This week, JoJo Hermann (Widespread Panic) will head out on a run of shows with his side project, Slim Wednesday (listen here). Slim Wednesday’s Mardi Gras Tour will begin at The Hamilton in Washington D.C. on Thursday, February 28th before heading to Baltimore for a romp at the Metro Gallery on Friday, March 1st. The tour will then hit The Ardmore Music Hall outside Philadelphia on Saturday, March 2nd before wrapping up at Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, NY for one final jubilee on Mardi Gras proper, Tuesday, March 5th (win tickets, meet and greet, more).
Ahead of Slim Wednesday’s Mardi Gras Tour, Live For Live Music Widespread correspondent Otis Sinclair caught up with JoJo Hermann to talk about WSP, Slim Wednesday’s inaugural Northeast run, and more.
Otis Sinclair: Here with JoJo Hermann to discuss Slim Wednesday’s inaugural tour of the Northeast.
JoJo Hermann: We’re real psyched!
Otis: Can you tell me about the band and its members?
JoJo: Bill Elder, he’s from New Orleans. He’s our lead singer and songwriter. Kevin Mabin on drums, Jon Jackson on sax, Greg Bryant on bass, and Jovan Quallo on the other sax. We’re all getting together, and we are psyched!
Otis: Are you excited to return to New York City?
JoJo: My family hails from Brooklyn, so it’s kinda like a homecoming. I don’t think I’ve ever done a gig like this in Brooklyn before, and I’ve never played the Brooklyn Bowl before and that’s been on my bucket list for a while.
Otis: Are you excited for any of the other cities on this tour?
JoJo: I love D.C./Baltimore area. I love Philly too. I just like to walk around the historic part of town. People talk about Boston and New York, but Philly is right there with them. We never brought this [project] up here, so it’s just a Mardi Gras party. If anybody wants to go to New Orleans for a night without having to get on a plane, come right down the street and we’ll be there.
Otis: I was able to catch Slim Wednesday at ACME Feed & Seed after the Nashville Panic shows. Are you still based in that area?
JoJo: I live in Franklin, Tennessee. We do a lot of stuff at ACME. We do a radio show over there, just great folks. They are really into the music.
Otis: Great venue, lots of events going on. Would you like to talk about your radio show Key’d In for a moment?
JoJo: Key’d In is a tribute to piano players. One show we will focus on New Orleans or blues or stride or ragtime, and through the different styles pay tribute to all the great piano players. Starting with Jelly Roll Morton and, before that, Scott Joplin, from New Orleans through the century, there have been so many great keyboards.
Otis: You recently participated in a Professor Longhair tribute in New Orleans with the Nevilles, Jon Cleary, Johnny Vidacovich, George Porter Jr. and so many more.
JoJo: Marcia Ball and Ivan Neville, of course. That was an amazing week. It was December 19th, and it was … what would have been Fess’s 100th birthday. It was a fantastic tribute. I’ll never forget it. And the night before Fess’s birthday is James Booker‘s birthday, and they had a thing at The Maple Leaf, a James Booker tribute. So, December 18th and 19th is my Jazz Fest every year. If you are a piano player, go down to New Orleans and take in all the Booker and Fess tributes going on. We are going to do a Professor Longhair tribute for Mardi Gras. Brooklyn Bowl is on Mardi Gras, so you can expect a lot of Fess songs.
Otis: Is there a level of preparation that goes into these all-star tribute shows as opposed to a traditional Widespread Panic show. Do you prepare for the shows differently?
JoJo: Well, George Porter Jr. was the musical director and he produced everything. He just said, ‘What do you want to play? In what key?’ You just gotta walk on stage and everybody’s got it together and everybody’s dialed in. We rehearse before any show.
Otis: George Porter Jr. seems to keep popping up.
JoJo: He is the man. He’s just the best. When I think of New Orleans, I think of George.
Otis: What kind of material can we expect at the Slim Wednesday shows?
JoJo: We have a record out, so we do a lot of our own stuff. Then we do Professor Longhair covers, some Meters covers, just New Orleans party music.
Otis: Are you referring to Reptile Show (2018)? How did you come up with the title?
JoJo: If you’re driving around, there’s these traveling reptile shows. These people packed up a bunch of snakes and frogs and travel around. They are all over the place down here. Do they have them in New York? That would be cool. Somebody should do that up there in like Union Square or one in Central Park, that would be big.
Otis: It reminds me of the scene from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
JoJo: There [are] Hunter Thompson influences on the album, so that’s pretty cool. I didn’t think of that.
Otis: Speaking of Vegas, you and your bandmates paid respects to Hunter S. Thompson in Vegas last Halloween. Any comments?
JoJo: It was an easy costume to dig up.
Otis: Let’s talk about Widespread Panic. Nobody could believe that “The Waker” had finally returned during the New Year’s Eve run. Could you talk about the decision to bring that back for the first time with Jimmy Herring on lead guitar?
JoJo: It’s just such a great song. … It feels good to bring back songs from the catalog that we haven’t played in a long time. “Do What You Like” or “Don’t Want to Lose You” or “Sleepy Monkey”, one by one, slowly but surely, we’ve been bringing them all back. It feels so good to go back and play those songs.
Otis: There has been a high request volume for “Bayou Lena”, “Dark Bar”, “Smoking Factory”. A lot of people have been wondering what happened to these songs.
JoJo: Well, “Bayou Lena” gotta have the horn section. We did it with Dirty Dozen [Brass Band] playing the horns. It’s kind of just waiting for a horn section. You know, Slim Wednesday got horns. We are very horn-oriented. Say that ten times fast. So, we might do “Bayou Lena” and some of that other stuff. I still play it all the time, it’s great, I love it.
Otis: “Bayou Lena” is all from Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Can you explain what goes on with writing songs like that? It has such a New Orleans feel, the only thing missing is Jones smoking a cigarette in the corner.
JoJo: It’s just a good ol’ second line groove. It came off of Professor Longhair’s “Bald Head”, that kind of groove, or Dr. John. The music pretty much came from that. It’s just images out of Confederacy. There’s no plot or anything really, it’s just about one of the characters, Lana Lee, was one of the strippers in the book. Just painting images around that scene. No plot. We’re gonna be doing it all weekend for the Mardi Gras tour. I mentioned [to Brooklyn Bowl] that they should serve some jambalaya or something on their menu, New Orleans-y.
Otis: They do have some of New York City’s best fried chicken.
JoJo: Okay, then we will just have to spice it up a bit with a little hot sauce. Cause there’s no crawfish. The thing about Mardi Gras is, you can’t really get the crawfish outside of New Orleans and it’s hard to get in New Orleans in February or early March. For Jazz Fest, which we’ve done the last two years, we have crawfish boils. I have to say the crawfish boils really add so much to it. Just sit there and eat all these crawfish then go up and play music.
Otis: There’s a great crawfish festival in New Jersey. Last year, Taj Mahal and George Porter Jr. played there.
JoJo: I heard about that! When is that?
Otis: Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Festival usually takes place in early June. This year is the 30th anniversary and it takes place in Northwest Jersey.
JoJo: Man, you gotta get some Wednesday on there. Please, tell them we want to do it.
Otis: “One Arm Steve” has been played a lot recently to the enjoyment of the fans. The story behind it is hilarious. Can you talk about the backstory of becoming one of the guys, becoming a member of Widespread Panic?
JoJo: There was One Armed Steve and he was the doorman. It was my first gig. They used an old picture and I wasn’t in it. When I tried to get in and explain that I was in the band, he thought I was fucking with him. So he picked me up and threw me out on the street. He really pushed me out. There was a lot going on, people trying to get in and stuff. There were no cell phones, so I was stuck. It was my first gig and I was outside like ‘Shit, how am I going to get in this thing?’ I finally ran into somebody on the street who knew somebody like the manager or a roadie who got me in there. The second verse is about being deaf, dumb, and blind and trying to make it into the world. Like Helen Keller. It’s about Anne Sullivan, the Miracle Worker. Then the third verse is about Willie Mays. They really have nothing to do with each other, they are just three separate vignettes.
Otis: So, Sister Anne would be Anne Sullivan?
JoJo: That is correct.
Otis: What are some of your techniques as far as writing songs? What strategies do you employ that work for you?
JoJo: Well, first of all, thanks for asking about songwriting. Most people don’t, and I like songwriting. Some songs tap you on the shoulder and they just come out in like five minutes. Other songs you have to piece together bit by bit and it takes five years. There’s no real formula. I think you just have to be open to it. I remember, we were iced in and there was a big ice storm and I was stuck at my house for three days and I just sat at the piano and wrote, and wrote, and wrote for three days. Then, for the next three months, I didn’t write a thing. So, it kind of just comes and goes. When you’re writing, you don’t want to be cliché and are trying not to say and write something that has been done a trillion times.
Otis: Was that the writing period in which you wrote “Big Wooly Mammoth”?
JoJo: That song was actually a guitar song that I played with Luther and Cody Dickinson in Atlanta at the Northside Tavern. It was originally called “Let’s Get a Room”. … “Let’s get a room / I don’t need one with a view / Let’s get a room / I just want to be with you.” Deep stuff. Then somehow it became a Big, Wooly Mammoth. I think we were in Colorado and there was a mammoth thing going on there. They found a mammoth or something like that.
Otis: Are there any other songs that you would like to bring back?
JoJo: Aw man, you know, they’ve all been coming back so great. Everything’s just gelling right now and feelin’ good. The music feels so good right now. We got a lot of great dates coming up, I think we are playing every week in March. It’s almost like we are back to it. April, too. The Trondossa festival, love that thing. With Umphrey’s [McGee]. Life is good. I feel so thankful. Everything’s coming back. It feels so good. La Playa was great. Brought back “Snake Drive” with Cody and Luther [Dickinson]. That was awesome! We’re always bringing stuff back, you know, there must be a thousand songs to choose from.
Otis: You wrote “Visiting Day” about your dog’s eyes, right? Sadie?
JoJo: That’s right, Sadie was my dog. I remember when I was in camp and it was an eight-week sleep-away camp. At four weeks, it was Visiting Day. I remember one year, my parents couldn’t make it, and I was the only kid that was all alone on Visiting Day. So that feeling stuck with me.
Otis: You use a variety of pianos and keyboards. You brought out a white amp at Red Rocks that nobody had seen before. Can you describe some of your go-to instruments or some new gear you have been exploring?
JoJo: I love that thing. The new amp is specially built. It’s called the Duncanville. A guy here in town, Mike Duncan, builds amplifiers and he built this specially for Wurlitzer frequencies and tunes. He hand-builds them, and they are just beautiful, and they sound amazing. He custom makes them down here in Nashville. The Duncanville, I think I got the second edition, and man, it just sounds great and it just looks so good. I just love to look at it.
Otis: You use a Wurlitzer, you use the B3. Anything else?
JoJo: I use an upright piano now, which is really nice, and the clavinet.
Otis: When did you bring the upright back into the fold?
JoJo: It’s been off and on now for a while. I brought it back for this year. It depends on the venues.
Otis: Before we move on to venues, can you tell the story about the piano from “Ribs and Whiskey”?
JoJo: We were recording in Nassau [Bahamas] at Terry Manning‘s place and there was a big, empty lot next door. There was a lot of those in town there. I think there was a gospel tent set up there and when they packed up and left, they decided to leave the piano. I guess they didn’t want to carry it around anymore, it was in pretty bad shape, so they just left it there. We went out and Terry got this fifty-foot cable and went ahead and mic’d it. We played it right then and there. It was so out of tune that we had to do some kind of trickery. It was a half-key off-tune, so I had to play the whole song in G-flat on the piano. I played in a different key as the rest of the band.
Otis: You mentioned that you treat different venues differently, and it certainly shows in music and the setlist. What are some of your favorite venues and why?
JoJo: I just love them all right now for different reasons. The vibe of the town and the city, I’m loving the St. Augustine gig. I just love that town. You can go that Church from the 1500’s and walk in there. I’m not just saying this, I love them all. I love the familiarity of a place like Milwaukee. You know the people, and you know where everything is. You know the sound, and everything is just dialed in. Playing some new places this year, though. I’ve never played at The Capitol [Theatre]. I’ve never played there before, and I heard so much about it. I’m looking forward to this new place in Durham, North Carolina. I never played there before either. The word is that it’s one of the most beautiful and best sounding rooms anywhere. That’s what people tell me, but I’ll find out soon enough.
Otis: The Capitol Theater will be a blast, I’ll be there for sure.
JoJo: Everybody I know has played there like a hundred times, and I’m like ‘I never played there.” I’ve never even been there. So, I’m psyched. I don’t get to Westchester and Port Chester and Connecticut and places like that. I’m going to spend some time up in Westport, Connecticut and really get to know that area a bit, so that will be fun. I can’t wait. White Plains was like going to the country. Going above 72nd St. was a big deal when you grow up in the City. I remember going up to Rye, New York to play baseball games sometimes. They had a really good high school team in Rye.
Otis: So where exactly did you grow up in New York City?
JoJo: I grew up on Mulberry St., around Houston. Downtown.
Otis: Where did you get your musical kicks? Did you have to sneak up to Harlem or go to jazz clubs?
JoJo: Really, all I did was go to the playground and play hockey and basketball. My older sister’s record collection got me started when I was ten years old. Then, I heard this Professor Longhair record and that really changed everything. I went from Allman Brothers, the Stones, the Beatles … I was huge into the Doors, and Neil Young. Stuff high school kids were listening to. But the minute I heard that Fess record, I just switched gears and just went to a whole new thing automatically.
Otis: When did you meet Robert Palmer?
JoJo: I met him in New York City at a blues club called Tramps. Tramps would bring in blues players. They were the only club that did it. It was an Irish guy named Terry Dunn from Dublin, and he loved the blues. He and Bob would get together and bring up CeDell Davis, and they brought up Big Joe Turner and Lightnin’ Hopkins and Johnny Copeland and Charles Brown and Otis Rush and The Radiators. They would fly in these bands, bring in these blues bands, and I was just hanging out. I was actually their sound man for about a year. I got to see all these incredible bands. And I really got into blues along with the New Orleans music that I was listening to before that. I just decided one day to pick up and move down south in pursuit of the music.
Otis: I can understand why you would like Ray Manzarek and Chuck Leavell with the Allman Brothers, two musical geniuses.
JoJo: They are two of the greats. I remember when we played “Light My Fire” with [The Doors’] Robby Krieger in L.A. We did “Light My Fire” and Robby wrote “Light My Fire” and I did the organ solo and I leaned over [to Robby] and said “Ya know I learned how to play keyboards off this record.” And he was like, “You have no idea how much I hear that.” It’s really true that pretty much every piano player in America of the rock and roll bands probably learned how to play off [The Doors’] Ray Manzarek. It was mostly guitar bands. There were very few bands where the keyboards are featured and Ray Manzarek really brought that to the table. Along with Alan Price from the Animals. Those guys were a huge influence on high school keyboard players, and all keyboard players. [You can listen to the aforementioned show with Robby Krieger here].
Otis: What bands are you listening to now? Are there any new guys that are catching your ear?
JoJo: Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Professor Longhair because I’m working on the New Orleans stuff. I’m doing a solo kind of set so I’m working on some solo boogie stuff. Listening to Outformation, one of my favorite bands. It’s Sam Holt‘s band, Outformation. The album is called Traveler’s Rest.
Otis: If you could collaborate with any artist alive or dead who would it be?
JoJo: I’m happy with the guys I’m collaborating with now. I wouldn’t ask for anything else. I’ve worked with so many people. Maybe an athlete. Like Bernie Williams or something, that’d be cool. Even though he was a Yankee. When I grew up in the ’70s, when I was a little kid, there wasn’t this Mets-Yankees rivalry. We rooted for the Yankees as Mets fans because we were so bad when they were good. And when the Mets got good, the Yankees were bad. They only played each other once a year, the Mayor’s Trophy Game, They didn’t have interleague play yet. I remember always rooting for the Yankees in the late ’70s. Reggie Jackson, Chris Chambliss, Roy White, and Stottlemyre, who just passed, very sadly. I loved those guys, Thurman Munson, I loved Thurman Munson. Catfish Hunter, Mickey Rivers, do you remember, Mickey Rivers?
Otis: You grew up in New York City, and you’re always wearing the Mets hat. The offseason was very eventful for the Mets, how do you feel about the new general manager?
JoJo: I think he’s doing great. Made some moves. It’s all about pitching. You need [Noah] Syndergaard to come back. Of course, we still got [Jacob] deGrom. We got some good relief pitching. And then Cano, Robinson Cano. That’s a great pick-up.
Otis: Do you think the Mets should have hopes for playoff contention next season?
JoJo: Yeah, I think we are going to really surprise people. All the doubters. If the pitching stays healthy. DeGrom, Syndy, we got great relievers now. I do think we will make a playoff run. The Braves look awfully good though. They re-signed all their main guys. They look tough.
Otis: Well, JoJo, it was a pleasure talking to you, and can’t wait to see your band at Brooklyn Bowl.
JoJo: I’m excited; I haven’t played in New York City in a long time, so I look forward to checking it out.
Otis: We’re waiting.
On March 5th, Fat Tuesday, Slim Wednesday is coming through the Brooklyn Bowl to tear down the house (Grab your tickets here). You can follow and check out JoJo Hermann, Slim Wednesday, and Widespread Panic on Spotify. In the words of John Farmer Bell, “Go JoJo, Go!”
For Slim Wednesday’s full schedule, head here.