BluesWax Sittin’ In With
By Robert 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 Benoit’s 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: It’s 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 can’t go wrong with Jerry.
BW: Me too! I’m 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 wasn’t born yet.
BW: Oh man, go away… I graduated high school [five blocks away from the Fillmore] in 1969.
TH: Oh, hey.
BW: Okay, enough with the Dead.
What’s the current status of the Dirty Dozen now?
TH: I’m still a legitimate member. Fortunately I’ve been busy with other projects and tours, and the Dozen are cool with that. I’ve been with the Dozen for a long time, so for me it’s important that I get out and do other stuff with my career. Look what happened to Dr. John’s band? Mac’s core band was together forever, now they’ve been let go. So what does a musician do when the party’s 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 we’ve 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. That’s 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: I’m sure especially with George Porter Jr. and Jon Cleary in the band.
TH: And let’s 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 weren’t on Haynes’ 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 couldn’t get them to go on the road. That’s 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 Raitt’s band, so you know how that goes sometimes… To be honest I was kind of upset that I didn’t 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 we’ll get to work together again soon. Scofield has done so much work in various genres too [think Miles Davis], plus Warren Haynes’ 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.  Unfortunately I wasn’t on Sco’s or Warren’s radar screens when they originally recorded Piety Street, and Man In Motion, I’d guess you’d 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, “Where’ve you been?” So these two projects were very important for my career; I’m very fortunate to having been given these opportunities.
BW: It’s 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 that’s 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 that’s 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 I’m sure from the Dozen who definitely do what they do very well.
TH: Extremely well, but I like to call it “the bubble” they’re into their own world. But let me tell you that I’ve learned so much from the Dozen, they kind of made me who I am as a player. They never said don’t do this or don’t 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, that’s who I am. Ivan Neville recommended me for Ani’s gigs. Ivan’s always recommending me. He’s had a hand for getting me in with Warren too.
BW: That’s 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, it’s 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 he’ll 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: Tab’s been calling me for years. He kept telling me that I needed to stop playing with them old boys. He’d say, “Come and play in my band.” In fact when he heard I got the gig with Warren, he told Warren that “You’ve got my drummer!” [More laughs] Warren told Tab you can have him because I’m now going on the road with Gov’t Mule. But I’m still technically in Warren’s band, too. But he’s so busy, I’m amazed how he finds the time to do all the things he does. You know, the Allman’s, Phil Lesh & Friends, Mule, and his own Warren Haynes Band. He’s inspiring to me, as what he’s doing is what I’d like to be doing.
BW: How old are you?
TH: I’m 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 continued…
Robert Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing editor at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue.
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