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Published: 1999/03/15
by Dean Budnick

Warren Haynes: Tearing It Up With His Friends

Warren Haynes is a passionate, engrossing musician who continues to surprise and captivate the jam band community. During February, he was an active participant in the Wetlands Tenth Anniversary celebration appearing with a number of performers including two heralded shows with Bob Weir and Ratdog. This month Warren returns to the road for another extended stint with Gov’t Mule. March 23rd is also the release date for the trio’s latest release “Gov’t Mule Live With A little Help From Their Friends,” a two CD set, culled from the band’s 1998/99 New Years Eve show. The discs features Haynes, Allen Woody and Matt Abts along with a stellar roster of guest musicians including Chuck Leavell, Jimmy Herring, Bernie Worrell, Derek Trucks and Marc Ford. In this conversation Warren discusses the upcoming release as well as the band’s evolution. He also touches on the Wetlands and his experience performing with Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman.

DB- You have a new live disc coming out later this month. The band’s second release was a live set. I’d like to hear how you would characterize the evolution of the band over the intervening years.

WH- Let’s go back and start with the first album. The first studio record we did not too long after we had formed the band. That was a kind of snapshot of where we were at the time, and we just wanted to make a picture of a power trio. We decided to make a power trio record. Nobody else was doing that, and we wanted to establish that’s what we were. So we went in and did a live-in-the-studio record, not many overdubs, just a real basic live sounding record.

Then we switched record companies. Relativity folded their rock department so we were in search of a new label, and in the interim we had this music on tape that we had recorded. We were thinking about putting out a live record while we were still at Relativity, and we decided to go ahead with that thinking, so we put out that live album on a smaller label. So Live at Roseland presented itself because it was all one show, it was us opening up for Blues Traveler, on New Year Eve 95/96. You could see the progress that the band had made from the studio record to the live album although it wasn’t a whole lot of time between those two.

Since then the band had really grown exponentially, especially since 97 when Woody and I left the Allman Brothers to do Gov’t Mule full time. That’s really what gave us the time and energy to do what we knew we had to do.

The thing that ‘Live at Roseland” and “Live With A Little Help From Their Friends” have in common is that they’re both from one show, which we really like. We prefer that to piecemealing a bunch of shows together. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think if you can get one show, there’s a good vibe. But Live at Roseland was a one hour set in its entirety. Our intention was to make as much noise within that hour as we could so there wasn’t a lot of stretching, there wasn’t time for a thirty minute “Afro Blue.” It was much more focusing our energy on a tight performance. But the band has grown so much since then. We’ve started to expand into a lot of new directions, actually directions that aren’t so new to us as much as new to our audience from us. With each new record we paint in a few more colors that maybe we didn’t paint in on the last record.

With Dose we found ourselves doing a bit more acoustic stuff, a bit more jazz stuff, and I think the new live record really captures what we’re about live, which is all over the board: rock, blues, jazz, funk. All the elements really come into the picture with the new live album because within the context of a long show we touch on everything. And I think this album represents that. We also were lucky to have all these special guests come out and jam, and we were even luckier that things fell into place like they did and everything turned out so good. I’m real pleased with it.

DB- Is there any one particular moment you return to when listening to it, some point where you think you really hit it on the head that evening?

WH- There are moments that are my favorites. All of disc two really knocks me out. And when I think about the fact that disc two took place from about 2:45 in the morning until 4:20 in the morning, it’s even funnier. Everybody was so tired and burnt from such a long day and long night but some of the best music we played was in the wee hours of the morning. I love “Afro Blue.” I mean I’m really pleased with all of it but for my own taste some of the moodier pieces are what I find myself listening to.

DB- Speaking of which, I am sure that some of our readers would be surprised to learn of your great love for jazz. Who are some of your favorite players or outfits?

WH- Well all of us have been listening to jazz our whole lives. I have been listening to jazz since I was about twelve years old. My oldest brother had Coltrane records and Miles records and Cannonball Adderly and Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk and all that stuff. So even when I was too young to digest it I was hearing it and exposed to it. All of these people are favorites of mine. One of my all-time favorite units is the Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. When Gov’t Mule is in that ethereal mode and we’re playing off each other, we’re trying to do in the context of a three piece rock format what those guys were doing with a five piece jazz format, which is to make the solos not just a statement by one individual but a statement by the entire ensemble. So I play something, Matt responds to that, Woody responds to that, I respond to that and it keeps building. It’s like a conversation as opposed to a speech. All of us love that particular unit, along with many more but that’s a great example of the type of jazz we love.

DB- And you certainly have your blues influences as well…

WH- I think blues and jazz are the two true American art forms that have in common the fact that when they’re played the right way the musicians can never do the same thing twice. Nobody locks themselves into any pattern of what they are going to play here or what they’re gong to play there, it’s all a flowing thing. Jazz is a much more complex scenario musically speaking but they are both poured from the same stream. Blues in some ways gave birth to jazz. All the great jazz musicians have been schooled in one way or another in blues. I really love the fact that both of those types of music are based on performance. It’s not what you play but how you play. Again, I’ve been listening to blues my whole life as well: Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and BB King, Elmore James. That stuff is as big a part of my vocabulary as anything.

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