In April’s Sideman Spotlight, Nik Rodewald takes a look at the life and times of a sideman that has helped support many prominent artists of the Blues Rock genre. Today’s Sideman Spotlight focuses on trumpeter Steve Herrman.
The life of a sideman – according to trumpeter Steve Herrman – is a kind of “mixed bag,” that includes one nighters, studio work, society gigs and showcases. Yet it is this “mixed bag” that keeps sidemen like Herrman going. “As much as touring or being part of a band is a great thing to do, I’m happiest when I’m jumping from job to job,” says Herrman. Herrman has plenty of experience jumping from job to job, doing everything from touring with Delbert McClinton to session work with Bob Seger to playing in a Mexican Cumbia band to performing with legendary jazz drummer Duffy Jackson. What started with a fascination with the music of Miles Davis turned into a long career of jazz, blues, rock and a “mixed bag” that makes every day a unique challenge.
Steve Herrman grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, born to two parents “who could not have been more supportive [of Herrman’s musical ambitions], though they were not musicians themselves.” Indeed, Herrman began taking piano lessons in first grade, but ultimately quit because at the time he “was too immature to do technical drills.” Shortly thereafter, he found a trumpet lying around the house and decided to try and play it, and immediately found his voice. Still, Herrman never considered making music his life until, “[he] really started listening to jazz and then [he] heard Miles Davis.”
Herrman recalls listening to some of the great rock and roll artists of the day, such as Jimi Hendrix, Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears, but says, “When I heard Miles Davis, that caught my ear.” After that, Herrman began to listen to more and more jazz, discovering trumpet greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw and Lee Morgan – after whom Herrman would model his sound. Herrman then attended North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) to study jazz, where he played in the renowned One O’Clock Jazz Band, before landing his first professional gig at age 22.
At age 22, Herrman began playing with a Mexican Cumbia band in Dallas. According to Herrman, “I was studying, playing in big bands and then playing five hours per night for $200 per week [with the Cumbia band]…It was lots of hard work for not a lot of money, but it was my first real performance experience.”
In addition to that band, Herrman began playing in a salsa band around 1985. After the salsa band fell through, he found himself working for a market research company, when he got a call to fill in for Delbert McClinton’s trumpet player, who was taking a job in Japan. Says Herrman, “Delbert called and asked me to sub in…he said, ‘We’ll see if you like us and if we like you.’ They ended up liking me and I stayed for 7 ½ years.” During that time with Delbert, Herrman was playing about 200 nights per year, doing everything from beer joints to European tours and television shows. While playing with Delbert, Herrman relocated from Texas to Nashville, a place that “I never thought I would end up…but it’s worked out well and I’m happy here.”
Herrman finally left McClinton’s band after 7 ½ years, but it was an experience that helped him move into the music world and one that he will never forget. “It’s a feather in your cap to work with Delbert,” Herrman says, “It gives you instant credibility.” Through working with McClinton, Herrman met saxophonist Jim Horn and began a three year stint with Waylon Jennings, where Herrman met Charles Rose, leader of the Muscle Shoals Horns. That friendship would lead to countless recording sessions, as well as a stint in the Lyle Lovett Band. The late Nashville saxophonist Dennis Taylor also played a major role in Herrman’s life. According to Herrman, “Dennis was my best friend and a huge influence on me. Any time he needed a trumpet player, he would call me.”
Since then, Herrman has been freelancing, playing showcases, one-nighters, society gigs and studio work, as well as a stint with Kenny Chesney from 2007-2010. Now, Herrman seems to have found a balance, a mixed bag that he’s happy with.
In addition to his work on the blues rock scene, Herrman says that he has to get away from music sometimes. Bitten by the golf bug at 35, Herrman is an avid golfer and enjoys vegetable gardening. Hermann also hasn’t lost his love and appreciation for jazz, continuing to play on the Nashville jazz scene with legendary jazz drummer Duffy Jackson’s Big Band, as well as with the Kelli Cox Collaborative. “Nashville’s not a big jazz market, especially for any group larger than a trio, but we’re trying to make it work,” Herrman says. He continues to write his own original instrumentals and hints that he plans to start his own quartet in the next year or two, saying, “I’ve been a sideman in large part because I didn’t want to deal with the hassles of being a leader…I’ve enjoyed being a sideman and being able to go home at the end of the day, but it’s time for that to change.”
Performing with Delbert McClinton
Performing with the Kelli Cox Collaborative