Rahsaan Roland Kirk often referenced an Invisible Whip to describe the motivational force that kept him moving forward, creating new music. The quote commonly associated with him is: “We are all driven by an invisible whip. Some run, some have fun, some are hip, some tip, some dip, but we all must answer to the invisible whip.” Guitarist Jimmy Herring has drawn on this concept, albeit in a more concise manner, for the name of his new ensemble.
The group, which also features longtime collaborator and fellow Aquarium Rescue Unit alum Jeff Sipe on drums, along with Jason Crosby on Wurlitzer and Rhodes, Matt Slocum on B3 and Clavinet and Kevin Scott on bass, will open a summer tour on Wednesday, July 19 at Memphis, TN’s Minglewood Hall. The band will gig into early September, then reconvene in November for The Meeting of the Spirits tour, which will feature individual sets by Herring & The Invisible Whip as well as John McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension, after which the musicians will join forces to explore some of McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra material.
The following conversation touches on the new quintet and their upcoming dates as well as the future gigs with McLaughlin. Herring also reflects on the legacy of Bruce Hampton and speaks to the future of Widespread Panic. Pick up the August issue of Relix, to hear some of the guitarists’ reflections on Gregg Allman.
Let’s jump right into the personnel of your current group. For starters, you have two keyboard players.
I’ve always wanted to have two keyboard players because I love the sounds of having, let’s say, piano and organ at the same time. You hear that on records all the time. When you go see Clapton, he’s got two keyboard players. I just saw David Gilmour last night on AXS TV. It was an old concert where he had all these guests coming out and he had two or three keyboard players because that music demands that kind of orchestrational power, where you can hear beautiful string sounds and you can hear a B3 organ and then you can hear a Rhodes. I wanted to have that.
Matt Slocum has been around for years. I first met him when he was playing with Oteil and the Peacemakers. He lives in Birmingham and Oteil, at the time, was living in Birmingham. He invited me to come out and play with his band. I heard Matt and I was like, “Man where did you dig this guy up? This guy is amazing.” Ever since then I’ve been blown away by him and always wanted to work with him at any time possible.
This then led me to the other keyboard player that I love working with, Jason Crosby. I first worked with him years ago when ARU used to play with Bruce [Hampton] back in the day. We would play sometimes around the D.C. area and there was some kind of a harvest moon or full moon festival we would do. There was this band that had this young keyboard player and this guy was amazing. I was always stuck by how musical he was. Then I found out a little more about him, he’s interesting. He’s got perfect pitch, he was a violin prodigy when he was a child and he traveled the world. He’s an intense musician. Then I got to play with him. Project Z did a tour he came out on, then we recorded an album with him. He is just the kind of musician that I was looking for, he can just do anything.
With Jason and Matt Slocum together, the idea is that Matt will play the clavinet and B3, Jason will play the Rhodes and anytime we need piano. I wish we had a real piano, obviously. That matters to me a lot, I want this to be an organic sounding thing. I’m not really looking to have too many futuristic sounds, I like organic sounds. He’ll mostly play Rhodes and Matt will mostly play B3 and clavinet.
Do you think it’s possible when you go out in the fall with John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension, where you’ll appear mostly at theaters and symphony halls, that you might be able to have a piano?
Unfortunately, it’s not likely. Even if there is a piano at the venue, unless you’re touring with it and you have a piano tuner with you on the road and you’ve got the perfect way to mic it… I get irritated all the time because no one wants to bring a real piano. I’m like, what does Bruce Hornsby do? What does Elton John do? What does Billy Joel do? What did Freddie Mercury do? I know Brian May played loud, he had a wall of AC30s over there. I know they put him on the other side of the stage but back in the day, in the 70’s and 80’s, these guys were still playing real pianos. When you hear these concerts today, when you see Queen in 1980, you’re like, “Man that piano sounds beautiful. It sounds like a real piano, not like a digital recreation.” It’s such a can of worms, it is so expensive and so heavy. It’s difficult to move around and you have to have a tuner on the road at all times. Unfortunately, it does not look like we’ll be able to have a genuine grand piano bu maybe someday, I hope so.
To be honest with you we’ve had a few rehearsals and Jason has had his digital piano and Rhodes over there and he’s barely touched the digital piano. It’s mostly Rhodes because when you go from Rhodes to a digital piano it exposes the digital nature of the instrument. I didn’t tell Jason not to play the piano it’s just showed itself in rehearsal to be something might not get played much. It might just be mostly Rhodes and B3 organ, at least that’s real honest sounding.
Jumping back to your band, people are probably least familiar with Kevin Scott.
He’s a young bass player from Dothan, Alabama, who moved to Atlanta some years ago. He sort of took the Atlanta music scene by storm. What I love about him is number one, his personality. That’s just so key, it’s got to be about more than a person’s bitching playing. You’ve got to be able to be people, you’ve got to be able to work with people and be friendly. This guy is just a joy to work with and he’s a great bass player. Another one of the main reasons I called him is he plays a four string bass. He plays a four string Fender bass. He has the sound of the music I love. I don’t know if you ever noticed this but sometimes—and there are always exceptions to this—with the five and six string basses they have such powerful EQ possibilities on the instrument that sometimes people will EQ out the features about a bass that I really like. I’m like, “There are too many options on these basses and I can’t hear what the bass player is playing.”
Obviously with Oteil [Burbridge], it doesn’t matter what he plays, he always has the sound. Same with Dave [Schools]. I can hear every note those guys play. Their low notes sound like a piano. That’s what I want, I want the bass because the bass defines the harmony. A guy plays a D chord and the bass player plays a G, that changes the whole chord. Now the chord is a different chord. It’s really critical for me to be able to hear what the bass note is and I don’t want to be struggling to be able to tell what it is. With Kevin, that’s not an issue. He’s playing a Fender style bass, it’s like a Precision or a jazz bass. It’s just a sound that I feel like mixes really well with other instruments. That’s another crucial element for what I’m looking for. To have people’s sounds that go together well.
In terms of Sipe, the two of you have been playing together off and on for 30 years now. I assume the goal is you want to be comfortable but you still hope that he can surprise you night after night.
I can only say that if you’re not being surprised by him every night, you’re not listening. That cat is on another level altogether, he’s just on another level. He’s constantly growing and evolving. The other thing is, we’ve played together for so long. We’ve kind of grown up together musically. We weren’t children when we got together and started playing with Bruce—we were in our mid to late 20’s—but in a way we had a rebirth because when you play with Bruce, if you’re with him long enough and you’re out there every night, there’s a school you go through that you can’t get anywhere else. He and I both went through that. We have that in common, in fact everyone in the band was tight with Bruce.
We lost Bruce about seven weeks ago today and it’s still really raw. I just miss him, although I feel that it was the time for him to go and we’re being selfish. I miss him. I want to call him and want to talk to him. He left us so much and all of us have played with Bruce in one capacity or another. Kevin was in one or two of his bands. Jeff and I toured with him for years. Jason and he were super tight, I don’t know if they ever toured together all the time but Jason and Bruce were tight. Matt Slocum obviously, he played with ARU when we went out and did things in recent years, which wasn’t very often. He played with Bruce all the time in other scenarios. For me, that’s really important. I want to be able to bring what we’ve all learn from him to this thing, I want it to be an element. I don’t want to try and be little robots or anything, I just want it to be a spice in what we’re doing.