Band: The Herndon Brothers, Lyle Lovett
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
A former member of McBride & the Ride, long-time guitarist for Lyle Lovett, singer and songwriter Ray Herndon grew up in Arizona, lived in Nashville and has worked with good folks like Jessi Colter, Clint Black, Sonya Isaacs, Jon Randall Stewart, Isaac Freeman, Kenny Chesney, Aaron Tippin, Lee Greenwood, Linda Davis, and Sonya Isaacs.
what he says
"I'm mostly an amp distortion guy, but what I noticed about the Big Joes is that they've done a good job at emulating an amp's distorted sound. When I used the Saturated pedal, it colours it a little differently but it still sounds like the amp, it enhances it and gives the tone a sound that is easily detectable. The Phaser is also great, it's a nice tone and a sturdy pedal too. I don't use a lot of pedals and when I'm tour with Lyle if I'm using amps that I'm not familiar with, I have a stomp box that I can count on to have a certain sound that would go through an amp that doesn't have a certain distortion channel. Sometimes when you get an amp, you have a couple pedals you can rely on to give you that sound, that's particularly when I turn to those them and the Big Joes work really well for that for me, to give me that nuance."
a word with the man
What’s the Handlebar J?
My family’s restaurant, we’ve owned it for almost 40 years. It’s a great venue for live music, we have great food and one-of-a-kind atmosphere, a real jewel of the desert, it’s a landmark in Scottsdale. We have live music 6 nights a week, and my band plays there 5 nights when i’m in town which is most of the time these days. I lived in Nashville for 14 years, did that scene and did alot of songwriting. To come here and have a place to play that’s my family’s, I feel like it’s playing in my mom’s living room. We’re doing a lot of different things right now musically and getting some more variety.
Who do you play with?
My band is called the Herndon Brothers and my brother plays piano, the other guitar player has played in the band for 20 years and a drummer was there for 18 years and he actually got in a bad accident in August. I don’t know if he’ll recover enough to play or not. Our bass player has been with us for 10 years but he’s leaving so we’re getting ready to replace him. I also play with Lyle Lovett in a large band alot of times in the summer, and I go on tour, usually for about 6-8 weeks or more but this summer was a little less because of the economy. It’s just expensive to have 10-15 guys on the road with you all the time.
What was your first instrument when you started playing?
I actually started off on accordion, but I moved to guitar when I was about 6 or 7 and played it ever since. I had to put the accordion down, probably a good thing I did (laughs).
What would you have done as a career choice if you hadn’t become a musician?
I probably would’ve been a basketball player if I had gone the sport route. I’m 6”1 so I'm not tall enough but it’s funny the correlation between music and sports. All my life I’ve grown up with guys who are athletes that played music, some of my best buddies are football players that are now actually ex-NFL players that play guitar. Sports and music have such a correlation.
What's the common denominator?
The discipline, you gotta put in the time and practice. The difference is that with sports you have to stop doing that at some point, but with music you can keep doing that until you die. Look at guys that have done well, like look at Toby Keith for example. He was a football player and now he became a huge country star. There’s another great musician from Nashville named Mike Reed, he wrote “You can’t make me love you”, he’s also a professional football player.
Once a showman always a showman?
(laughs) That's true.
How long have you been playing with Lyle Lovett?
Since 1983, off and on. I’m on most of his records and play on the road with him.
How did that come about?
We met him in Luxemburg and he was doing the Schueberfouer fair. It was a month long fair and my band at the time was booked to play as the American act, and Lyle Lovett was in the same tent as us, playing by himself. In the first week we noticed what a talent he was and he was kind of getting lost in the shuffle. We got to know him and wanted to work up some of his songs and get him up with our band to play, and our band ended up hitting it off with his music and asked him to come up to record with us in Pheonix. A lot of the guys in the band were jazz-oriented and yet we played country, and that’s what Lyle’s music is like, a bit more intellectual than your typical country sound. So we just hit it off, made demos, took them to Nashville and Tony Brown signed to him to MCA Records and the rest is history.
What’s it like being on the road with him?
I’ve gotten to do some incredible things musically. We’ve played the most beautiful venues in America, Canada and other parts of the world. We’ve played places that sometimes you never get to see let alone play at, get to do TV shows like Leno and Conan and Ellen. Not many people can say they’ve been able to do that so I’ve been very fortunate. When I play with Lyle it’s always fun because he’s very comedic.
What’s something people might not know about Lyle?
Ultimately everything you hear on Lyle’s records is him. 99.9% of his work is something he conjured up in his mind that he wants and he's a perfectionist. He doesn't settle, he doesn't care who you are, who you've played with and what your credentials are - he does, because he wants to surround himself with the best players in the world and he does and that's wonderful - however, they do it his way and that's what makes Lyle's music, Lyle's music. He doesn't do anything without a purpose. I've never really talked to him about this but I've picked up on it. He's subtle with his messages sometimes but there's a rhyme and reason for everything. It's inspired me to do the same with my music.
Any great musical memories you can share?
The first time I got to play with Dave Hungate, who used to play with Toto, and is a great musician. For me as a guy growing up listening to Toto and James Taylor and Jackson Brown to get to play with guys like Russ and Leeland and Dave is incredible, I've had to pinch myself many times. And we're friends, besides being musical comrades. I went to see James Taylor and Carol Keene on a tour they did a few years ago and it was James' original band. I had such a connection with that band when I went to that show, I was almost in tears because I was watching these guys who I had been on stage with or in studio with playing James Taylor songs and Carol Keene songs, who are people I grew up idolizing, and here I am, I know them. What an incredible feeling that is, and nobody can really understand that I don't think. I can tell my peers that I grew up with playing music with, watched ourselves playing in the mirror, they understand because we came up. It's hard to explain to your mom or your brother that feeling of just sitting down in the crowd looking at the performers with Russ and Leeland just looking at each other and responding musically to each other, going 'wow I've done this with these guys on stage' and hearing these guys just spoke to met deeply. It's awesome, I can't think of anything better, maybe even better than sex.
I guess you can say music is really your calling if its interchangeable with sex.
(laughs) It can be.
You started wearing different hats and writing your own music, why is that important to you?
I've always been a sideman which is good because if it didn't work out for me as an artist I could always do that. It's a fortunate position because I've gotten to do some incredible things musically but at the same time I've got anonymity. I've always wanted to make my own records and we just happened to have made one which was a labour of love. We put together a bunch of songs that we thought we'd have fun recording and I have another record in the works. It doesn't matter if 10 people or 10 million people love it, if 10 do then you've done something right, you know?
Is there truth in all your lyrics?
Yeah there's some bit of truth in almost all of them.
You have a song called 'My dog thinks I'm Elvis'. Is that true?
(laughs) Yeah it kind of is. I have a friend named Jimbo who lives on a large acre farm and he had a dog named Lyric. He came up with the title of that song and it was about his dog who idolized him.
You have another song called 'Fools of the Trade'. The lyrics in it say "We try our best to settle down, then wake up in some other town, that's why it's so easy to play the blues". What's that about?
(laughs) I was wearing a t-shirt one time that said "Tools of the Trade" and I came across another writer, because when you become part of the fabric of Nashville that's what you do, you work with writers a lot. My dad was a musician, and he was a player and I came up with the lyrics and enhanced the story a bit about living my life up and down the road.
Would you say it's a blessing or a curse to be in those shoes?
Both! It's hard being on the road being someone like Willie Nelson or Lyle who is out there constantly. I'm not at the moment so maybe my road days are ahead but it's still hard to have a normal life when you own a club and you play there all the time, it's kind of like being on the road. It's difficult sometimes, like being in a relationship and having to be gone all the time.
Speaking of relationships, you have another one called "I don't think the Devil's Gonna Get Me", judging by the lyrics it sounds like that one has to do with a love interest.
Well when I lived in Nashville, if you write for a publishing company you get into a routine and going in at 10 a.m., and if you're co-writing you schedule a writing appointment and you get together, make some coffee, go into a room and try to write a song. Well a few times I saw signs down the gulf shores of Alabama where I've played during the last few years in a songwriter's festival and when you go down the I-65 you see all these signs, because it's the Bible Belt, they would say "the devil's gonna get you", trying to get you to go to church because if you didn't that's what would happen. I had that title in my mind and I came up with a lick and told my co-writer "I don't think the devil's gonna get me…because I got an angel by my side". So that's we came up with it right there and then.
Do you have anyone by your side?
Ah, it's off and on. That's the hard part about working at a club. I've always been noncommittal about relationships, because being a musician you have to have someone in the industry who understands that that that's just what I do, and what I'm going to continue to do until I can't.
Would you trade love for music?
Still doesn't stop you from garnering attention from females, being a musician and all?
That's probably be the easiest way to meet chicks, because I suck at it otherwise. That reminds me of another Lyle Lovett story. We were playing a show in front of some older folks in the crowd who just looked bored. And he says to the crowd "I realize that there are some of you here that have no idea who in the heck we are. I know most of you come for a lot of the classical music but one thing we do have in common with those guys is that we all just do it for the chicks." (laughs). He's right! Bach, Mozart, they all just did it for the chicks.