An Interview With Steely Dan Guitarist Jon Herington

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Jon Herington

“Ain’t got no virus, ain’t got no spam, got a big ol’ hard drive and tons of ram, wanna get connected, filled out the form, retyped my password, I’m getting warm…”Lyrics from “Egirl” by Jon Herington

Jon HeringtonWhen prominent musicians and entertainers are ready to take their show on the road, or lay down tracks in the studio, they call Jon Herington. A premier session player and world class guitarist, Herington has worked with such celebrated performers as Boz Scaggs, Bette Midler, Phoebe Snow, Bobby Caldwell, Lucy Kaplansky and Madeleine Peyroux. It doesn’t end there though, as the list goes on and on.

What’s more, many believe Herington’s current solo release, “Time On My Hands,” featuring The Jon Herington Band, was one of the best records of 2012. We haven’t even mentioned his contributions with The Dukes Of September Rhythm Review, featuring Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald or that he’s been the guitar slinger of choice for the legendary Steely Dan, in the studio and on tour, since 1999.

Guitar-Muse recently had a chance to speak with six-string extraordinaire Jon Herington about his current solo album, song writing, Steely Dan and of course guitars.

Many thanks, to Jon Herington for taking time to chat with Guitar-Muse.

Interview with guitarist Jon Herington

Jon HeringtonGuitar-Muse: Jon, let’s talk about your current solo release, “Time On My Hands,” which features The Jon Herington Band. Is this the first album that you’ve recorded with the band?

Jon Herington: I’ve worked with the same band – Dennis Espantman, who plays bass and Frank Pagano, on the drums, for many years. But the records have always come out in my name. We’ve done a lot of collaborating on the songwriting over the years.

GM: Seeing how “Time On My Hands” is your fourth album, what prompted you to release this one featuring The Jon Herington Band?

JH: I felt this is a little closer to what we do live. You know we’ve begun to record and tour a little more. Releasing this album was a way of pushing harder. It’s also a nod of appreciation to the guys.

GM: In addition to singing, playing guitars and having a hand in writing each of the songs, you also produced the album. The finished product is a uniquely balanced mix of instruments and vocals that are clearly delineated on every tune. Not only that, the overall sound is crisp and bright while remaining distinct and warm. What were your ideas going in about recording and producing the album?

JH: Thanks, I’m glad you noticed. I tried to make sure we had the right help. That becomes a big question when you’re recording an album. There’s so much that goes into it. Plus, I wanted to make sure it had a sonic impact. We achieved that with the help of engineers like Sham Sundra and Brian Montgomery.

GM: What’s different about this album, compared to your previous solo releases?

JH: On this record I wanted to feature the guitar in a way that I never had before. I’ve been trying to develop my own personal solo style. I’ve done a lot of that with Steely Dan but never on my own records. In the past, when I’ve written my own songs, it hasn’t been built around the guitar. With this album, I wanted to stretch it a little and make it more like a guitar player’s record, but without compromising on the quality of the songs themselves.

Jon HeringtonGM: I understand parts of the record were done at Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan.

JH: Yes, that’s correct. The basic tracks for the record were done in a sort of makeshift basement studio with good gear at a friend’s place, though it wasn’t a commercial one. Overdubs were done mostly at my own studio in New York. But when we wanted to add Donald Fagen, we needed a studio with a good piano and a Wurlitzer. As a result, we decided to hire Electric Lady Studios. I’m happy with the outcome, it’s pretty powerful sounding.

GM: You deliver some tasty guitar chops on the album, not to mention vocals and lyrics that are sharp, witty and often humorous. Listeners can hear a variety of distilled rock, blues and even some soul influences. Could you talk about that?

JH: Well, because I wanted to feature the guitar on this record, I ended up writing in a different way. I realized the songwriting would have to have a more lighthearted tone to sound right.

GM: Inside the credits, it says you also play the iphone tanpura on the tune, “Sweet Ginny Rose.” Was that an app?

JH: Yes, that was an app. I think it was originally created for Indian musicians. It’s a drone instrument. It’s actually a recording of a tanpura done through an app. When we play live I have the sound man hook it up. It works well for the song, which is sort of a tongue in cheek take on an Indian raga.

GM: Donald Fagen plays the Wurlitzer electric piano on the song “Egirl.” Besides the Jon Herington Band, what other artists contributed to the project?

JH: We had Danny Louis, from Gov’t Mule. He’s a good all-around player. He can do everything. Like on, ‘I Ain’t Got You.’ We needed a B3 because the song has an Al Green sound. We also had Jim Beard on keyboards. He provided help with the production as well. We’ve produced several records together. Jim has worked with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans, John Scofield, Mike Stern, and many others. Rob Morsberger is also on the album. Unfortunately, he passed away recently. He’s one of America’s greatest songwriters. He’s been an inspiration.

GM: This is probably a good time to bring up that you’ve been the guitarist of choice on the road and in the studio for Steely Dan since 1999. In fact, you’re currently on tour with them. How did you first get involved with Steely Dan?

Jon HeringtonJH: It was when they were recording ‘Two Against Nature.’ They were at a point where they needed a few more guitar parts. Ted Baker, the keyboard player on the record, recommended me. We had worked a lot together in New York. Anyway, I played a bit on one track and it seemed to go well. Walter told me he’d call within the week to have me come back and play some more.

About five weeks went by before I finally heard from Walter. He told me he wasn’t going to use what I had played on the first session. I said, ‘Okay.’ And then he asked me if I would come in to play on a few more tunes. I did and they ended up using me on four tracks on that record. Sometime during those sessions, they asked me if I would like to go on tour with them. I’ve been working with Steely Dan ever since.

GM: When performing live with Steely Dan, how do you recreate the familiar riffs that everyone expects to hear and stay true to the classic songs, while adding your own musical signature?

JH: Walter and Donald have never told me what to play. So I’ve always been free to follow my own instincts.

GM: When you are on tour with Steely Dan, what guitars do you use?

JH: This year I’m taking five guitars on the road. My go to guitar is a Gibson CS-336. It’s had a lot of customizing. Then there’s a Telecaster made by Larry Wysocki that has Jim Rolf pick-ups, too. Next is a custom shop SG, it’s a real rocker. It’s got a great sounding treble pick up. I also have a Fender Telecaster that has three pickups. I love the middle pick-up position on a Strat, so I added a Strat style pickup to the Tele. Finally, a Les Paul Custom from the 70’s. I use that when I need a drop D tuning on one of the tunes.

GM: When it comes to pick-ups, do you prefer single coil or humbuckers?

Jon HeringtonJH: They both work well. I can tell you that I don’t like humbuckers that are over wound. If it’s over wound, I hear more of the pick-up than the tone of the guitar itself.

GM: What type of strings and gauges do you like; do you always use a pick?

JH: On my electrics, I use Ernie Ball .10 gauge Rock and Roll strings. They’re different from the regular Slinkys because they have a pure nickel wrap. I’m not really looking for brightness and the nickel wrap is a little darker. As far as using a pick goes, generally I play with the pick but sometimes I use a combination of a pick and a finger or two.

GM: Are you still playing through Guytron and Bludotone guitar amps? Why do you favor those over others?

JH: I fell in love with sound of the guitar through an amp, I like the vocal quality of a cranked up amp. The Guytron is my go-to amp. It sounds great, it has a great effects loop, channel switching, the best master volume I’ve found and it’s very user friendly. It doesn’t have a bad sound in it.

GM: On your website it says you sometimes use a Keely modified Ibanez Tube Screamer. Out of curiosity, how is it modified?

JH: In general I don’t usually use overdrive pedals. But sometimes, when I’m playing outside of Steely Dan, I have to use other amps. Then I use pedals. I’m no electronics whiz, so I don’t know what the mod really consists of, but I think Robert mostly replaces the inferior stock components with higher end components so everything’s cleaner. You get a higher quality audio.

GM: Besides touring with Steely Dan, what else have you been up to lately?

Jon HeringtonJH: I’ve been playing some dates with Madeleine Peyroux. She has a gorgeous voice and a new record we’ve been out promoting. We also have a new live Jon Herington Band DVD that just came out. The DVD includes an acoustic set and a guest appearance by David Bromberg.

GM: Thank you for spending time with us Jon.

For more information about Jon Herington, the Jon Herington Band, the album “Time On My Hands” or any of his other work, please visit


Paul Wolfle

As a vintage and contemporary music enthusiast, guitars dominate Paul’s life. He plays slide in open tunings on a National Steel Tricone resonator and electric blues, in standard tuning, on an assortment of other instruments including his white Fender Stratocaster.

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