It’s always a big deal when Jimmy Herring returns to North Carolina. The guitar hero grew up in Fayetteville, where his father was a Superior Court judge. His mother was an English teacher at the same school Herring attended, Terry Sanford High School.
“What was great about my upbringing was that I was encouraged to play music,” Herring says while calling from Providence, R.I. “My parents were pillars of the community in Fayetteville, but they let me be a long-haired guitar player. They were so good about letting my brothers and I do what we wanted and needed to do. They were fine with me listening to Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers Band.”
It paid off since Herring, 55, played in the Allmans, as well as with the Derek Trucks Band and Phil Lesh and Friends. The versatile founder of the Aquarium Rescue Unit, who plays lead guitar for Widespread Panic, is always working in the studio or on tour.
“Maybe I’m at it so often because it doesn’t feel like work to me,” Herring says. “I love it. I can’t get enough of it.”
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That’s why Herring is out with John McLaughlin while he’s on break from Widespread Panic. The tandem will perform Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
“I jump at the chance to play with John,” Herring says. “He’s one of my musical heroes. When I first heard the Mahavishnu (Orchestra) I was blown away. There is nothing like that first Mahavishnu album (“The Inner Mounting Flame”). For me, John McLaughlin is the high priest in all that is music. He doesn’t get the credit that he deserves.”
It’s a special tour since McLaughlin, 75, has announced that he will revisit the Mahavishnu material for his final U.S. tour.
“It’s special to be part of this,” Herring says. “What John has made and does is on another level. Some fear is part of the package. I have to nail this. But that’s a healthy thing. I love the challenge of playing these songs.”
Herring isn’t exaggerating about the Mahavishnu music. The music is a complex blend of rock and jazz. After playing with Miles Davis, the jazz icon suggested that McLaughlin form his own band. Some of the greatest musicians of the ’70s, such as drummer Billy Cobham, violinist Jean Luc Ponty and keyboardist Jan Hammer, were part of Mahavishnu.
“The songs still hold up all these years later,” Herring says. “It’s so much fun to play this material. There’s nothing like these songs.”
When the tour with McLaughlin ends, Herring will take a short break, and perhaps reflect on his enviable career.
“I’m baffled by how well things have gone,” Herring says. “When I was 17 living in North Carolina, I knew I wanted to be a guitarist and it worked out beyond my wildest dreams.”
Herring, who lives in Atlanta, said the Durham show is significant.
“It’s huge because I grew up an hour south of there,”Herring says. “I spent some time in the Durham area and it’s a beautiful place. It’s changed since I was a kid, and it’s changed for the better. It’s a cool town. I still have a lot of friends there and in places like Asheville. I’ve circled the Durham date on the calendar. I guarantee that it will be a special show.”
Who: John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham
Cost: $39.28, $47.34 and $71.53
Info: 919-680-2787, dpacnc.com