“Sometimes things happen in places where maybe you wouldn’t expect them.”
Keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann moved to Oxford from his childhood home in 1986 and said he believes a part of him has really never left, despite internationally touring with the band Widespread Panic.
The New York City kid grew up wearing out records by the likes of Professor Longhair, The Funky Meters and George Porter Jr. Hermann said he still remembers the first time he heard their sound and the way it shaped his own playing style. This spring, he’s taking his Mardi Gras band on the road again to showcase the funk in front of local audiences.
“I think we can call ourselves the No. 1 Nashville-based Professor Longhair cover band,” Hermann said. “We’ve got our own little niche, I guess.”
JoJo’s Slim Wednesday will kick off a run of seven April shows in small venues across the South Thursday night at Proud Larry’s on the Square. Hermann last played the Proud Larry’s stage in 2012 with fellow New Yorker Sherman Ewing under the moniker Missing Cats.
Hermann has played and written music in Oxford since 1986, most prolifically with the local band Beanland. Hermann said the band, named for guitarist George McConnell’s address on Beanland Drive, was already filling clubs covering standard songs by the time its drummer asked him to sit in on keys. He said original songs like “Take Me to the Show” and “Doreatha” drew him to the band in the early days.
“It was just good times,” Hermann said. “I never dreamed there was a place like Oxford growing up in the city. It really hit me upside the head.”
Hermann played with Beanland in Oxford for years before joining Athens-based Widespread Panic in March 1992. He said Beanland came together by happenstance and, as most bands did at the time, covered many Grateful Dead songs.
“The thing I loved about the Dead was their records,” Hermann said. “I didn’t follow them on tour, really. I wasn’t one of the people who traded the bootlegs.”
Hermann’s style of playing has its roots in New Orleans’ homegrown funk and the Grateful Dead’s studio albums. The Rascals’ “Good Lovin,’” a Grateful Dead live staple, was one of the first songs he learned on piano. He said Professor Longhair’s 1985 album “Rock n Roll Gumbo” left a lasting impression him as a teenager, as well.
“I looked at music that way,” Hermann said. “Not so much segregating the sound, but so much that everything is part of one big sound.”
Hermann said he is lucky to have had the opportunity to play onstage with so many of his musical heroes, most recently with Meters bassist George Porter Jr. in Mexico.
“The minute his fingers touch those bass strings, you hear that sound that’s on the records that you wore out,” Hermann said. “I’ll never forget when I played with Zigaboo, the drummer. The first time he played that snare, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I know that sound.’”
Both Porter and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste were founding members of New Orleans funk group The Meters. Hermann said the Meters laid the basis for the sound he focuses on with JoJo’s Slim Wednesday.
“The Meters are really the trunk, the roots of the tree that you know the whole scene came out of, and anybody who plays a funky beat to me comes through The Meters,” he said.
Hermann said he tours with this Mardi Gras band for pure fun more than anything else, and he planned the tour itself around crawfish season. The band used to only play during Mardi Gras, but the crawfish were not as good as in the spring. He said the smaller venues and relaxed crowds on these tours offer an alternative to playing in front of a sold-out arena or at Red Rocks.
“Yeah, you know, it’s just for fun. That’s what I love about it,” Hermann said. “It’s the music I played in my living room for decades and still play in my living room when I’m alone.”
After his homecoming celebration in Oxford, Hermann will hit the road for six more shows in seven days across four states. He said he did not want to leave the South on this tour and hopes to bring a little bit of New Orleans music and crawfish to each of the venues he hits.
This summer, Hermann will be on the festival circuit with Widespread Panic, as well as returning to Red Rocks for the band’s annual June residency.
“Music is about the fun and having fun and good times, and I think every place we picked is basically based in that same idea,” he said.