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Jimmy Herring and The 5 of 7 stand for a group photo.

Q&A: Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring takes flight with The 5 of 7

Atlanta’s Jimmy Herring has evolved into one of the guitar heroes of his generation as the lead guitarist for jam band giants Widespread Panic. Herring’s career spans five decades and includes stints with The Aquarium Rescue Unit, The Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh and Friends, and The Dead.

Though Widespread Panic returns to the Fox Theatre for a three-night run December 29–31, Herring is now on the road with his new side band, The 5 of 7. In addition to Herring, the group includes Kevin Scott (bass), Darren Stanley (drums), Matt Slocum (keyboard) and Rick Lollar (vocals/guitar). All five members played in bands with the late Colonel Bruce Hampton.

The 5 of 7 performs Wednesday night at Variety Playhouse. Herring recently sat down to talk with ArtsATL about his side band, why music is sacred and Widespread Panic’s upcoming return to the Fox.

ArtsATLAll members of your new band are alumnus of the “Colonel Bruce Hampton University.” Was this an organic result or one by design?

Jimmy Herring: Sort of by design. I wanted to play with some younger Atlanta musicians who played with Bruce in a different era than I did. He was learning new things to teach younger players as he got older; playing with them is helping me learn too.

ArtsATL: Who came up with the band’s name?

Herring: We kicked around a bunch of names. Bruce had a band called the IV of IX. I always loved that name for some unknown reason; thought it was funny. It’s a tribute to him. I can’t remember, for sure, which one of us actually came up with it, but 5 of 7 just stuck. 

ArtsATL: What do you think the Colonel might have to say of The 5 of 7?

Herring: The first and second things he’d say is, “It’s TOO LOUD!” [chuckles] No, really, that’s what he would say. But I think he would be happy we’re doing this.

Herring is one of the most acclaimed guitarists of his generation.

ArtsATL: In spite of adding demands on your time to an already busy touring schedule with Widespread Panic, how has your role as leading The 5 of 7 presented positive challenges for you?

Herring: Honestly, we are just having a blast playing music together. We all listen to each other’s ideas about how we want to approach a tune or musical idea. We simply want to be in a band together. Nobody is really the leader, so to speak. Being a band leader has so many challenges, for sure. That’s why I wanted to find guys who just wanted to play without being hung up on any kind of trip about “who” the band leader is.

ArtsATL: Panic has a tremendous following, and it is a band known to be deeply connected with its fans. What would you say Jimmy Herring and The 5 of 7 hopes to give to their fans?

Herring: We just hope to give them an honest night of our best effort. All of us care deeply about the “big picture,” and playing music is sacred to us. It’s a gift to have an opportunity to play for people. 

ArtsATL: Once again, Panic has chosen Atlanta’s Fox Theatre as the venue for your traditional three-night, end-of-the-year run and ringing in the New Year. Can you explain what that choice means to you?

Herring: For me, the Fox represents what I loved most about Atlanta. There might be bigger and fancier places in town that hold more people, but none are classier than the Fox. Ever since I saw George Carlin there in ’86, I thought it was the coolest place in Atlanta. And, at this point in my life, I have a lot of memories there. It will always be my favorite place to play music in Atlanta.