A native of Yuma, Arizona, Herrera began his musical journey at age 10, when he wanted to play the saxophone, but instead started on the trumpet because his father already had one. He became serious about music as a freshman in high school and would often raid the record collection his band director kept. Classic players like Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and John Coltrane caught the young musician's ear, and from there, his interest took off. After studies at Mesa Community College and Arizona State University, as well as stints as a musician on cruise ships, he began working regularly in and around Phoenix. An opportunity then arose for Herrera to move to D.C., which he did in 2003. He formed his first group, Joe Herrera's Landscaping Crew, in 2005, which featured area regulars Matt Rippetoe, Bobby Muncy and Anthony Pirog.