Vince Herman wasn’t thinking about making a solo record when he decided to take to the highway in August 2020. “During the pandemic, I got an RV and just decided to have my own bubble and drive around the country,” he explains.
The longtime co-leader of the popular and pioneering jamgrass band Leftover Salmon was on the road for around five months and spent a month and a half of it in Nashville. It was there he bumped into some old friends who helped set him on a course that led to Enjoy the Ride, his first-ever solo album in 30 years of making records.
“I think age 60 is a great time to start a solo career,” Herman says with a laugh. “Especially how the music industry is so focused on us older folks these days.
He says the solo record is “a bit of a departure from anything I’ve done before.” That’s especially true of the way he approached it. The aforementioned old friends — Donnie and Chris Davisson of the Davisson Brothers Band — played a key role in that regard.
“I came to Nashville and ran into the Davisson brothers, old buddies from West Virginia I’ve known for a long time,” Herman says. “I connected with the writer community here in town through the Davissons and just ended up writing more in the last year and a half than I probably have the rest of my life. It’s been been a really creative boon for me to be in Nashville, so much that I bought a house here, and I’ve got chickens, fruit trees and a garden in my yard. I’m in for the long haul.
Through the Davissons, Herman met Erv Woolsey, who probably is best known as George Strait’s manager. Woolsey became his manager and publisher, and like the Davissons, helped facilitate writing sessions for him. It wasn’t long before Herman had “a big pile of songs.”
“So I decided to make a record with all these songs I’ve been writing,” he says. “The Davissons had worked with Ferg [producer David Ferguson] on their upcoming new record, and I met Ferg, and we got along great.”
Ferguson remembers that meeting well. “I was making a record on the Davisson Brothers and they were writing with Vince,” the producer recalls. “Vince wrote a couple of songs with ’em on their record, and he came over to play on ’em, and he just liked what we were doing. So he goes, ‘Man, How would like to make a record on me?’ I said, ‘Hell, I’d love to,’ you know. ‘Let’s just do it.’”
A couple of months later in December 2021, Herman was at the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa — the studio made famous by the late Cowboy Jack Clement — cutting tracks with a crack group of musicians assembled by Ferguson to back him on the sessions. All the songs were tracked live over three days with a studio band featuring guitarist Pat McLaughlin, multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott (acoustic guitar, 12-string baritone guitar, banjo), bassist Dave Roe, drummer Pete Abbott, keyboardist Mike Rojas, guitarist and pedal steel player Russ Paul, fiddlers Jason Carter and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, and Herman’s son Silas on mandolin. Tim O’Brien stopped by the studio during that time to add some harmony vocals.
“Ferg was kind enough to want to be involved and hook me up with this great A-list of Nashville session cats,” Herman says. “And boy, I’d never made a record like that before. I’ve always had a band that was together, touring, and, you know, developing the material. To go into the studio with a bunch of folks I didn’t know was a big leap of faith for me and a whole new way of making records. It’s been a real eye opener to see how it’s done here in Nashville. I’m really pleased with the results.”
Enjoy the Ride features a dozen memorable songs, eleven of which came out of Herman’s writing sessions in his new hometown. In addition, to the Davisson brothers, Donnie’s son Nick Davisson, Levi Lowrey, Aaron Raitiere, Phillip Lammonds, Ronnie Bowman, Adam Hood, Rob Snyder, Benny “Burle” Galloway, Channing Wilson, William Paul McDonald and Dave Pahanish are Herman’s co-writers on the album. He also wrote a pair of songs with Ferguson and Pat McLaughlin.
When it came to choosing the songs, Ferguson had some input, but it was primarily Herman’s call. “I might pick one or two songs for an artist,” he says. “He had a bunch of songs, and I listened to ’em, and we went back and forth on the songs, but basically, you know, I let the artists pick the songs they want to do because it’s their record, you know. And when you have somebody like Vince, that’s a veteran, he knows his following a lot better than I do. He knows what his voice can do, and he knows his songs, and he has an idea of what he wants. It’s my job just to augment that a little bit.”
The material is an Americana travelogue that takes the listener from Prine-ish country-folk rock (“Lost Lover’s Eyes”), funky swamp rock (“Rattlesnake”) and jazzy Dixieland polka (“Any Other Way”) to straight-up bluegrass (“The Ride”), classic Cajun country (“Coraleen”) and traditional country (“Drinking Alone”).
The one song on the record not cowritten by Herman is the country blues “Flying,” which was penned by Hood, Kyle Tuttle and Roxanne Handley. “That came out of one of the sessions where we had a bunch of guys writing and we’d break into different groups,” Herman explains. “Adam Hood was kind of the main cat behind that one, and I just love that song so much, I had to put it on the record.”
After the three days at the Cowboy Arms, additional overdubbing and mixing took place at the Butcher Shack, Ferguson’s post-production facility in Goodlettsville. The overdubbing included some lead vocals by Herman and vocal harmony parts by Bowman, who is best-known as a member of the Lonesome River Band, and Mike Armistead of the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Rob McCoury from the Del McCoury Band and Tuttle also overdubbed banjo parts, and George Harper added a trombone part to “Any Other Way.” Additional recording for that song was done in engineer Jake Eckert’s Rhythm Shack Studio in New Orleans, where Tom Fisher and Kevin
Louis added clarinet and trumpet respectively.
It may have taken Herman nearly three decades to get around to making his first solo record, but it was certainly worth the wait. “Enjoy the Ride represents what country music is to me,” he says. “Rooted in tradition but wide open and ready for a good ride.”