On Dec. 4, 2008, Mason Herman’s life was turned upside down. He lost his mother to a heart attack. A condition she had hosted since she was young had crept up again and stolen her away from her family. Herman was 15 when he lost her, his biggest fan.
“I remember her calling my dad and telling us she was having chest pains, and we didn’t know why,” Herman said. “His words slowed. I made it there to see her in the hospital, and I spent the day with her the following day, just hoping that she was going to be OK, and things would be normal. But that wasn’t the case.”
Paul Herman, Mason’s father, was beside himself. He was anxious and worried that his son might take a harmful life path. “Mason was going through the hard times in any kid’s life at the same time,” Paul Herman recalled. “I remember, I said, ‘Oh please God. Let’s not have him go nuts on me’.”
During times of loss, people find solace in many ways. Some take the dark route and turn to alcohol, drugs or violence. Others turn to friends or family. Mason Herman, a University of Mississippi journalism student, had the love of his life to fall back on. Music.
“He turned to his music, and did well in school, which is what worried me the most,” Paul Herman said. “He’s graduating, and has made me proud.”
Mason Herman’s love of music grew. “Music became so much more to me after my mother’s passing,” he said. “It was a form of therapy, a way to deal with the darkest situation I’ve ever been in,” he said, struggling to exert the words, recalling a happier time. “The night before my mom passed, she came to see me play one last show with my high school jazz band. Just to be able to have that as one of the last memories was the perfect way to end that night. She was a proud parent coming to watch her son do what he did.”
Mason Herman was born and raised in Memphis, which is widely considered a mecca for music and music traditions. He wasted no time infusing himself with the hometown music scene.
“I grew up around music,” Mason Herman said. “I had come from a very musical family. My dad played guitar, and my mom played piano, and they both sang.”
Paul Herman said, on Sunday nights, the family sang. “He would hang out on one of our laps,” he said, smiling as he remembered. “During the karaoke shows we did, he was still in diapers.”
Mason Herman’s father introduced him to music as quickly as possible. “I remember my dad got me a little toy guitar,” he said. “But it was so much cooler to get dad’s guitar and play around on that.” His face lit up, and a smile spread as he remembered his beginnings. “For me, going into music was almost like the family business. I just wanted to get out there, and do what my parents did.”
When Mason was 11, four years before his mother’s death, Herman learned his first chords. “I remember I was sitting there playing a video game, and my dad came in, and he said, ‘Turn that game off. I’m going to teach you to do something productive that you can have with you for the rest of your life.’”
He turned the game off, and followed his father into their living room, where two chairs sat. “He grabbed his guitar, and sat down, grabbed me a chair, and said, ‘I’m going to teach you a couple chords.’ And that was just the beginning of it,” Mason Herman recalled.
He was infatuated. Music quickly became part of Mason Herman’s life, and he had no plans to push it away. During his sophomore year of high school, he took the next step.
“I got called to be in this band called Lately David,” Mason Herman recalled. “I had a fantastic time with them. I got to play all over Memphis. It’s just nice, because Memphis musicians are like one big family. Sometimes, when you’re sitting up there playing in some random Memphis bar, and these big name guys you’ve watched all these years would show up and tell you to keep up the good work, and that you’re carrying on the legacy. It’s a huge honor that I carry with me, and that’s not ever going to change.”
Soon, Mason Herman’s life was lifted even more. He met Memphis legend B.B. King. “I was a huge fan of B.B. King,” Mason said. “Being on the Memphis music scene, and growing up there, I was just the biggest fan of his. He’s a legend. I was so starstruck, and I don’t get that way so often. But his wasn’t just another normal guy to me. This was B.B. King.”
Mason owned a model of King’s guitar, and it was the last one his mother ever saw him play. “It was the last one that she ever touched,” he said. “It was a very special thing to me to one day finally meet B.B., get to tell him that and have that connection with him,” he recalled.
He brought the guitar on stage to King, and received a huge signature on the body of the guitar. “He signed it, and I could have died happy right there,” Mason said. “But I waited around and saw him sitting on the side stage.”
So Mason seized the opportunity. “I said, ‘Mr. King, this guitar means so much to me. It’s so much more than just your signature. This guitar means a lot to me because it was the last one my mother ever saw me play before she passed,’” Mason recalled. “And B. B. looked at me, and he said, ‘Son, I lost my mom years ago, and every day of my life, I miss her. But that’s Lucille [guitar], so you hold on to her.’”
Mason Herman carries himself through his life honestly. He is dogged and dedicated to what he loves. Danny McGreger, a long time band member and good friend of Herman’s, knows him better than most.
“Effortless and genuine,” he said. “That’s the way I see Mason as a player, and a person,” McGreger said fondly. “It takes no effort for Mason to be authentic, genuine and kind. What you see is what you get, and what you get is a well-meaning, honest good guy.”
McGreger has played in Lately David since it began in 1995, and was among the members when Mason joined the group. “When I think Mason and music, I think talent,” McGreger said. “It almost comes effortlessly to him. It’s just a natural talent.”
Mason Herman has overcome something incredible, and music has pulled him through. The passing of his mother weighed heavily on his childhood, but he turned to his first love, and it brought him to immeasurable heights in his life.
“If there was one way to describe my life in music, it would be ‘far from over,’” Mason said. “Music took me to a new place. Nothing will ever replace my mom, but it helped having a different kind of support system through music, and the people it brought into my life.”