Being a rock and heavy metal fan, many are surprised to learn I have a deep soft spot for country and blues music. Many of the best guitar players in the music industry right now are session and touring musicians from the country genre.
Enter Jimmy Herman. Musician. Agriculturalist.
Those are just a few of the words that help define the man. You may know him best as Carrie Underwood’s guitarist, but he has also shared the stage with Keith Urban, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and Brad Paisley, just to name a few. I had the opportunity and honor of asking Jimmy about guitars and guitar playing, and one thing is certain: his passion for what he does is infectious. Read on and get to know one of Nashville’s respected and sought after guitarists.
You began playing the fiddle at the age of 5. What drew you to the guitar as an instrument?
I started competing in fiddle contests around the age of 8 and I was fascinated with some of the acoustic guitarists that would play backup for me. One guy’s name was, Truman Sorrenson, and he had amazing feel and his aggressiveness thru the chord changes really caught my attention and I wanted to learn how to do that. My dad bought me a guitar on an auction that I’m pretty sure never had been setup properly before and a Mel Bay chord book and I was off to the races. I started learning chords and just honed my rhythm playing getting a lot of reps in playing in my dad’s polka band. Guitar progressed from there and I was playing mostly contemporary rock and classic rock electric guitar by the time I was in middle school and really got hooked on guitar after being introduced to Led Zeppelin. The rest is history.
How and when did you get started as a professional musician in Nashville?
I moved to Nashville at the end of 2006 and started playing with the band, Ricochet shortly after. When I wasn’t on the road, I would play any chance I could get in town. I went out every night listening to music, meeting people, and getting my name out there. I can’t emphasize how important going out and networking with other musicians really is. I would also play every gig that came my way. There wasn’t a single one that I had turned down. I moved here to make a name for myself and play music, so that’s what I did. After leaving Ricochet, I landed a gig opening for Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson on their tour and later playing for female country artist, Danielle Peck. In early fall of 2007, I got the call to play for Carrie Underwood and I have been there ever since. I attribute the fact that I got the Carrie gig so soon after moving to Nashville to never turning down a gig for that entire year prior. In Nashville and to land a great gig, you obviously have to be able to play the parts, but I believe that it is just as important to show your face as often as possible around town. The more musicians, artists, and industry people see you out and about; the likelier you are to be in the forefront of their minds when a gig opportunity presents itself and they’re looking for someone to fill a position for an artist’s band.
As a multi-instrumentalist, I’m sure you have a wide variety of stringed instruments in your arsenal. Which ones are your favorite?
Yes, I have a “full quiver” when it comes to the instruments that I use on the road. I have everything from electric guitars to bouzoukis, fiddles to ganjos, and everything in between. I have been using a Les Paul that’s loaded with Duncan Custom P-90s that I have really loved on the Blown Away Tour. The other favorite of mine is the Weber Octar Bouzouki. The bouzouki is a member of the mandolin family that ads an almost 12-string effect in the mix, but it’s much more organic sounding. My tastes change daily sometimes, but these are a couple instruments I’ve been diggin’ on for quite awhile.
Many fans have come to know you through the work you’ve done with Carrie Underwood. What kind of guitars, amplifiers, and effects are in your “go-to” live/studio rigs for the work you do with Carrie?
My go to electrics are a P-90 loaded Gibson Les Paul and a Gibson ’61 Reissue SG with Bigsby tremolo. I’ve been using the new Orange OR-100 amp and Marshall 4×12 (WGS loaded 30 watt speakers). I’ve been really happy with the OR-100. A couple pedals that I’m a fan of that are in my Carrie rig are an EP Booster by Xotic Effects, JHS Clone, and JHS modified Line 6 DL4. On the acoustic side of the rig, I use LR Baggs Venue DI’s.
Which Seymour Duncan pickups have most helped you shape your guitar, mandolin, and fiddle tones?
I’ve been a big fan of the Custom P-90 set and have been using them for the last few years. They are a touch hotter than the vintage sounding P-90 set and have just enough edgy bark that really cuts thru in the mix. I also fell in love with the Antiquity Humbuckers and Antiquity Telecaster sets. I have been in search of a great sounding set of PAF humbuckers and the Antiquity by Seymour Duncan are where my search ended. They are so much similar sonically as a great sounding set of PAF’s and the price is unbeatable. I can’t say enough great things about the Antiquities. Seymour definitely nailed it on the head with these pups!
Touring the world with Carrie Underwood must give you many once-in-a-lifetime experiences. What would you say is one memory that stands out for you as a musician?
In my seven years with her, we have traveled a lot of the world. I have seen places that I most likely will never see again and it’s all been pretty amazing. It’s really hard to pick just one moment because when I think of one, it brings on a barrage of other memories that are equally as awesome. If I had to pick one moment, I would have to say that performing at Royal Albert Hall in London would have to be one of the coolest moments for me. Knowing the history of that building and who all as played there was pretty humbling in itself. I am a huge Led Zeppelin fan and I’ve watched the 1970 performance of theirs at Royal Albert Hall so many times and to walk the same hall and sit in the same room that they were in was a pretty cool thing to experience. What really made that a great experience was that I actually ran into Jimmy Page a few days later in London. Just the random things that have happened on some of our travels are amazing stories in themselves, performances aside.
The music industry has changed a great deal over the past two decades. What three things would you say are essential for any professional musician if they want to make a living in the current music industry?
The music industry has changed so much in the last few years and has definitely experienced a lot of change over the time that I have lived in Nashville. As far as being a professional musician, I think it’s really hard to be just a guitar player, a fiddle player, a singer, piano player, etc, etc. More times than not when an artist is looking for a player to fill a slot, they’re looking at how versatile a player is. So, if you’re auditioning for a second electric guitar spot, you would be even more valuable if you can play multiple instruments and are a strong background vocalist. Another important thing for musicians to do is network. Get out and get in the circles of musicians in town. Sit in on some sessions. Hang where other players hang. Go to shows. In a time where Facebook rules and our society’s attention span lasts only for as long as their twitter feed changes, you have to show your face in Nashville.
It is unreal how quick the industry is to forget unless you maintain a physical presence. There are so many great players in this city, that you may have been killing it on the session scene until you took a great touring gig and now when you come off the road, the sessions that once were there are gone. Out of sight, out of mind. If you’re going to be on the road, make sure you can carry a recording rig that you can take in a hotel room so that you can track sessions when you’re not home. I’ve tracked a lot of things on the road and been able to maintain that presence. Most sessions still happen in the big studios in Nashville that you have to be there for. There’s some sessions that you’re going to have to sacrifice if you’re going to be on tour, but keep what sessions you can.Work as much as you can and make the most of the time while you’re on the road. Being a great hang within a gig and on the road is just as important as having musical talent in Nashville.
Having a good attitude will leave just as great of an impression as being a monster musician will. In most cases, the artist wants to know that their musicians are able to get along with everyone, can handle themselves well on the road, and can crush it with their performance on stage. A negative attitude is infective and can end your gig faster than you can tune an E string. A musician’s reputation is truly based on skill level, visually how well you perform on stage, and what your attitude and demeanor is. I have experienced extreme high and low moments on the road. There is only so much an artist, management, and people around can do to encourage you to be happy and comfortable in whatever situation you are experiencing within your gig. At the end of the day, you have to decide to be happy and maintain a positive attitude or not. Know that if you choose to have a negative outlook, chances are that will resonate more than any great performance will.
If you’d like to know more about Jimmy and want to keep abreast of his career, head on over to www.jimmyherman.com, or follow him on Twitter @JimmyHerman.