Interview: Jon Herington

Dan McAvinchey: Jon, let's talk first about your new solo release, "Time On My Hands" (available at, and shortly at, and iTunes). When did you write the songs, and what did you want to achieve when recording started?

Jon Herington: The songs were written between the time after "shine (shine shine)" was finished (10/10/10) and the tracking sessions for 'Time On My Hands' began (late February, early March, 2010). I wanted to do a record which really put the guitar forward in a bigger way, with extended solos (instead of the short solo as a break from the vocal, which I had typically done on the two prior records). The big challenge was to find room for me to stretch out on guitar while still making sure that the songs had integrity. We worked hard to try to make the songs stand on their own and not just be vehicles for the guitar playing. We found we had to alter the tone of the lyrics to accommodate the nature of this record, and we had a lot of fun trying to make the lyrics amusing and entertaining, but we were really careful to make sure that in spite of the slight shift in style the songs held up.

Dan McAvinchey: A lot of Guitar Nine readers are familiar with your recently re-released 1992 instrumental album "Pulse And Cadence". To your way of thinking, do they appeal to different audiences, and how would you describe the differences to the uninitiated?

Jon Herington: Well, that record was a sort of 'summing up' of a great musical period in my life, where for many years I had been deeply into the music of all the bands that the Miles Davis band members went off to form - Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, etc. So, my guess is that that record might appeal to people who are fans of all that music. I really enjoyed making that record, and I am still happy to hear it after all these years - it's amazing, but I don't cringe very often when I hear it - it still sounds good to me (though it's a little reverb heavy, like most records from that time!)

After I had finished that record, though, I decided to make a pretty radical shift in the record making, and made a choice to write and record more in a style that reflected my primary musical influences - mid '60s American FM radio and British Invasion rock. My most natural writing always happened to mirror that stuff, and I had been working with a band and had always loved singing, too, so it made sense to me to work and write with my trio (Dennis Espantman on bass, Frank Pagano on drums).

Dan McAvinchey: What is your approach to lyrics - where do you get your ideas, and how would you characterize your lyrical style?

Jon Herington: Sometimes a song can sprout from a convincing sounding title which suggests a rhythm and a melody and a groove, and then the whole plant starts to grow and take shape. Other times I start with music (much easier for me) that feels pretty complete, then I search for a lyric. Once I find an approach (a title, a line or two that feels right, a rhyme scheme, etc.) then I work and edit until it feels like it's as good as it's going to get.

For me, the style of the lyric has to match the music, most of all. I don't find that there's a consistent 'style,' or 'tone,' in my lyric writing as much as I find I try to adjust those elements to fit the song. On the new record, "Time On My Hands," I had to very consciously adjust the tone of the lyrics (and I had to get help from a couple of other lyric writers) to make sure that the 'tone' of the lyrics worked well with the music. Since the new record focuses on the guitar playing and on a 'live' sort of vibe, I found that the lyrics had to have a more conversational, 'street' kind of tone, including some humor and a kind of light-heartedness that you wouldn't find as much of on the earlier two records.

Dan McAvinchey: How did you practice in order to get to the advanced level of playing you are now at?

Jon Herington: I was a self-taught guitar player as a high school kid, just dropping the needle on my favorite records and trying to imitate what I heard. Once I got to college, I found out that I was a terribly undisciplined player with a lot to learn, and I began to seriously study music, the guitar (with a couple of teachers), and to develop regular, disciplined practice habits. It became an obsession for me, because besides studying the guitar itself I was absorbing a lot of new music at the same time, and I loved that. Though I don't put in the regular time I used to, I still find myself driven to learn what makes some new music I like 'tick,' and I often pick up a guitar when I'm not working to 'brood,' musically speaking, and just spend some time there to see what comes up.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you think is essential for a great guitar solo?

Jon Herington: Like any solo on any instrument, a great sound, a great shape, and, most of all, an appropriate conception.

Dan McAvinchey: What are your favorite tracks on "Time On My Hands"?

Jon Herington: That's an unfair question! Songs are like children (though a lot less expensive!) There are things I like about all of them, and I'm so close to all of the stuff after spending all that time making the record that it's hard to have a perspective on it that feels objective. I like the lyrics of "Sweet Ginny Rose", "I Hear They Shoot Horses", and "eGirl"; I particularly like the guitar playing on "Shine Shine Shine", "Time On My Hands", "I Hear They Shoot Horses", and "I'll Fix Your Wagon"; and I like the overall vibe of "Runnin' Out Of Time".

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get the chance to showcase your original solo tracks in a live setting?

Jon Herington: Yes. We don't play everything on the new record live, but we've been playing a lot of the tunes live for a long time, even before we began to think about recording them. That was a big help when it came time to record, since we had figured out how to play the tunes by then.

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Dan McAvinchey: Do you feel the online social media outlets offer more exposure to independent artists, or do they simply replace older forms of publicity and promotion?

Jon Herington: Delivering music to the world is like a double-edged sword now - there are more ways than ever to get your music out there, but there are also so many more people who have the means to record and release music (in one form or another) now, that it's more difficult than ever to sift through the glut of content, and that makes it less likely that any new music will be discovered.

Dan McAvinchey: Have you heard any new guitarists that have really caught your ear in the past couple of years?

Jon Herington: No, but my listening isn't biased towards guitar players. In fact, I think I might even avoid seeking out guitar players' recordings, because I've had better luck trying to get clear about my own approach to the instrument, I don't want to be distracted, and I don't need more models or examples - I'd rather trust my own ear to guide my path. That seems to be a better formula for developing my own voice on the instrument.

However, I have to say, there are players I sometimes can't resist listening to (though they're not new players), like Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Jimi Hendrix, and Albert King, for example - irresistible, great art.

Dan McAvinchey: Other than guitar-oriented music, what kind of music do you like to listen to?

Jon Herington: Well, as I said, I don't listen much to 'guitar-oriented music,' but I do love to listen to a wide range of great music, including my favorite (very influential) classic rock (Cream, Hendrix, Beatles, Stones, The Who, Zeppelin); my favorite jazz (Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Miles, Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Jim Beard); my favorite Americana (for lack of a better term) (Hank Williams, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young (yes, I know they're Canadian), Rob Morsberger; and a lot of classical music as well (including, especially, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Ravel, Stravinsky, Copland, Rorem, Ellington); and an assortment of other stuff, including classic country music, newer pop stuff (I'm a Fountains of Wayne fan), and various musics from around the globe.

Dan McAvinchey: What's up next for you, what are some of your plans for the future?

Jon Herington: I'm mostly interested in building an audience for my own band, while trying to balance that with my work as a sideman, which I also love. I want to continue to write and make some more records, probably in conjunction with the live work as it develops. I have a few other ideas for 'one-off,' offshoot records that I would love to do if time permits, like a recording of me singing and playing my favorite Rob Morsberger songs, and a solo jazz guitar album of arrangements which I've done over the years.

Dan McAvinchey: If you could do a once-off album project with any guitarist in the
world, who would it be?

Jon Herington: Six strings seems like enough to me.

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Jon Herington is the veteran touring and recording guitarist for Steely Dan and The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue (featuring Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs, and Michael McDonald), and the lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for his own band, based in New York City. His newest solo release, "Time On My Hands", (his follow-up to earlier albums "shine (shine shine)" and "Like So") reflects the bluesy, driving rock that had its gestation in the club scene.

Dan McAvinchey touched base with Herington this month to talk about his new CD and his musical upbringing.