Jimmy Herman Talks Mandolins, Touring with Carrie Underwood and More — Interview
Jimmy Herman is the multi-instrumentalist for Carrie Underwood. He is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Throughout his career he has found fun and unique ways to combine both passions.
In this interview, Weber Mandolins shares some insight into this versatile artist's career and plans.
Where to start…you’re a multi-instrumentalist on tour with Carrie Underwood and an avid hunter but what do people not know about Jimmy Herman?
Well, here are a few randoms that a lot of people may not know. I grew up near a small town in Western Wisconsin called Pleasantville. I started playing fiddle at age 4. I cut my teeth on polkas and old-time fiddle tunes that I would play in my dad's band. Was President of my FFA chapter. I'm a certified taxidermist and had a full-on shop in Wisconsin that I owned and operated until I moved to Nashville. I believe I am one of the only people in Nashville that actually owns and plays a Hurdy Gurdy.
You mentioned you started off playing the fiddle, what got you playing all the other instruments?
I started playing fiddle when I was 4 and we had all sorts of instruments laying around the house and there was a music store back around home that we would visit religiously every week and they had banjos, mandolins, guitars, basses, etc. There were a couple of times I picked up a mandolin or banjo and picked out a few songs in the store and the owner would offer my dad an amazing deal on them and the next thing I knew, I had a banjo and mandolin. My parents bought me an Alan Munde banjo video and that's really how started learning 5-string banjo.
As far as learning guitar, my dad bought an acoustic guitar on an auction that needed some serious love. He had a Mel Bay chord book and I just sat in my room and learned chords and picked around on it while listening to vinyl records and that's how I learned to play rhythm and lead guitar. The action was so high and I know for a fact he still has that guitar and the action is still crazy high.
It really helped that I was so young when I learned all those instruments and actually had the discipline to not put them down. I didn't have the distractions we all have as adults. I was also really stubborn and determined - probably more stubborn.
You have many Weber instruments from a mando to arch top guitar and have a mandocello about to be completed. Do you have a favorite?
Yes, I cannot tell you how excited I am to get that mandocello in my hands! Every instrument that Bruce completes turns out to be not only an amazing sounding instrument, but an amazing piece of art as well. I really love the old Zeppelin records that incorporate the "not so typical" sounding instruments like the hurdy gurdy, the mandolin, and bouzouki. Even though the octave mandolin, bouzouki, and mandocello are all part of the mandolin family; they all have their own "sound" which brings it's own vibe. When combining some of those instruments together on tracks, those songs become organic. When listening to some tracks with mandocello, bouzouki, and mandolin it's almost like I can picture those instruments rising from the "gravel and moss" as they're finding their place in the track. There is so much earth and vibe in each of those instruments. I get fired up just thinking about it!!
The Weber that I am most partial to is the "Muley" - The Black Ice Mandolin. It goes all the way back to the very first time I met Bruce in person and after a long conversation (mostly about hunting), Bruce grabbed his notebook and said, "let's design you a mandolin!" The Black Ice finish was just about to be released and I saw the gray color of the flamed back and sides and it reminded me of the grey color of a mule deer. Bruce being a hunter himself, our eyes lit up and the rest of the elements came quickly. I said if we were going to think, "mule deer," it would be cool to have deer hoof prints for fret markers.
For the binding, I wanted to really make the mandolin different from the typical color scheme and I thought that the brown tortoise binding made me think of the brown antlers of a big mule deer buck. The final piece was the headstock design. I asked Bruce if he had ever put a deer skull in the headstock of an instrument before and he said he hadn't, so I said let's go all out and that's how the Mule Deer skull in the headstock came about. The "Muley" being born has come to be an instrument that embodies everything about my passions and me. I'm excited for everyone to see the new mandocello! It has some very cool customized surprises.
Here Herman plays with the band Oklahoma:
You’ve been playing with Carrie Underwood for years. You must get to play some pretty amazing venues and events. Is there one that stands out?
I have had so many opportunities and amazing experiences! Playing Royal Albert Hall, the Sydney Opera House, and the Grammys all come to mind, but if I have to pick one I would say that getting to play the Super Bowl Pre Game in Indianapolis with Steven Tyler was probably most memorable. We had a few days of rehearsal with Carrie and Steven and we spent hours and hours running all the classic Aerosmith songs. The moment I heard that infamous scream come thru my earbuds was so surreal. There is a reason Steven Tyler and Aerosmith have been able withstand the test of time. He is a rock n roll icon thru and thru and one of the nicest guys I've ever hung out with. He's a guy that you just want to hang out with - celebrity status aside. The stories of how they recorded, "Sweet Emotion" and "Walk this Way" as we were rehearsing were jaw dropping. I was in awe for days leading up to rehearsals, I was in awe while we played the show, and now writing this, I'm still in awe.
Carrie was again the host of the CMA’s that just took place – what’s it like playing there year after year?
It is such an honor to perform at the CMA's. It is such a surreal experience just standing backstage. Seeing artists from other genres that show their respect for country music makes me feel very grateful for being a part of the industry. There definitely is a cool camaraderie between all the artists and bands that you don't see in other genres. It shows just how small the heart of the country music community is yet how very powerful this music is to be able to reach across the globe. I used to record every single CMA Award show on VHS as a kid and I would watch performances over and over and over. I was glued to the screen. Now to be one of the people performing on that very show is surreal when thinking about it. Just in that one thought brings a huge sense of accomplishment.
What’s next on the horizon for Jimmy Herman?
Well, while I will still be performing alongside Carrie I have a couple album projects that I have been milling around in my head and have worked out some arrangements for some possible cuts. I don't want to give too much away because they are still in the early stages, but I'm leaning towards getting back to my roots and recording with a more earthy vibe. Don't be surprised to hear some rock n roll riffs here and there, but there will definitely be some heavily acoustic driven tracks as well.
My brand has really been taking shape over the last couple of years, this past year especially and I have really dived in with both feet in the hunting industry. I have a multitude of relationships with companies and some have turned into full on endorsements, which I am completely blown away by. I will be continuing to write fitness and hunting articles for several magazines and really pursue my passion for hunting along side doing what I love to do with music as well. This is the most at peace I have been with where I am at with my career and I'm really excited to just do the projects that I've always felt in my heart I needed to do, but had felt that Nashville wasn't ready for or may not be accepting of in the music community. I'm just ready to go for it. I want to live what my heart tells me I should. Create music I love to create and go on some wild adventures in extreme territories. Bring it!!
You can check Jimmy out on tour with Michael Martin Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas Tour starting November 21st. For more on Jimmy visit his website here http://www.jimmyherman.com