John “JoJo” Hermann
w/ Sherman Ewing
Sun. Dec. 4
$12 ($10 adv.)
32 Ann St.
“We’re just getting an upright piano and setting up some tables for sort of a Sunday lounge gig,” says John “JoJo” Hermann of this week’s Music Farm performance. Speaking from his home in Franklin, Tenn., the multi-instrumentalist sounds upbeat about the change of pace and scenery. “It’s the kind of thing you bring a date to, sit down, and order a bottle of wine.”
Although he’s best known as the keys expert in the powerhouse rhythm section of veteran Georgia jam band Widespread Panic, the mild-mannered multi-instrumentalist continues to demonstrate his songwriting abilities and musical technique in other areas.
In 2001, Hermann introduced a bluesy pop-rock side project called Smiling Assassins, in which he stepped up to the stage-front as lead singer and guitarist — a move that came naturally to Hermann, but surprised and impressed both Panic fans and music critics.
Born and raised in New York City, Hermann spent considerable time living and playing in Oxford, Miss., in the late-’80s, where he was deeply influenced by the Delta blues, as heard on the old demos from Oxford band Beanland.
Last year, he took advantage of a rare Panic hiatus and assembled a New Orleans-style combo called The Mardis Gras Band — “basically a Professor Longhair cover band,” as he puts it. He and sax player Max Abrams, bassist Johnny Few, percussionist Hunter Williams, and drummer Kevin Mabin focused on the piano-driven blues and boogie of mid-century New Orleans.
In Sept. 2004, Hermann released his third solo album, Just Ain’t Right (Sanctuary). The 12-song collection of densely-arranged rock tunes and bluesy Americana anthems features performances from Luther and Cody Dickinson (of the North Mississippi Allstars), Georgia Hall-of-Famer organist Chuck Leavell (a longtime Panic collaborator), and Athens bassist Paul “Crumpy” Edwards (also of Barbara Cue, formerly of Bloodkin and White Buffalo).
After a slew of summer and fall shows with Panic this year, Hermann shows no signs of slowing down. This week, with the intention of brushing up a bit on the music and style of piano that influenced him as a youngster, he embarks on a short tour of “solo piano” shows. The mini-tour includes stops in Memphis, Oxford, Atlanta, and Nashville, where the Mardi Gras Band will perform in full force.
“My left hand just kind of grabs me by the neck once in a while and says, ‘hey, you gotta use me from time to time,” Hermann says. “That’s when I book a few solo gigs. It’s a totally different thing [from Panic’s live show]. But that’s why I do it. It forces me to really get it together, too.
“In guitar-rock bands, the piano player’s left hand pretty much gets relegated to the drink holder,” he laughs. “Ninety percent of the time, it’s just kind of hitting octaves, locking in with the bass player, and staying out of the way. So this gives my left hand a chance to get those muscles reawakened.”
Songwriter Sherman Ewing, a Minneapolis native based in N.Y.C., makes his first trip down to Charleston with a boisterous opening set of melody-driven guitar-pop tunes. A former bandmate of Hermann’s in a garage group called Sherman & The Bureaucrats, Ewing’s red-blooded Americana draws from the same Dylan and Beatles sound and delivery that influenced the likes of Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg, Peter Case, and Panic themselves. He’s ready for the early-’06 release of an acoustic guitar-based album — the follow-up to 2003’s Blue Moon.
“I’m really looking forward to playing this show in Charleston,” says Sherman, speaking from Manhattan. “JoJo and I have been collaborating off and on since we played together. I’ll do a quick acoustic set — what I call a ‘broken down set’ — and then I’ll join him on couple of songs during his show.”
“It’s going to be a fun event,” says Hermann.” I’ll play stride piano, ragtime, and boogie … the Professor Longhair and Dr. John kind of stuff. I’ll sing of lot of my own songs — the Smiling Assassins and Panic songs. Most of the set, I’m just going to turn down the lights, close my eyes, and play that good New Orleans stuff.”