Tracking The Deep End with Warren Haynes
Guitarist Warren Haynes continues to work as hard as anyone in the music business. This past year he’s split his time between the Allman Brothers, Phil & Friends and Gov’t Mule, while finishing Volume 2 of The Deep End, which was released last month. The album serves as a tribute to bassist Allen Woody and features all of his bass heroes as well as other special guests. Warren discussed each track of the album with us in detail. We talked with him backstage at the Orpheum Theater in Boston, just minutes before he took the stage with Gov’t Mule for the tour opener in mid-October.
JW: By now I think everyone knows the concept of the albums, so let’s start off by leading into to Volume 2 and how you separated the albums.
WH: Well originally it was going to be one entity. It was just gonna be a double CD, but between scheduling conflicts and deadlines and the fact that we had 160 minutes of music, we decided to separate it. Really for a hardcore fan, 160 minutes is a lot to digest. In the old days, that would have been four albums because records used to be 40 minutes long – or less. So we made the decision for it to be Volume 1 and Volume 2. There was really only two or three different ways that everything would fit on the discs because we took up so much space. So in some ways it made it a nightmare to sequence, but in other ways it made it easy because we didn’t have many choices. There were very few options. I think disc two is a little more eclectic. It’s got the two instrumentals. It’s got the song with Phil Lesh and David Grisman, which is real Appalachian-sounding. It’s a little bit more diverse than the first one, but they’re both equally action packed.
JW: Let’s go through song by song. The first track is “Try Not to Fall.”
WH: “Try Not to Fall” was the last song recorded for the record. Once we had started doing some live shows with Jason Newsted, it kind made sense to do a track with him. We had done a demo of that song, but had never done an actual version of it. So we took Jason and recorded it with him. I kind of felt like it rounded out the whole record. Without that track, the record didn’t rock enough. It was too diverse and too mellow. So adding one more rock track just seemed to balance it out.
JW: Talk about how you got hooked up with Jason Newsted.
WH: Jason and I became friends through my acquaintance with the Metallica guys. I had started to read in interviews that the guys in Metallica were Gov’t Mule fans. Then we shared a tour accountant, who used to work for the Allman Brothers and also worked for Metallica. I spoke to him one day and this was back when they were doing Lollapalooza and he said Hey did you know that the Metallica guys are big Gov’t Mule fans?’ And I said, Yeah I started reading that in a few articles here and there’ and he said I’m sure they’d love to meet them, why don’t you come out to one of the shows?’ They were going to be at Randall’s Island in New York and I wanted to hear them live and hear Soundgarden, which is a good thing because they wound up breaking up. So I went out and met all the guys and they were real nice. That’s when Jason and I first got to know each other.
When I was out in California working on Phil Lesh’s record, he left me a message at the studio and wanted to get together and have lunch. So he and I and [Warren’s wife and manager Stefani Scamardo] sat one day and talked briefly and he said he would love to do something whether it was live or some recording or a separate project. He was like It doesn’t even have to be Gov’t Mule, I just think we would mesh really well.’ I thought at the time that we’d drag him in on Volume 2 of The Deep End. I don’t think he knew that there was still an opening on Volume 2 because at one point we had kind closed the door and said that the album was done, but once I realized that we really needed one rocker, we re-opened that door. So I called him and asked him to come to some live shows with us and he came out and we became good friends hanging on the bus and having fun. We played a lot of great music together, so I asked him to come to the studio and do that track with us.
It worked out really well. Jason’s a really good musician, who similar to a lot of us, gets pigeon-holed into a category and some people think that that’s all he does. But like most good musicians, he can do a lot of different type of things. I remember one time hearing a conversation between him and someone else about how much he loved Tower of Power. You think wow, the bass player from Metallica being a Tower of Power fan,’ but why not? I mean look at our influences. They go from bluegrass to hard rock to jazz to blues to psychedelia to folk music to soul music, so I think that’s the case with most musicians.
JW: “Time to Confess.”
WH: “Time to Confess” I had written years ago and was probably, in the back of my mind, saving it for what would be my next solo album. It may not have wound up being a Gov’t Mule song had Woody not passed away. I’m not really sure. I just always loved that song, but it was one of those songs that definitely needed keyboards. Just in my mind, the way I heard it in my head, it needed that quartet type of feel. When we secured George Porter Jr. and Art Neville for the record, I just started going through in my head different songs that were already written, thinking about ones that would be good and “Time to Confess” just kind of stood out. I thought it would be great with those guys playing and it turned out to be the case. I mean, they did a wonderful job on it and it definitely has their personality blended with our personality.
JW: “Greasy Granny 1 and 2.”
WH: The first bass player to work with us on the entire project was Les Claypool and we had three days together, which was great. So we spent the first day getting to know each other and jamming and archiving the jams and then the ones that seemed to resemble song parts, we went back and listened to them and put some sort of arrangement together musically. Then at the end of the day, when we felt like we had a musical arrangement together, we agreed that Les would write some lyrics and I would write some lyrics and we would see where we stood from that. The next day we came into the studio and I asked him what he had and he said Well, I’ve got this idea about this woman, Greasy Granny and Greasy Granny’s gopher gravy.’ I asked him who was Greasy Granny and he said Well, she’s kind of like a crystal meth dealer who was a hooker on the side.’ He just had this whole image of who Greasy Granny was. She wasn’t an old woman. She was old before her time, but it was Greasy Granny in the way that you would say something derogatory about someone.
I remember Stefani and I were laughing and asked him where he came up with that image. He said Oh just driving around’ and we were like where the hell were you driving?’ For Les, driving around means up in the mountains north of Marin County and there are no towns up there. His world is full of those kinds of images. All his characters are very animated and very full of humor. So he asked me what I had and I told him about the Separate your mind from your body’ thing and we agreed that maybe they would work together. Somehow he had the line Get your gopher gravy from Greasy Granny’ and we put that together with my line and that became the chorus.
Part 2 came about because there was another part of the jam that we liked equally as much as Part 1, but it was a different groove, different time signature, and different concept entirely and I just thought we could split them up. In the long run we wound up putting the lyrical concept in to Part 2 as well. It worked out really cool. They were recorded back to back. They weren’t pieced together. That’s the way we played it: Part 1 into Part 2, exactly like it appears on the record. Then we went back and put the vocals on.
JW: “What is Hip?”
WH: “What is Hip?” was a big influence on all of us individually before we ever knew each other; on Matt [Abts], on Woody and on me. It was especially influential on Woody. When you listen to songs like “Mule” and then you listen to “What is Hip?” you hear the influence that Rocco Prestia had Allen Woody, even though they were totally different as personalities and as musicians. That’s why we chose to put the little “Mule” signature riff at the end of “What is Hip?” to kind of tie them together. Rocco was a huge influence on Woody in general and that song just sort of made sense and I thought hell, no one’s ever really done a cover of it and it’s a great song. It holds up today as much as it did then. We should just do it.’ In a way, I’m very glad that we chose that song and in another way, I wish we had gotten to play something other than that song with Rocco because that’s a song that he plays every day of his life. So to him it was old hat, but to us it was a great adventure. I remember Rocco joking to us one time, Hey maybe next time we’ll play something other than “What is Hip?”’ [laughs] It’d be kind of like me playing “Soulshine” with someone. Wow, what a thrill.’ [laughs] You know what I mean? But it’s a great version and I’m very proud of it and glad that we chose it.
JW: “World of Confusion.”
WH: “World of Confusion” I wrote with Gary Lucas, who wrote “Grace” and a couple of the tunes on the Jeff Buckley record, Grace and I’m a huge fan of that record. Gary and I had been talking for quite some time about getting together and writing, and he basically came by my house and played me some stuff that he had and I took it and combined it with some stuff that I had. I think he originally had the title, either “World of Confusion” or “Land of Confusion” or something like that. It was a different melody. Other than that, I wrote all the lyrics to it, but he inspired the whole concept. A lot of the musical ideas and the hook riffs belong to Gary. He had already written them. The strange chord changes in the verse were mine. The chorus was basically his and that little intro figure. When we recorded it Gary was in Europe, so he couldn’t be there, but when he got back I brought him into the studio and had him overdub his guitar on it. So he appears on there as well.
Recording with Tony Levin obviously was just a joy. Tony, aside from being impeccable, incredible bass player, is just such a great person to be around and he’s so humble and so personable. He’s one of those cats that every bass player you talk to loves Tony Levin. He just doesn’t let it affect him. He’s just who he is. Anytime I get to work with Tony is always a pleasure.
JW: “Hammer and Nails.”
WH: “Hammer and Nails” is a song that I remembered from my teenage years, originally from Jesse Winchester. I always thought that Jesse Winchester wrote it, but he didn’t and I found out just recently, when we were going to clear the publishing; I couldn’t even find the original Jesse Winchester version to reference. So I basically played it from memory. I remembered it in my head, which is not always accurate to reality. But, it’s one of those one-chord songs that you can’t screw up too badly. That’s one of those songs we played with Woody every now and then, but he never played bass on it. He always played mandolin on it and after Woody died, [Dave] Schools came in and played bass on it, but there was no blueprint for him to learn in from because Woody had always played Mandolin. I still remember the first time we played that song was at Lupo’s in Providence with Chuck Leavell and with Dave Schools. We actually had the balls to open up with a song that neither one of them had ever heard or had ever played. I just said Trust me guys. It’s one chord, whatever you play is gonna be great.’ It’s just one those things you have to feel and the very first time we played it, it was great. It fell right into place. Of course both of those guys are great players.
Consequently, when I sent a bunch of songs to Me’shell [N’degeocello] and she kind of gravitated towards that one, she said Do you want me to learn and reference the bass part that’s on the tape?’ And I told her the story of how Woody played mandolin on it. Schools had never heard the song when he played it, so I told her to just do the same thing and play what you feel and she thought that was great and that was what she preferred to do. She didn’t even really listen to it, other than to decide that she liked the song. We just went in and jammed. That whole take with her and John Medeski, including my vocal, is a live performance. Usually we would go back and redo my vocal, but on that particular one we kept the live vocal because it’s just that kind of song. It’s quite a cool version. She played great and of course John played great as well.
JW- “Slow Happy Boys”?
That was a nickname that was given to me and Woody [by Allman Brothers road manager Kirk West] when we were in the Allman Brothers. Our dressing room that we used to share was called “The Slow Happy Room.” There’d be a sign on the door that said that and we knew what that meant. That meant that that was our place, you know? I don’t think Woody ever even heard the song. I just wrote it kind of as a novelty. Feel free as a listener to try to figure out what it’s about. It’s not a very heavy subject matter song, which is a little against the grain for me. I usually tend to write about more heavy subject matters, but I’m glad that this one appears and I’m glad that we did it with Jack Casady. He was one of Woody’s initial heroes. Woody loved Casady in the beginning and then they became good friends, which was a nice full-circle reaction.
I always toyed with whether it should remain in my head or whether it should actually be given to the public because it’s just a personal little ditty really. I had told Kirk about it and I told Woody about it, but neither one of them had ever heard it. Nobody had every heard it. I had that song laying around for six or eight years and had never played it for anyone, other than by myself in my bedroom. When we were looking for something for Casady to play it just seemed right. It seemed like it would have Jack’s feel and I was kind of leaning toward recording that song or giving that song a life so to speak anyway. I thought Pete Sears would be great on it and Pete and Jack play together all the time. Sure enough, I played it for Jack and he loved it. We cut it the first take. I mean, we tried at least two more times just to see if we could top it, but the first take was definitely the best one. So I went back after the fact and overdubbed a little bit of slide guitar and redid my vocal and then when we got back to New York, I felt like the instrumentation was still a little bit empty so I asked Chuck Leavell to put organ on it. So Pete and Chuck are both playing on it, which is really great. Pete’s playing piano and Chuck’s playing organ. That tune just brings a smile to my face when I hear it. It’s a nice little departure.
JW: Next is one of my highlights on the album, “Sundance.” That’s the one I was telling you about where I almost drove off the road the first time I heard it. That breakdown section in the middle is just so different from anything else on the album.
WH: “Sundance” was written in ’89 or ’90. Johnny Neel and myself had just joined the Allman Brothers and Johnny and I used to get adjoining hotel rooms when we were on the road. He would have a keyboard in his room and I would have an acoustic guitar and sometimes we would spend days off working on songs and stuff. “Sundance” was written back then and we knew then that we had written a really cool instrumental, but it didn’t make sense for the Allman Brothers. It didn’t sound like the Allman Brothers and it didn’t really make sense at all for Gov’t Mule, although eventually it would have.
When it really started to cry out to be heard was when we confirmed Chris Squire (Yes) to play with us. The song always had this very obvious Yes influence. We acknowledged that. We realized that it was very different than instrumentals that we had been known for working on in the past. So when Chris came on board, that’s the song that instantly came to my mind. I was speaking to Chris on the phone and he said that he’d really like to hear the song before we recorded it and maybe even work on it a little bit. He’s one of those guys that likes to compose a bass part and sometimes spend a lot of time and energy putting together the exact right bass line for the song. That song kind of needs that sort of treatment anyway. So I told him that we didn’t have a demo of it and we were in the studio making the actual record and I didn’t have time to make a demo of it. He asked if I could record it with acoustic guitar and I said that maybe I could do that. I actually put it down with the electric guitar, just my guitar by itself, nothing else and sent it to him.
He got something from that, but not enough. So he called me back and is like, I really need to hear more, like what the other instruments are gonna be doing.’ And I was like, Well ok, but you’re coming up here the day after tomorrow. That means we have to record a demo of it tonight, FedEx it out to you, you get it tomorrow and then the next day you’re on a plane up here.’ And he said, Well, if it’s not too much trouble, that would really help me out.’ I thought the song deserved it. I mean, it’s such an intricate piece and it deserved that type of attention. At that time, Matt [Abts] and Johnny vaguely remembered it from eleven years before. I was the only one who really remembered who the song went.
So Johnny and I refreshed our memories on how it went, we showed it to Matt, we did a little demo of it without bass and the demo was actually quite good. So we sent that to Chris. He came back in the next day and said he loved the demo. He’s like, The performance is great. Can I just add my bass to that?” And we’re like, “No, that’s not a multi-track. That went straight to DAT. There’s no way to possibly do that. We gotta re-cut it. So we spent an entire day working on this arrangement, making sure everything was just right. That song took a lot of effort, but it was definitely worth it. The part that he wrote for it was just tremendous. Classic Chris Squire bass line, changing from section to section and sections repeat his part would change. It just kind of showcases why he is who he is.
JW: That’s a great story because I thought it was the other way around. I assumed you wrote that song recently specifically because you got Chris Squire for the album.
WH: No. It was over ten years old.
JW: There’s quite a contrast to the next song, “Lay of the Sunflow.”
WH: Yeah, I love the way “Lay of the Sunflower” comes after “Sundance.” It’s really beautiful. To do the sequence, I spent a lot of time listening to songs in different orders and sometimes specifically trying to see what different songs would sound like coming out of other songs. More often that not, I’d put a CD of rough mixes and pushing the random button and letting the CD player decide what order it wanted to play the songs in and if something really cool happened, then I would make a note of it. I had this little book that I would make references like that in.
JW: Did that particular segue occur randomly?
WH: It did come about on random, but it actually came about by accident on some work tape that they just happened to appear on back to back. I really liked the way they worked together. “Lay of the Sunflower” was a Robert Hunter poem and Phil [Lesh] has told me that I had permission to go through some of Robert’s lyrics and write music to them, which was very awesome news to me. The first one that I ever put music to was “Lay of the Sunflower.”
I looked through this book of his lyrics and poetry and looked at all the titles that had never been made into songs and there were three or four of them that struck me, especially the titles themselves and that was one of them. So I looked at the lyrics and this melody just came into my head instantly. I picked up this guitar that I have. It’s a small body Martin guitar that Steve Miller gave me when we were doing the Steve Miller tour. It stays tuned a step and a half above standard, so if you play a G chord, it’s actually a B flat chord. So I wrote it on that guitar, which is like having a capo on the third fret of a normal guitar. It just kind of flowed out. I looked at this lyric and the one part that seemed like it bared repeating was fare ye well, I would not weep’ That whole little section seemed like a chorus to me. The hardest part for that song was making all the lyrics fit because I couldn’t take any of them out. There are so many words, but they’re all important. I couldn’t remove any of the verses. There are literally like eight verses in the song, but to tell the story, they all have to be there. So we had to accompany the story dynamically. The first part of the verse would go up and the second part would go down and third part would go back up. We had to kind of make the music tell the story, which was quite a challenge. I knew when I first wrote it that I wanted to hear mandolin on it. So we called David Grisman and we got him to come in.
The first person I ever showed it to was Phil and we worked it up with Phil & Friends and I had already asked him about being on The Deep End and when we were trying to decide what song to do I asked him if he want to do “Lay of the Sunflower” or save it for the Phil & Friends record and he left it up to me. So we got [Rob] Barraco to play piano and David mandolin. It’s such a lovely departure for the record. It just all the sudden takes a turn down a dirt road and you wind up in this beautiful meadow that you didn’t know was there. I really like that song a lot. It was such an honor to put that lyric to music. When I told Phil how the whole thing happened in like thirty minutes, he just laughed and said, Well you know that’s what Jerry [Garcia] used to say about Hunter’s lyrics, that they just inspired him to write music really quickly.”
JW: Next is “Catfish Blues.”
WH: “Catfish Blues” is kind of similar to the Muddy Waters version. There’s “Rolling Stone,” which almost like “Catfish Blues.” They go back even further. You can trace that song over 100 years. It’s traditional at this point, but people change the words through the years. We used to do a version of it that combined the Hendrix version with the Muddy Waters version. We used to do that with Woody and we kind of stumbled on a nice, unique arrangement of it. When we found out that Billy Cox was gonna record with us, that’s the song that leaped into my mind even though he’s not on the original “Catfish Blues.” I think that’s Noel Redding, who I’ve worked with in the past also and loved. One of the special side bars about the Billy Cox thing was that he and Woody were close friends. They both grew up in Nashville and in the documentary Rising Low, Mike Gordon interviews Billy Cox and he talks about his relationship with Woody and how long they’ve known each other. So that was a personal thing also. To go in there and play that song and do a couple takes with Billy Cox and have it come across the way it did was just really a magical thing. We cut it as a three-piece, but I knew Bernie Worrell was coming in to play on some other stuff and I thought it would be nice if we added organ to it and we added that after the fact.
JW- “Which Way Do We Run.”
WH- I wrote that one six or eight years ago. I wrote it about the time I was leaving the Allman Brothers, so some time around ’96. It was another one of those departure songs where I didn’t know if it would fit into a Gov’t Mule album or not. There were certain songs that I would write that would always start on an acoustic guitar and there would always be room for two or three of those kind of songs on a Gov’t Mule record, but the majority of the record had to be more band-driven. This song may have wound up being a Gov’t Mule song with Woody. It’s hard to say. I don’t think he ever heard it. I don’t think I ever played it for him. When I was showing Dave Schools some songs, that was one of the first ones that I showed him as options for songs for him to record. He just gravitated towards that one and he said we shouldn’t look any further. He wanted to do that one. It was a pleasure putting it together. Dave played great. We brought Danny Louis in to just do some atmospheric kind of keyboards really. That song is a nice example of some of the new directions that Gov’t Mule is taking. There’re influences that have always been there, but maybe didn’t come out until now.
JW- And finally, “Babylon Turnpike.”
WH- “Babylon Turnpike” was written at about the same time “Sundance” was written with Johnny Neel. We wrote both of those together. It’s a similar kind of story in the way that it was too straight-ahead jazzy for the Allman Brothers and probably for any project that I had done up until now. I wondered if it was too jazzy for this project, but when Alphonso [Johnson] came on board, I thought, Well, Alphonso’s such a great upright player. Why don’t we take a shot?’ Johnny was gonna be part of the sessions anyway.
There’s an interesting story that goes along with that song. Danny Gatton, before he died, had called me and we had never met in person, but his manager was a mutual friend and was trying to get the two of us together. Woody and I ended up playing at the Danny Gattin Tribute, but Danny’s manager had called and asked me if it was ok to give Danny my phone number and I said it was. So he called me one day and said he was looking for material for his new record and if I had anything. I told him I had this jazzy song called “Babylon Turnpike,” but that I didn’t have a demo of it. I thought maybe Johnny and I could whip up a demo and send it to him. So one day during Allman Brothers sound check, Johnny and I played it just the two of us recorded it straight into a DAT or cassette and sent the only known copy to Danny Gatton.
He called me back and said, Man, I really love that song, but it’s a little too jazzy for this record. My next record is going to be a straight jazz record and I’d like to do it on that album if that’s ok with you.’ I said, Yeah, I’d be honored.’ Of course he never made that record. He died before he had the chance. So that song has a strange history about it. When we recorded it with Alphonso, it was such a pleasure just kind of sinking our teeth into something that was more straight-ahead jazz than anything we had ever done. To me, it was the perfect way to close the record. It’s almost like when that song ends, you turn the light off.