WARREN HAYNES IS ONE OF THE MOST GENEROUS artists on the scene, not only with his prolific and prodigious songwriting, marathon-length performances and his sharing of the spotlight with countless other musicians. Warren is just as giving as a conversationalist, always engaged and thoughtful in answering questions he has most likely heard thousands of times in his long and impressive career. He honestly seems to enjoy spending time and chatting with other human beings.
Warren’s musical history has taken many twists and turns through the years, from acting as sideman to country outlaw David Allan Coe to recording and touring with southern rock legend Dickey Betts; from lead guitarist and vocalist as a member of Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers The Allman Brothers Band to leader of jam band veterans Gov’t Mule; from guitarist with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead to the various incarnations of Warren’s solo career.
In the midst of all this, Warren Haynes has established himself as unofficial mayor of various rock and roots music festivals. The Wanee Music Festival is the dearest to us here at Red Hot Rock headquarters, Warren and his fellow Allman compadres giving life to an annual long weekend of good vibes and wonderful music that we try never to miss.
Red Hot Rock Magazine has a longstanding relationship with Warren Haynes. Our pages have included interviews with him more times than we can remember. We try and speak with the always-modest gentleman as often as we can to keep up with his ever-morphing career. What you are about to read are two relaxed and rewarding conversations we conducted with Warren. The first was a post-Wanee, 2014 interview that took place amidst the breakup of The Allman Brothers Band. Then, Red Hot Rock presents an interview completed shortly before the issue you are holding went to print, while Warren was out promoting his wonderful Ashes & Dust solo album that was recorded together with New Jersey’s Railroad Earth. But we begin on May 29, 2014.
RED HOT ROCK MAGAZINE: Warren, how’s it goin’, sir?
WARREN HAYNES: Good. How are you?
RHRM: OK. It’s great speaking to you again. You are becoming a very important fixture content-wise to Red Hot Rock Magazine. We are keeping that tradition going.
WH: Well, that sounds like good progress.
RHRM: Ha ha. It was great spending some time with you again at Wanee.
RHRM: Before we get into Gov’t Mule and all things Warren Haynes, I would like to touch on a subject that is on practically every music lover’s mind at the moment, The Allman Brothers Band heading out into the sunset. When I first read that you and Derek (Trucks) would be leaving the band at the end of this year, it was like an arrow in the heart. But after digesting the news and thinking about all of your other activities and what Derek is doing with Susan (Tedeschi), it all kind of makes sense now and feels right, as a fan at least. Have you been having any second thoughts since the announcement?
WH: Well, this is something that the entire band has been talking about for about three years now. And most of us, if not all of us, feel like this is the right time to go out on a high note. And we actually had reached a group decision that the forty-fifth anniversary was gonna be the final year of touring. And I thought we were all on the same page. But apparently there’s at least some people that are kinda having second thoughts. And so, I can’t predict what the final outcome is gonna be. But my guess would be that at the end of this year, The Allman Brothers will stop touring. And, you know, when Derek and I put out a press release earlier this year, it was based on both of us having made plans to move on accordingly and then things starting to at least seem like they were changing a little bit in The Allman Brothers camp. But I have a feeling that everyone feels the same way and that it’s all gonna work out as we had originally planned. So, it’s a little unclear in the press, but hopefully it will get cleared up very soon.
RHRM: There was speculation, at first, that other guitarists would be brought in to begin a new era of the Allmans. But then Gregg (Allman) drew a line in the sand to say that this is it, that he will play with his solo band and do other things, but that this is the end of The Allman Brothers Band as an entity besides the possibility of one-offs from time to time. But some reports have stated, while I was on the grounds at Wanee, that now he may be reversing gears and that he has decided to soldier on with the Allmans. Have you been able to figure out what is going on in Gregg’s head? I get the feeling sometimes that he is just toying with the media.
WH: Well, you know, I think it’s sometimes just human nature to second-guess a major decision like this. I think… We’ve all been talking as a band for a long, long time about choosing the right time to, as I mentioned, go out on a high note because we all respect the legacy of The Allman Brothers Band’s position in musical history so much that we don’t want to see it turn into a nostalgia act. And we’ve all said that… Since I joined the band twenty-five years ago, the band has always maintained, and, I mean, everyone in the band has always maintained, that when the time came that it was inevitable that the band would start becoming a nostalgia act, that it would be time to stop. And fortunately, we haven’t reached that time yet. But I think we can all kind of see it on the horizon. And the right thing to do is to go out with a bang. And I truthfully think that everybody in their heart believes that and we’re all on the same page. ‘Cause there’s no animosity. There’s no personal or political agenda at play here. It’s all based on what we genuinely think is the best thing for the band. And unfortunately, this band has never been great at communicating.
RHRM: After the Allmans’ second performance at Wanee on Saturday night, I was surprised that it felt like a little bit of an anticlimax. There were no goodbyes. No statements. No surprises. The shows were great musically, as always, but it didn’t feel like an end to anything.
WH: Well, we do have more shows later this year.
WH: We’re gonna be performing at Mountain Jam, at Peach Fest and at the Lockn’ Festival in Virginia. And I think we’re gonna have some more shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York later in the year. We’re hoping to make up at the least the shows that we postponed. So, there are more performances this year. But I agree it is a little underwhelming as far as the way it’s being couched, you know.
RHRM: Yes. Especially because the Wanee Festival is one of the Allman Brothers’ homes. Now that we are speaking about Wanee, do you know yet what the future will hold for the festival? The Allman Brothers Band has always headlined the Friday and Saturday nights. Will bands from outside the extended family be brought in to headline or will Gregg’s solo band, your projects and Tedeschi Trucks Band split the days as headliners? I am taking for granted that the festival will continue.
WH: I think all those things are possibilities and, you know, the festival has built up its own reputation and it’s turned into kind of like a family festival. And all the music that’s part of the Wanee Festival is related in one way or another, even if it’s just the way the music relates to the audience. Meaning that, each of the artists and bands that performs at Wanee appeals to music listeners who are very passionate about music and include music as a very important part of their lives.
RHRM: So you do think that the festival, in one way or another, is definitely going to continue.
WH: I would like to think so. Yeah.
RHRM: There have also been various statements by members of The Allman Brothers Band that it would be nice to record one last studio album. Has there been any serious talk between the members of the group about this?
WH: No. That conversation’s been going back and forth for several years now, as well. And, you know, I think one thing we can all agree on is that if we were gonna make a follow-up to Hittin’ The Note, it would have to be as good or better than Hittin’ The Note. And so, it’s been hard to get everybody on the same page as far as recording another studio record. I would be happy to do it if it were the consensus among all the members of the band. I don’t really see that happening at this stage in the game. But it was never something I was opposed to.
RHRM: It’s kind of weird. Because I’ve spoken to several members of the band and everyone seems to want to do it. And everyone is out there recording their own albums. So, it’s strange that it doesn’t happen.
WH: Yeah. It is. It’s… It’s confusing.
RHRM: Ha ha ha. And it must have been kind of bittersweet playing at the big tribute show to Gregg. That was an incredible thing that was put together. (All My Friends: Celebrating The Songs & Voice Of Gregg Allman)
WH: Yeah. That was beautiful. I was very happy for him and I thought the show was amazing. And it was fun to just watch and be part of that whole night. It was very magical.
RHRM: Do you think that Allman Brothers fans will have the opportunity to see Dickey Betts join the band onstage one last time before the final curtain? It really would be a special treat to watch you, Derek and Dickey trade off licks.
WH: I don’t think that I can answer that, you know. I would like to see that happen, but I’m not gonna make any predictions.
RHRM: I guess that’s a Gregg and Dickey thing. Ha ha. But hopefully, it will happen. You performed at Wanee one day with The Allman Brothers Band and another day doing double duty with the Allmans and with Gov’t Mule. That must be quite exhausting. How do you keep everything in its proper place in your head? Do you ever accidentally begin playing something with one band from another band’s repertoire?
WH: I actually enjoy bouncing back and forth from one project to another. It helps keep me fresh and it helps keep me inspired. I think I would go crazy if I had to do only one thing all the time. So when the opportunity arises from time to time to do, you know, maybe Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers in the same day, it’s a lot of work but it’s very gratifying and satisfying. So at the end of the day, you’ve put in a lot of work, but it feels good.
RHRM: Something that I find very interesting musically with you and Derek is that over time you have blurred the lines as to your roles in The Allman Brothers Band. You are not simply stand-ins for Dickey and Duane (Allman). The two of you cross over and surprise the music fans in the audience who are really listening. And that is besides you and Derek contributing your own things to the mix. Is this a spontaneous thing or is it worked out ahead of time? Are there different nights when you switch roles?
WH: It changes night by night, even moment by moment sometimes. Definitely song by song. You know, both of us have been in the position of playing alongside of Dickey Betts. And so, when that were the case, obviously each of us would inherit more of the Duane Allman role, so to speak. But there’s never been a situation where someone expected us or we even expected ourselves to copy Duane Allman or play exclusively in that style. It’s always been up to us how much of that influence to interject into the music and how much of our own personalities to interject into the music. But when it eventually became Derek and I as the two guitar players, then that whole dynamic changed because Dickey’s sound was such a big part of the guitar tandem between him and Duane Allman that some of that influence was necessary to make the music sound true to form. And so, to be fair to ourselves, we would divide up the duties as far as, like… Since we’re both slide players, we would decide some songs he would play slide and some songs I would play slide and some songs we would change from night to night. And so, in some cases, it’s just based on the moment. And if one of us is playing more into a certain direction, then the other one would go in the other direction a little bit more. And it’s something that we both saw as a fun challenge, but a necessary one as well.
RHRM: OK. Let’s jump into Gov’t Mule and Warren Haynes music. For the Mule’s most recent studio album, Shout!, the idea of recording a double-disc album, with various artists duplicating all eleven tracks with their vocal interpretations, is an interesting one. Was this idea developed after the songs were written or did you write the songs with other vocalists’ styles in mind?
WH: The idea came about once we were midway through the recording process. We didn’t go into the studio thinking that we were gonna do anything different. We actually thought we were gonna make a record with no guests. And the first three guests that we thought of were Dr. John, Elvis Costello and Toots Hibbert from Toots & The Maytals. And once we had decided on those three, we thought, well why don’t we just make an alternate version of every song. And at that point, it became a lot more time-consuming, but in a way that we knew was very important and that we were very happy with. So, I basically made a list of each song and what singer other than myself I would love to hear sing the song and started making phone calls. And fortunately, the response was great. So, it came together like it did.
RHRM: I was reading somewhere that some of the songs actually began their lives with completely different artists’ legacies in mind and that they somehow morphed while the album was being created.
WH: There were a couple of artists that I had in mind that were not available during that time frame and we kind of discussed doing something else in the future. But thankfully, almost everyone on the initial list was available. And we’re extremely excited about the way it turned out.
RHRM: It has been a fun project for fans, to have both of those CDs side by side. And depending on what mood one is in, to be able to listen to a straightforward Gov’t Mule album or to hear the type of thing that the Mule does live, which is to have lots of guests come on and be involved in all kinds of collaborations. It’s a great idea. How did it work with the singers? Did you give them any guidance or direction as to how you would like them to sing your songs or did you just play them the tracks and have them come up with their own interpretations?
WH: Well, you know, almost all of the singers on the bonus disc of Shout! were people who were either friends or at least someone that I had worked with in some capacity along the line. The only person that I didn’t know prior to the recording was Ty Taylor from Vintage Trouble. Everyone else, I had some sort of working relationship with. Some of the singers came into the studio with me and we worked side by side. And some of them were busy thousands of miles away and there was no opportunity for us to physically be together, so they would record somewhere else and then send in the performances. In each case, I just sent them my version and said, you know, “Interpret it your own way”, knowing that it was gonna be drastically different from my interpretation. And rightly so, because that’s why these singers were chosen, because they’re singers of the caliber that are gonna take the song and turn it into their own song.
RHRM: Grace Potter is such a powerhouse. She is a force of nature. I have a Gov’t Mule show that I purchased online where she sits in for a handful of tunes and she sings your song, “Whisper In Your Soul”, from Shout! You guys should record a lot more stuff together. It would be fantastic to hear a full-blown project where the two of you are working together.
WH: Yeah, we love working together. And we’re good friends and have appeared on stage together many, many times. And I always look forward to every opportunity that we have to perform together. And who knows what the future will hold.
RHRM: There are too many of my favorite artists on Shout! to discuss their contributions one by one. But to have Grace Potter, Dave Matthews, Ben Harper, Glenn Hughes, Dr. John and Steve Winwood all on one album of yours must have been an incredible thrill.
WH: Absolutely. Hearing all of these wonderful singers interpret our songs was amazing. I mean, in each case, I knew that they were gonna take the song somewhere else. But until I actually heard it, I had no idea what the interpretation was gonna be, even if we were standing side by side in the studio working together. And that was part of the fun of the whole thing. Because, I think, with the concept of Shout!, by adding the bonus disc with eleven guest vocalists, you not only get insight into the songs themselves – you know, two pictures of the same song or two interpretations of the same song – but I think you also get some sort of insight into what it is that a singer does when they interpret a song. Because, in every case, their versions are completely different from mine. And that’s just their own musical personalities coming through.
RHRM: I was just listening to Gov’t Mule’s The Georgia Bootleg Box, your live recordings from 1996. The first thing that jumped out at me when listening to that music was that although the performances are very rewarding, your vocals have jumped leaps and bounds from that time until today. It’s almost as if listening to a different vocalist.
WH: Yeah. Early on, at that stage, I think when I listen to those recordings, my voice was not in as good a shape as it is right now. And it’s hard for me to listen to some of that stuff because I can feel the difference.
RHRM: It is just so apparent how much more comfortable you are as a singer now and how much your voice has matured and how much more depth it has now.
WH: Yeah. I think it’s gotten stronger through the years and, you know, I feel like singing hundreds of shows a year every year has been a positive influence on my voice. Ha hah ha.
RHRM: I know that you are not the type of person that likes to pat your own back, so I’m trying to do it for you. Ha ha ha. And Allen Woody’s bass playing throughout those recordings is simply stunning. I hadn’t been listening to him for a little while. But I remember going to see the two of you playing together with the Allmans and, of course, all of the older Gov’t Mule stuff. To go back and listen to his playing is a real treat.
WH: Well, one of the reasons that I was excited about putting out The Georgia Bootleg Box set was because of how great Woody sounded on those shows, you know. It really captured his personality. And we went with the original mixes from back then. We didn’t remix the stuff and I think the rawness was something that appealed to me. It reminded me of what the band sounded like back then because we were brand new and we were hungry and we were still finding ourselves as a band. And some of that included the experimental nature that we adopted right from the very beginning. So, even when we were repeating songs, the performances were very different from each other. And that’s something that we embraced right off the bat. But every year, you could feel the band’s growth. And it’s fun to go back there and hear those formative years.
RHRM: Now that Gov’t Mule is back in full swing, do you think that you will be revisiting your soul band, the Warren Haynes Band, anytime soon to record another album? Man In Motion was such a nice record.
WH: Well, I want to do some more touring with the Warren Haynes Band and possibly recording, as well. But I think my next solo record will probably be different. It’ll probably be more acoustic-oriented and more singer songwriter-oriented. A lot of songs that I’ve been wanting to record for a long time that I still haven’t recorded kind of fall into that category. So, I think the next solo record will show a different side of myself.
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