Warren Haynes: Tearing It Up With His Friends
DB- Many of my favorite players are those people who cross the boundaries between blues and jazz, like Earl Hooker or more recently Ronnie Earl.
WH- I love Earl Hooker, Lonnie Johnson, people who crossed over. You never go wrong by studying that stuff. When in doubt what to listen to, just go backwards. There’s always something that went on a long time ago that was happening way before any of us were born.
I’ll tell you, it’s strange for me being a singer/songwriter/guitar player. All three of those elements are fueled by different influences As a songwriter I listen more to the lyrical people like Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Rikki Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Roger Waters-people who paint these amazing pictures with words and capture the melodic sense to go along with them. As a guitar player, jazz and blues both affect me a lot. As a singer, predominantly it was soul music growing up: Otis Redding, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Four Tops and Temptations. That was early on and eventually BB King, Ray Charles, Freddie King, Son House, Elmore and all that stuff. So different sides of my musical personality are made up of different things so to speak. I just try to blend them in together in a way that sounds cohesive.
DB- Describe your evolution as a songwriter.
WH- I think like anything else the longer you do it the better you get. Being with the Allman Brothers was great because we had that great vehicle to write for. When Dickey Betts and I would sit down to write songs for the Allman Brothers, we had that band in mind. I do the same thing with Gov’t Mule. I try to write for the sound of the band, in a way that showcases everybody’s individual and collective talent. That’s a good way of doing it because you have that vehicle. I have written hundreds and hundreds of songs but for many of them there was no vehicle in mind, they were just songs written to acoustic guitar, and one song may not resemble another. A lot of the stuff either didn’t fit into the Allman Brothers or Gov’t Mule category. In some cases they might fit into a category for a solo album. Sometime next year I am going to release a solo acoustic record. But some of those songs don’t even fit in there. Maybe some of those songs were intended for somebody else to record or maybe for nobody to record. I write a lot of different types of music.
In terms of how my songwriting has changed, I think that nowadays I am writing more eclectic music. I’m such a fan of so many different types of music. I grew up not loving pop music. My family was a strange musical family. We grew up listening to lots of different music but one thing we all shared was our disdain for commercialism. You could look through the thousands of albums my two older brothers had and you’ll find great records but you won’t find the top forty in there. We grew up hating the radio, we didn’t even have a rock station in our hometown. Maybe one in ten songs on the air had something cool in them. I’ll tell you though in some ways radio was much more open minded then it is now. Everything now has to fit into a category where back then you would hear so many different types of music on the radio. But my love of non-mainstream music has always been there.
DB- In terms of pop music, you do an interesting cover of the Beatles’ “She Said, She Said” on Dose. How did that come about?
WH- Originally that was Allen Woody’s idea. We’re always looking for songs to cover live, and most of those songs are never considered for studio possibilities. “She Said” was just another of the over one hundred songs that we cover in an given moment in the live context but it kind of took on its own life and we were playing it entirely different. So the more that arrangement turned into something unique the more we thought that maybe we should take a stab at it in the future.
DB- Returning to your songwriting, looking back on you initial solo album, Tales of Ordinary Madness, are you happy with that?
WH- Well, any artist or writers is going to look back at their early stuff and think they’ve gone past it but I’m pleased with that record. There are things I would change but I think that’s pretty normal. Most of the things I would change are from a sonic perspective. That record was done in a time period when all of the records were a bit more slick and had a bit more reverb. Shortly after that people went back to the old school approach. I was very pleased with the way that record turned out at the time and all of the people who contributed to it, the job that Chuck Leavell did on it. That record had so many different people playing on it that it’s hard to do a record in some ways when there’s not a core of musicians to build the songs around.
DB- How did you come to perform with Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman at Wetlands? How long did you have to prepare?
WH- The first night that I jammed with Bob, I had received a call from Wasserman that afternoon saying “Hey, why don’t you come down and jam.” We had jammed in Cleveland at the Robert Johnson tribute and had a good time. So Rob said “Why don’t you come down and jam, we’ll rent you a little amp.” I was in the studio working but I was happy to take a few hours off and go do it so I said “Sure, I’d love to.” The first night there wasn’t a lot of preparation. it was just “Can you play this song, can you play that song.” After the show Bo and I started talking and he said “Do you know this song? Do you know that song? Maybe you could drag out the CD and listen to it?” So I actually spent the next day listening to a few songs and preparing myself a little bit. Not much, but doing some preparation for the second night which I think was a little bit more open and improv-oriented.
DB- In listening to tapes of that night it’s clear that you’ve heard your share of Garcia over the years.
WH- When in Rome, you know. I’ve always believed in playing to the spirit of the music. Although I wasn’t a big Grateful Dead fan growing up one of my brothers did have a few Grateful Dead records and some Garcia solo records so I heard him here and there, and I actually saw the Dead in 78 or 79. But I didn’t actually discover how good that music was until ten or eleven years ago. Right around the time I joined the Allman Brothers I started taking the opportunity to catch the Dead at some of their live shows. I really enjoyed them and started getting some live tapes sent to me. I really picked up not only on the chemistry that those guys had and how unique Jerry’s musical brain was but also how great the songs were. For some reason a lot of people on the outside tend to overlook what great material some of those songs were. You can really hear it if you check out that album Deadicated where all those people are playing Grateful Dead songs and you hear how those songs would carry over to somebody else’s approach. I have a great deal of respect for Garcia’s guitar playing and his whole musicality. I thought he had a really endearing voice. That experience playing with Bobby and Rob that night kind of gave me an opportunity to explore that a little bit and pay homage to him. It was fun to me.
When people used to ask me about playing in the Allman Brothers, they would ask how much did the guys ask me to play like Duane or not play like Duane. Well they always left it up to me in terms of much of Duane’s influence I should show. I was always very respectful of that because Duane Allman was one of my favorite guitar players growing up. He was a huge influence on me. And I always felt that on certain songs, “Statesboro Blues” and those kind of songs, especially the slide songs, that to not play in the Duane tradition would kind of be going against the grain of the music. You’ve got to do what makes the music sound best. So I don’t mind taking little glimpses of somebody’s musical personality and interweaving them with my own. If you insist on taking things somewhere else then it’s just too much sometimes.
DB- One final question, since its the Tenth Anniversary of Wetlands, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the club.
WH- I love the people at Wetlands, the people that operate the place and the people who go there, the whole vibe that they’ve created. It was one of the places I first hung out when I moved to New York. I’m just glad that they’ve stuck to their guns and continue to do what they do. It was a real pleasure to come be a part of the whole anniversary thing. Great music was played for all the right reasons.