One of the recurring themes in my long-running series “Steely Dan Sunday” is that if a guitar player is good enough for Steely Dan, they’re probably good enough for anybody. Well, Jon Herington has been good enough to record and tour with Steely Dan for the last thirteen years…more than four times longer than Jeff Baxter’s stint with the band. That’s not to say, of course, that Herington is four times better than Skunk, or even as good as Skunk, but he’s got to have something going for him to be able to stick around with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen for so long, and I suspect that “something” is his versatility, a deep fluency in the worlds of rock, blues and jazz. In Herington, Steely Dan has found their own private Steve Lukather.
For that reason alone, I had to get my hands on Herington’s Time On My Hands and find out what Steely Dan’s most tenured guitarist has been doing lately with his spare time.
Herington certainly does keep busy. When not touring with the Dan, he could be out on the road with Donald Fagen and the Dukes of September, and when neither acts are touring and he’s not working with the likes of Boz Scaggs or Madeleine Peyroux, Herington’s got his own little band he leads featuring Dennis Espantman (bass) and Frank Pagano (drums). He’s made a few records with this Jon Herington Group, too, and the music reveals blues-rock and mainstream rock to be primary passions of his. His latest album Time On My Hands is another such record with his base trio along a few friends, and is poised to release next week.
Even within the realm of blues-inflected rock, the facile versatility that’s made him the go-to guy on all Steely Dan-related projects are on display here, as well as his singing, too. He’s not so bad at all in that department, either; like his guitar, it’s pretty smooth and can conform to a lot of settings. Supplementing the trio on the album are guest spots from Danny Louis (Gov’t Mule), Rob Morsberger, longtime colleague Jim Beard and Donald Fagen.
The fare here is emulative, songs that sound like something you’ve heard before, you just can’t always put your finger on what that is. Herington nonetheless has an ear for catchy melodies, makes each song distinct from each other and even injects a light humor into many of them. He’s not setting out to make some deep artistic statement — he did that already with his highly recommended debut progressive jazz album Pulse And Cadence — but this is a good time record and should be accepted on those terms. His guitar isn’t ever too far behind his vocals and true to his valuable vast utility, he plays in all different styles generally within the blues realm; on a couple of tracks (“Shine Shine Shine” and “I Hear They Shoot Horse”) his guitar even sounds like Becker’s.
The romping “Sweet Ginny Rose” is like Bo Diddly meets Sonny Landreth. “I Ain’t Got You” (not the Jimmy Reed song, video of live performance below) has got this cool Memphis soul vibe, and “Caroline Yes” is a toe-tapping, straight up blues shuffle. “Runnin’ Out of Time” features pretty, Beach Boys type harmonies, “Egirl” is a rewrite of “I Ain’t Drunk” with an updated cyber love theme, and he lays down the funk and the slide guitar for “I Hear They Shoot Horses.”
With Time On My Hands, Herington gets to show off sides of him you won’t hear on a recent Steely Dan-related album or see live when he’s touring with those guys. It turns out, he’s more than “merely” a sideman to the stars. This record won’t draw comparisons to the records of his usual employers, but it can serve just fine as a party record for the same target audience.
Time On My Hands goes on sale August 3. Visit Jon Herington’s website for more info.