JoJo Hermann has a foot in two worlds. With Widespread Panic he lays roadhouse piano riffs into southern-style jams for sold-out crowds, coast-to-coast. His side-project Slim Wednesday, however, veers further West, into the world of NOLA-style boogie and crawfish boils, tight venues and funky horn sections. Following the release of Slim Wednesday’s debut LP Reptile Show, Hermann is relaxing at home, cataloguing live videos and preparing for another jaunt on the road with WSP. Below, the keyboardist discusses his work with both acts, as well as his connection to Col. Bruce Hampton and the potential for a new Widespread Panic LP.
How close is Slim Wednesday tied to the sights and sounds of New Orleans? What is it about that city that keeps calling you back?
Well, you know, the music. It really all started with a Professor Longhair record called Crawfish Fiesta and then I got into these other records, which is when I was in high school and somebody just played me his record. I was just hooked from the get go. I was just a kid in Greenwich Village, but I heard these records and that’s what got me into New Orleans. It’s been a long, long journey getting to the music.
A lot of that sound kind of comes from you playing with Bill Elder aka Leo Black. You’ve been playing with him for almost a decade. Tell me a little bit about your musical chemistry with him.
Well, he’s from New Orleans. He’s actually a real New Orleans guy. He just knows the music inside and out. He really turned me on to a lot of Lee Dorsey and a bunch of New Orleans stuff, especially in the funk and stuff like that. He kind of leads a band in Nashville, where we all live right now, called The Dynamites, that was with Charles Walker and The Dynamites. I was just a big big fan of The Dynamites. Then the rest of the guys in the band decided [to join Slim Wednesday]. Mabin, on drums and Greg Bryant.
We just all share a love of New Orleans music. We just learned a bunch of covers and stuff like that. We were a Professor Longhair cover band, originally, years ago. We’d play like one gig a year on Mardi Gras. We just called it the Mardi Gras Band. And then we started playin’ a little bit more. We did a Jam Cruise and I think that really lit a fire in everybody. That made us write a few songs, do a few more dates and put out a record. So we did that.
I think one of the coolest things about Slim Wednesday is, as you just said, it happened very naturally. And a lot of it started with crawfish boils right?
Yeah, we’d wait to play until April because that’s when crawfish season really hits in. We’d start in Mississippi and then head down to Alabama, Louisiana. I mean, we eat a lot of crawfish, I think I’ve probably downed about thirty pounds of crawfish or something like that.
You were talking about your band and how you pulled a lot of guys from The Dynamites. Listening to the new record, you really share the spotlight, and give all these guys the room to stretch their wings and play.
I couldn’t agree more. Bill is just a fantastic singer and he was just bringing in all these songs and I was like, “That’s great, let’s do that,” and then he said, “Well, I have this other one,” and I was like, “Well, that’s great.” And then we’d go on the road and he’s like, “Well, how ‘bout this Dynamite song?” and I was like, “That’s great.” It’s just great, great music. It’s definitely got a band kind of feel, everybody contributing. I’ve definitely never seen myself as a frontman, in any way shape or form, so this is the perfect process and just a great thing.
What’s the biggest difference between your work with Slim Wednesday and Widespread Panic? What creative itches do you get to scratch in this band as opposed to WSP?
Well, it’s so good for my chops and honestly, by playing New Orleans music, I have gotten so much better in the key of D flat and E flat and A flat. With the horns, you play in a lot more of those flat keys. It’s really helped my chops playing flat keys.
How long did it take to put this record together?
We pretty much recorded the whole album in like three days at Diamond Studio in Atlanta. Spencer Garn of Diamond Street Studios in Atlanta is just a great engineer. Great job. And that is because Bill and Spencer really got it and worked, I’d say about a month at least, no longer that, doing production kind of stuff. But the band went into track everything in two or three days.
What was the creative energy like in the studio?
We went in during a few days off in the middle of a tour. So the material was really fresh in everybody’s head, we kind of pounded it out; woodshedded I guess is the word. You know, we just laid it down the way we play it live and I think everything was in like one or two takes.
Where did the title come from, Reptile Show ?
We were just driving on the side of the road in our van and there was a little sign in somebody’s yard saying, “Reptile Show.” And then I wrote a song called “Reptile Show,” and then it just became the title.
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