Warren Haynes’ résumé reads like a classic rock fan’s dream: He has been a member of The Allman Brothers Band since the group reunited in 1989 and also fronts his own group, Gov’t Mule. In 2004 he stepped into Jerry Garcia’s spot when the remaining members of The Grateful Dead toured. Assistant Accent Editor Patrick Doyle spoke to Haynes about his career.
Patrick Doyle: I know you grew up listening to a lot of old R&B stuff. How do you incorporate that into your sound now?
Warren Haynes: I think soul music is part of everything that I do in varying degrees just because it was such a huge influence on me in my formative years. James Brown was probably my first musical hero, then of course Otis Redding and Sam and Dave and The Four Tops and The Temptations and Wilson Pickett. You know, I think that school of singing influenced the school of rock singing that came after it. So most singers from that era tend to have learned a lot from the soul music that came right before.
As a guitar player my influences are different, as a songwriter my influences are different, as singer my influences are different, so I kind of combine all three worlds as far as influences are concerned. I’m sure all of us are influenced by everything we’ve ever heard in varying degrees, so you just kind of mix it up in a way that hopefully comes out unique.
PD: Do you like performing in small venues like the Beacon Theatre [in New York] or big festivals like Bonnaroo [Music and Arts Festival]?
WH: Both things are really cool in their own way. When you’re playing a huge festival, you get this big wave of energy that you can’t get any other way because so many people, um, create this type of energy that’s kind of undeniable. But at the same time you can’t make an intimate connection with the audience like you can in a small theater. I think theaters between 1,500 and 3,000 are probably my favorite type of venue because you get kind of the best of both worlds. You get that intimate connection with the audience but there’s enough of [a] burst of energy coming from the audience that it kind of propels the band in a cool way.
PD: Would you get into the music business today if you were 20 years old right now?
WH: Probably, just because I’m so obsessed with playing and performing and writing and recording. I would never give anybody the advice to get into the music business unless they’re absolutely obsessed with it though. I think the mindset that I grew up with was once you become a musician, you’re a musician for life and it’s OK if you just want to do it part time and fall back on something else to support yourself financially, especially if you have a family or something like that. Sometimes playing music just for the joy of it is much more fulfilling than trying to depend on it to make a living. On the other hand, I’ve been very lucky, so I’m very fortunate, so I can’t complain about my place in the music business and my career to date, but it’s not necessarily something I would recommend to a young musician to do unless they know they’re going to do it for the rest of their life anyway.
PD: You were ranked 23rd on Rolling Stone’s “Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” How does that feel? Do you agree with that?
WH: Obviously it’s an honor to be on that list. I was very honored by it and flattered by it and very surprised. I didn’t really expect to be on the list at all especially as high as I wound up being, but I’ve kind of learned to look at those kinds of things as just someone’s opinion. One of the beautiful things about music is that there’s no right or wrong, there’s no good or bad. If you like something, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t and no one can change your mind.
My list, if I were making my list, would be a very different list than that particular list. But everybody’s opinion, especially about the creative arts, is their own, you know? Sometimes you just wind up finding yourself, feeling like it’s nice to be appreciated for all the hard work you put into something whether you agree with the accolades or not.
PD: Who would you put at the top of your list?
WH: I don’t necessarily disagree with the top. I think the top was Jimi Hendrix and it’s kind of hard to dispute that. To me, for a list like that, you know, sometimes it would be better to just say “rock guitar players’ because there’s so many great jazz guitar players and blues guitar plays and even flamenco and even classical guitar players that would not be included because maybe the world as a whole doesn’t know who they are. But a lot of those people are better than any of us and so to say [“Greatest Guitarists of All Time”] is a little deceiving, because people like Charlie Christian or Wes Montgomery of Albert King of Andrés Segovia or Carlos Montoya weren’t on that list, or Django Reinhardt.
PD: Your performances are regularly taped. Does knowing that your performances will be captured tape on CD or MP3 forever affect your playing or the way you perform?
WH: Not so much at this point, because I’ve gotten really used to it. … When I joined The Allman Brothers in 1989, shortly after that, we started letting people record the shows. Gov’t Mule has been letting people record the shows [for] our entire existence. So the difference now is we record them ourselves and offer a much higher-quality product that you can download if you so desire. So there is some sort of pressure knowing that all the shows are out there. If you have a bad night, it’s out there along with the good nights. But for bands like us that improvise for a living, I think it’s kind of a natural process.
PD: When you play with Derek Trucks, how has the way you play with him changed over the years?
WH: Like any musical relationship it just gets better the more you have the chance to do it. Derek and I have played hundreds and hundreds of times together and our chemistry in the beginning was good but it’s what you do with that chemistry that really counts, and now I think we reached a point where we know each other’s style and vocabulary extremely well, to the point where there’s sometimes borderline telepathic occurrences, [where] he knows what I’m going to do or I know what he’s going to do. Whatever we do together, albeit unrehearsed, sounds like it’s something we composed or rehearsed, and that’s a very special thing.
PD: What’s your relationship like with Bob Dylan?
WH: I’m fortunate enough to know him and have played with him but I don’t know him very well. It was one of the great honors of my life to be on stage performing with him. There are a lot of people that I feel very fortunate to have jammed with or performed with in a setting like that and he’s definitely at the top of the list.
PD: What was it like when you played with The Dead?
WH: That was great. That was a really fun year. It was a really busy year for me. I think I did like 180 shows that year. But [it was] a great opportunity, had a lot of fun doing it.
PD: Do you think another Dead tour will happen?
WH: I hope so. There are no plans as of now but I sure like to hope so.
PD: What led you to do a reggae album?
WH: Well, we’ve been incorporating reggae into our overall sound in small degrees since the ’90s since before Allen Woody passed away, but more and more the last few years I believe. And then when we recorded “High and Mighty” with Gordie Johnson as the co-producer/engineer. Gordie is such a reggae aficionado and authority that we found ourselves experimenting more with the reggae side and the dub side than we ever had in the past.
Late at night, Gordie would just start doing some dub style mix of the recordings we had made. We’d get all fired up about it and start talking about how we should release a dub EP, which is what “Mighty High” started out to be. It was going to be a five song EP. The more fun we had with it, the more it turned into a 13 song LP with about 70 minutes worth of music. We still priced it like an EP so in some ways it was like the longest EP in history.
It was just kind of a moment in time. It’s not meant to indicate any direction for the future so to speak and dub style music is more something that you utilize in the studio as opposed to onstage. We recreate some of it live but for the most part not because it’s a studio art form.
PD: What’s it like being on the road now as opposed to the early ’80s?
WH: We have a lot of young people that are very open-minded about what genres of music they listen to and don’t mind searching out great music in every genre. [I think] that’s very encouraging and very comforting, and I think it’s a good indication for the future. This whole jam band scene that we’ve kind of found [ourselves] being part of is a really cool thing, but I think it could grow and expand to include even more types of music. There’s no reason why that world can’t accept everything from bluegrass to blues to reggae to soul music, and in some ways it does, but I think it’s in the process of expanding now.
PD: Do you have any special memories of Ithaca?
WH: I just remember the shows there being really good and the audiences being really [big] music lovers. [It seems] like people there are serious about their music and we’ve always had good shows there.
Gov’t Mule will perform tomorrow at 8 p.m. at The State Theatre, 107 W. State Street. Tickets are $28.50.