When the pandemic swept across America in 2020, Vince Herman bought an RV and hit the road. His goal was to remain under the radar in his vehicular bubble, on a solo excursion to rediscover the country — at his own pace, and in his own way.
“And by the time I hit Nashville, I didn’t leave for a month because there were so many good, creative things going on here,” Herman, the lead singer and guitarist for jam-grass pioneers Leftover Salmon, tells Rolling Stone. “I got a publishing deal and I started co-writing for the first time in my life. It just brought a lot out of me, it was inspiring.”
That renewed spark of creative fire has molded itself into Enjoy the Ride, Herman’s debut country album. But the 12-song solo project isn’t much of a departure for Herman, at least in terms of its tone and approach.
“I’ve always kind of considered Leftover Salmon to be a country band, in the sense of like the Grateful Dead is country band,” Herman says. “[This album] digs deep into that well of Americana that country music was founded on.”
With his immersion into Nashville, Herman’s also peeling back the pages of Music City history, harkening back to the early days of country music, where the genre lines were blurred or not yet defined by record labels and marketing teams.
“I mean, country music and bluegrass music were kind of the same thing when the Grand Ole Opry started,” Herman says. “Hank Williams was playing Cajun music on his big debut at the Opry, so ‘country music’ used to be more widely defined, I guess.”
Ultimately, Herman found Nashville so appealing that he left Colorado, a place he’s called home for the better part of the last 40 years. Herman had an eight-year stint in Oregon during those four decades out west, only to return to the Centennial State after “successfully completing my third marriage.”
“I just met so many great people in Nashville,” Herman says. “I had a place to park my RV, made some friends, and wrote some songs. Soon, it became clear this is where I needed to be.”
Since Herman first rolled into Nashville two years ago, he says he’s written more songs in that time period than over the bulk of his career.
“We songwriters live a different life than a lot of folks,” Herman says. “The songs are built on hanging out, discussing things, and getting things down on paper about how we feel or what we care about. There’s a responsibility to bring truth to light — it’s a real privilege to be able to do that.”
Back in 1985, Herman left his native West Virginia for the Rocky Mountains in search of that truth. It wasn’t long after he arrived in Colorado when Herman wandered into the Boulder’s now-defunct Walrus Saloon and serendipitously crossed paths with multi-instrumentalist Drew Emmitt. The duo formed Leftover Salmon in 1989.
“I just turned 60, and that birthday was really different for me, man,” Herman says of the Enjoy the Ride album title. “It definitely made me realize kind of the countdown to how much I’ve left in life. It’s like Warren Zevon said, ‘Enjoy every sandwich.’”
He credits that pandemic RV journey with centering him and learning to appreciate time alone. He also learned to stop hurrying.
“There was no plan, no obligations anywhere along the way, which was the antithesis of most of my travel over the years,” Herman says. “It was always about trying to get somewhere on time to make a show. But [with that RV trip], I just took opportunities as they came.”
Herman points to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s seminal 1972 record Will the Circle be Unbroken as an influence for what he’s ultimately aiming to do in the country music sphere.
“That album was [Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s] attempt to bring hippies to country music back in the 1970s,” Herman says. “And I’d like to further that along, because country music has so much to offer, as far as storytelling and that sort of thing.
“The jam band culture and the country music culture seem miles and miles apart,” he continues. “I think it’s time to bring that together.”