar in his hands, can fill a room with emotion, joy, and pure musical bliss. I have seen Jimmy take the stage with some of the most famous names to ever play guitar, and without fail, his playing has always rivaled that of his more famous counterparts. On this night, it was Jimmy who was the better known of the two players on stage. And, although his playing was every bit as good as ever, for once he was not the most outstanding player on stage.  Stacey took control of the jam and, from my perspective at least, actually outplayed the man who is rarely outdone by anyone once he straps on a guitar.  While listening to discs of the show at a later date did not necessarily leave me with the same impression, on this night, I was certainly more impressed with Stacey than either of the other guitarists on stage (which is saying a lot, as Warren and Jimmy would both rank in my Top 5 favorite players of all time).

 

But, in the end, the most lasting memories of this, the first of a remarkable four-night run through Colorado with Govt Mule and the Q would always be the story of getting to the show, the feeling of excitement we felt when we finally saw Jimmy enter the Theater, and the pure joy of seeing him take the stage, joining a collective group of musicians from two bands, playing as one, who all seemed to be having every bit as much fun as those of us in the crowd.

 

Now, if we could only get Jimmy to open up those vocal chords…

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