Terence Higgens
" BluesWax Sittin' In With Terence Higgins
By Bob Putignano

Senior Contributing Editor Bob Putignano hooked up with Terence Higgens of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band aboard the 2013 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise where the drummer was playing in Tab Benoitís band. Bob found that Higgens is breaking out, not quite a full Dozen yet, but he is making his was to play beyond New Orleans.

Robert Putignano for BluesWax: When the Dirty Dozen Brass Band hooked up with Widespread Panic what did you think?

Terence Higgens: It was a totally smart move for us to go on tour with Widespread; it gave the Dozen a whole new audience.

BW: Itís interesting how the Dozen evolved into the jam band world

TH: We got catapulted into that world because of Widespread and the Black Crowes, who played shows with the Dead

BW: Are you a Dead fan of after or before Jerry Garcia?

TH: I liked the Garcia stuff. You canít go wrong with Jerry.

BW: Me too! Iím not crazy about the offshoot bands of the Dead; I grew-up hanging around the Fillmore East so I got my dose in more ways than one.

TH: I know that ! [laughs] But I wasnít born yet.

BW: Oh man, go awayÖ I graduated high school [five blocks away from the Fillmore] in 1969.

TH: Oh, hey.

BW: Okay, enough with the Dead.Whatís the current status of the Dirty Dozen now?

TH: Iím still a legitimate member. Fortunately Iíve been busy with other projects and tours, and the Dozen are cool with that. Iíve been with the Dozen for a long time, so for me itís important that I get out and do other stuff with my career. Look what happened to Dr. Johnís band? Macís core band was together forever, now theyíve been let go. So what does a musician do when the partyís over? I want to be in a position to protect myself and my family by keeping my name out there. Actually things just happened for me to get these other gigs.

BW: The Dozen were a worldwide touring machine.

TH: Oh yeah, I traveled the world with those guys, but more recently weíve kind of hit a lull. A few years after Katrina I felt things were starting to change within the Dozen, especially when band members changed frequently. Thatís when I decided to take some offers that were coming in for me to drum in other bands. Around this time is when I got the call to do the John Scofield gigs right after the Piety Street album came out. Those gigs were huge for me.

BW: Iím sure especially with George Porter Jr. and Jon Cleary in the band.

TH: And letís not forget about Sco! Actually Scofield called me after these shows wanting to do a different R&B band/project, but at the same time Warren Haynes called me.

BW: You werenít on Haynesí Man in Motion album.

TH: No, but I did get on the follow-up live DVD/CD box-set with Warren. Raymond Weber played drums on the studio album.

BW: Which were pretty much the remnants of the New Orleans Social Club.

TH: Exactly! The same click with Porter Jr. and Ivan Neville, too. But because those guys were very busy with other projects, Warren couldnít get them to go on the road. Thatís when I got the call.

BW: You also missed on being on the Piety Street album, too. I saw Scofield around this time and I think it was Ricky Fataar playing drums.

TH: You probably saw their first tour.

BW: I never could figure out how Fataar, not being a New Orleans drummer/musician, got that gig.

TH: Sco wanted a New Orleans drummer but at that time Cleary and Fataar were both in Bonnie Raittís band, so you know how that goes sometimesÖ To be honest I was kind of upset that I didnít get that call to be a part of the beginnings on Piety. But I was very happy to have eventually gotten the call to join the band. In fact it was very cool. It was a dream for me to work with Sco, he was on my wish list of musicians I wanted to work with. We still stay in touch and hopefully weíll get to work together again soon. Scofield has done so much work in various genres too [think Miles Davis], plus Warren Haynesí involvement with the Allman Brothers, these lineages are very significant to me. So it was an incredible experience for me to work with Warren and Scofield in the same year. [2011] Unfortunately I wasnít on Scoís or Warrenís radar screens when they originally recorded Piety Street, and Man In Motion, Iíd guess youíd say I was second in line.

BW: Or still in the second line!

TH: Right! But I was thrilled to work with both of those bands, and once I got on board I was asked, ďWhereíve you been?Ē So these two projects were very important for my career; Iím very fortunate to having been given these opportunities.

BW: Itís pretty rare that a brass band musician receives opportunities to play in a more rocking unit like Haynes.

TH: These experiences are motivation for me!†I am also working on my second album thatís due to come out in the spring.

BW: Oh wow, what was your first album?

TH: My first record came out in 2004. The purpose of doing that album was to break out from what the Dozen was doing. So I incorporated stuff thatís been in my head for a long time like fusion and of course some funk too. I wanted to get outside of the New Orleans vein. It turned out to be a good business card for me as people started to look at me differently.

BW: Different Iím sure from the Dozen who definitely do what they do very well.

TH: Extremely well, but I like to call it ďthe bubbleĒ theyíre into their own world. But let me tell you that Iíve learned so much from the Dozen, they kind of made me who I am as a player. They never said donít do this or donít play that, they always encouraged me to do my thing. This allowed me to grow, and I am very appreciative that they let me be like that.

BW: Speaking of diverse, you told me you went on the road with Ani DiFranco, too?

TH: I always dug being eclectic, thatís who I am. Ivan Neville recommended me for Aniís gigs. Ivanís always recommending me. Heís had a hand for getting me in with Warren too.

BW: Thatís really nice about Ivan.†Now that I think of it, I saw you on Imus in the Morning with Warren. You are also a movie star. [laughs]

TH: You saw that? Cool, itís a great band ,I love being a part of things with Warren. Don Imus loves Warren.

BW: Imus has been kind to a lot of bands, and has live performances on his radio/TV shows regularly. Imus is no youngster, but he just signed on to do three more years, so heíll be on the air for a while longer. By the way, he still talks about Warren being on the show. So then you get the call from Tab Benoit.

TH: Tabís been calling me for years. He kept telling me that I needed to stop playing with them old boys. Heíd say, ďCome and play in my band.Ē In fact when he heard I got the gig with Warren, he told Warren that ďYouíve got my drummer!Ē [More laughs] Warren told Tab you can have him because Iím now going on the road with Govít Mule. But Iím still technically in Warrenís band, too. But heís so busy, Iím amazed how he finds the time to do all the things he does. You know, the Allmanís, Phil Lesh & Friends, Mule, and his own Warren Haynes Band. Heís inspiring to me, as what heís doing is what Iíd like to be doing.

BW: How old are you?

TH: Iím forty-two.

BW: Just a baby!

TH: And there are a lot of young kids coming out of New Orleans that can really play, too.

To be continuedÖ

Part 2

In Part One of his interview with BluesWaxĎs Bob Putignano, Dirty Dozen †Brass Band drummer Terence Higgens spoke about the his work with the band and his solo career. They continue their conversation in Part Two.

Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Okay, so Tab calls and your first gigs with Benoit are on the Delbert cruise earlier this month.

Terence Higgens: And now the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise.

BW: Youíre a lucky son of a gun, back-to-back cruises.

TH: Look who is talking, you too!†But I was available when Tab called me, so here I am.

BW: Is it me, but I hear new sounds coming from Tab? Heís taking it out there.

TH: Tabís really pushing the envelope for sure. You know thereís been some serious trios that came before us. Being in a trio gives all of us a lot of space, trio projects donít always work, but this Tab trio with Corey†[Duplechin] on bass is an intelligent combo. I donít know if I added to Tabís band, but Iíve previously had a lot of experience playing in trios, so Iím just trying to do my thing. You know the first time we played together on the Delbert cruise; it was our first time. Period, No rehearsals, nothing. Tab sent me some tunes to listen to and away we went. So I felt I had to keep on my toes, but I also tried to stay true to my instincts.

BW: Does the Dozen rehearse?

TH: Nah.

BW: Thatís amazing to me as they are a very complex band, especially the horn charts. Some nights it feels telepathic with whatís all going on in that band in live performances.

TH: Itís totally telepathic, and when it clicks itís the best thing you ever heard in your life. Being in the Dozen is a serious drum gig, itís not like regular blues or regular funk, we communicate so well musically. I know each of their nuances and they all approach the music differently. So when Roger Lewis†[founding member, baritone sax] takes a solo, I know what to do. I learned a lot about understanding musicians feelings from playing with George Porter, and from Fats Domino too! I got to work with Fats because of Rogerís longstanding association with Fats. Fortunately I have a lot of history from New Orleans music within me, like R&B, the second line, the funk,, you know. So knowing what different musicians might do at any given time is very important to me, reading what might be coming during a live performance is very important to me. Following their lead is imperative, but pushing the envelope and making the music better is what I try to do as often as I can. Youíve got to be able to read those cats. Iíve played with musicians that I thought would be able to push the music, but it doesnít always work like that. Artists need to be aware of chemistry; they also need to know how to stay out of each otherís way and know when to contribute. Thatís the essence of being a part of a band.

BW: So whatís next for the Dirty Dozen?

TH: Theyíre going on the road.

BW: Is Efrem [Towns, trumpet] okay?

TH: Efrem is not touring. Heís healing, but I havenít heard any recent updates.

BW: Letís send out good wishes to Efrem.†In a Downbeat article Roger Lewis was quoted as hinting at perhaps retiring soon.

TH: Thatís not going to happen. Roger will continue playing till he falls. He ainít stopping. He doesnít know how to stop. Plus heís extremely healthy, and he has so much energy.

BW: His baritone sax means so much to the Dozen.

TH: No doubt, but itís cardio for him.

BW: Do you have much influence within the band?

TH: Oh yeah, I get involved with arrangements, even our set lists, all kinds of stuff with the band. Iím proud to say that they look to me. Thatís why I feel that I could have bandleader qualities.

BW: Is there really a set list for the Dirty Dozen?

TH: Not really. [more laughs] The thing is, we know how to read the crowd and know what to play next.

BW: And you all always know how to have a good time!

TH: Thatís right we always have a very good time.

BW: Letís get right.

TH: In the New Orleans way!

BW: Whatís next for this edition of Tab Benoitís band?

TH: He has one more album to do for Telarc, and Tab told me we might record in March.

BW: Do you think you will be staying in Tabís band?

TH: Iíd like to hangout, but if Warren [Haynes] and/or Ani [DiFranco] give me the call, Iíd have to go. Iím sure you understand.

BW: So you are comfortable working with Tab?

TH: Absolutely! Heís easy to get along with, Coreyís great, Tab also knows how to take care of business, he has a bus, I get my own room, so I feel that I canít lose.

BW: Especially if you keep getting on these cruises!

TH: Thatís right.

BW: Your Web site?

TH: www.TerenceHigginsMusic.com

BW: And your new record is dueÖ?

TH: Itís due on March first and is titled Terence Higgins Swampgrease 2: Raise to a Sunrise.

BW: Donít wait so long in between album releases!

TH: Well, you know we had that whole Katrina thingÖ

BW: Were you affected badly by Katrina?

TH: I didnít lose my house, but had to move to Atlanta so that the repairs could be done, plus my daughter was in school in Atlanta and I didnít want to be moving her around all that much.

BW: Terrence, itís been a pleasure and a nice surprise to see you again [with Tab] back to back.

TH: Two cruises back to back!

BW: Way to go Terence, see you [with one of these bands] sometime soon.

Bob Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing writer at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue. Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com