Photo by RR Jones

Alex Skolnick shares an insightful tribute to the father of modern jazz guitar.

The very first time I heard Pat Martino, I was so mesmerized that I called local Northern California radio station KJAZ (now defunct) to find out who was playing. This was long before we had Shazam and similar smartphone apps that identify music, and if you didn't get through to the station you were out of luck. Fortunately, I did and was told the cut they'd played was from an album called Desperado. I soon bought others I'd seen mentioned in guitar magazines at the time, including The Visit! and Consciousness.

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The king of jam band 6 string goes deep—in a conversation with Testament’s leader—on the ’90s jam renaissance, Jeff Buckley, Dixie Dregs, and cutting tracks for Widespread Panic's latest album, Street Dogs.

Here’s a question that comes up every once in a while during an interview: “Are there any guitarists you count as influences who might not be as familiar to our readers (or listeners) as more household names such as Van Halen, Hendrix, or Metheny?” My first answer, for quite some time now, has been the same: Jimmy Herring.

Although he isn’t the first to bridge the gap between high-energy rock soloing and jazz-inspired improvisation (the ’70s recordings of Jeff Beck as well as those of drummer Billy Cobham, featuring the late guitarist Tommy Bolin, come to mind), no one to my knowledge has taken it to the level that Jimmy has. If you’re someone who enjoys the “screaming” of rock and blues solos, but has grown tired of hearing predictable pentatonic patterns, or if you’ve ever been intrigued by modern improvisation—chromatic lines, extended triads, outside phrases—but have had to adjust your tastes to accommodate the mellifluousness of traditional jazz guitar tone, then Jimmy Herring might be, depending on your theological juxtaposition:

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What separated Jeff from the rest of the metal pack was his rhythm technique, his songwriting, and that for which he will be most remembered—his riffs.

It was L.A.'s hottest day of the year, soon to segue into one of metal's biggest nights—the Revolver Golden God Awards fifth-anniversary show—when a very sad rumor spread amongst those of us in town to attend the event. Soon it would be confirmed as true via an official statement from Slayer: Founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman—who'd suffered from a tragic necrotizing fasciitis infection that prevented him from playing with Slayer since early 2011—had passed away a few hours earlier from liver failure. The world had just lost a voice hugely influential in metal and beyond.

Jeff had a subtle sense of humor that was all his own, and though he was a bit more reserved than the rest of the Slayer camp, he viewed life as a party to be enjoyed to its fullest. Much of what Jeff’s loved ones and fans appreciated about him was his steadfast and genuine style—the fact that he didn’t stray from his own vision. In Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman’s Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, Jeff is quoted, “I tried to emulate what [well-known shredders] did and really grow as a guitarist. Then I said, ‘I don’t think I’m that talented, but more important, I don’t care.’” But as legions of dedicated Slayer fans the world over would attest, Jeff’s portrayal of himself as marginally talented is completely inaccurate. A more apt description could be summed up in one word, "immense."

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