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Warren Haynes Delves Into The Deepest End

Shortly after Gov't Mule's recent announcement naming Andy Hess as permanent bassist, the band took to the road to celebrate on its appropriately titled Rebirth of the Mule Tour. The addition of Hess ended a two year period of musical give-and-take hit with of high profile musicians playing bass and often guesting on other instruments as well. This period hits its peak on May 3, 2003 when Gov't Mule played a six-hour show at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans with collaborators including Dave Schools, Jack Casady, Les Claypool, Karl Denson, David Hidalgo, Jason Newsted, Ivan Neville, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Rob Wasserman, Bernie Worrell and more, all of which is documented on the group's Deepest End CD and DVD.

With that chapter of the band's existence closed, the band is ready to move forward. In this conversation Haynes discusses the importance of the group aesthetic as well as that evening in New Orleans, his role in the Allman Brothers Band and Phil Lesh and Friends as well as the sounds he listened to while growing up in Asheville, North Carolina that sculpted his musical personality.

JPG: When did you come to the decision that, I like everyone that I’ve been working with but we need to get somebody permanent now?’

WH: That was kind of the plan the whole time, not to rush into that process, to let the whole Deep End concept take us where it would and work with as many of these legendary bass players as possible, but knowing in the long run it would lead us to a permanent bass player.

JPG: What is it about Andy that you drew you to him?

WH: A lot of the people, obviously, wouldn't be able to join a full time band. When we played with Andy, we just had that chemistry that bands are started on in the first place, that unspoken thing that just happens when a group of musicians plays together without talking. The way he plays with Matt [Abts] is really incredible. And the bass and drums are the foundation of the whole thing, so that's the really important part of the overall picture. Plus Andy's very versatile in so many different genres of music. He's played jazz, blues, rock and roll and that's what we do. That really helps out a lot too. We go to all these different places, he can go there with us.

We felt really good about Andy the first time we played with him. Andy was one of the handful of people that was largely responsible for us being able to carry on. That would be Dave Schools, Oteil Burbridge, George Porter, Jason Newsted, Greg Rzab. These are the people that went on the road with us for weeks at a time rather than just one show here and there. Those people were invaluable in this whole process.

When we played with Andy, in the case with most of these guys, it would be two or three bass players on the bus at the same time. We would divide up the workload and say, Okay, you learn these 20 songs. You learn these 20 songs.' That way one person wouldn't be that overwhelmed with having to learn even a small part of our repertoire cause one of the things Govt. Mule prided itself on was playing a different show every night. Before Woody passed away, our repertoire was around 400 songs. So we couldn't possibly expect one person to delve into that, much less someone who may or may not be the person for the long haul.

Playing with Andy in the beginning just felt real good. At the time he was unavailable cause he had just joined John Scofield's band and had made a lot of commitments to John. That's the thing. When you're dealing with musicians of this caliber, they all have tons of commitments that they have to honor. So it's not like Hey, drop everything you're doing. Come.'

JPG: You mentioned the word chemistry, to what extent is that important off the stage as well as on?

WH: When met Andy we got along with him great right off the bat. That's always a plus. Musicians on the road spend so much time together, a lot more than people realize. You have to be able to get along personally. It has to start with the music and it has to carry over with the personal vibe. There's been a lot of great bands through the years that played great music but didn't get along so great. That's a powder keg. Thankfully, Andy's really fun to hang with and a great guy. Decision's made mostly on the music but that definitely plays into it.

JPG: As the rookie, do you guys have Andy carrying your bags for you?

WH: Nah, no there's no real hazing process. (laughs)

Stepping back, you also referenced Andy’s versatility and familiarity with multiple genres. I’m wondering how did you get to where you are now- for instance what were you listening to as a kid that may have started you down the path to this musical place?

WH: I started off singing before I ever picked up a guitar. I sang in church. Sang in school. But mostly, I sang in my bedroom trying all my favorite soul singers like James Brown and Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, the Four Tops and the Temptations. Eventually, I heard Sly and the Family Stone, kind of lead me across this bridge to rock and roll. I discovered Cream and Hendrix. That was when I wanted to play guitar when I heard that stuff. Prior to that, it was all about the voices. I just loved all the great singers.

By the time we started playing bands, I was really hooked on rock music. The soul music thing would always be there, especially in my voice. We were covering all the rock music that I loved at the time. Then, I would read interviews with all these people and see who they listened to. They listened to all the blues guys. So, I started moving backwards and listening to B.B. King and Freddie King and Albert King and Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, that kind of stuff, because everybody loved those people. Hendrix loved those people. Allman loved em. Clapton loved em. So I'm thinking if all my heroes loved em, I need to discover that stuff too.

I started really listening to a lot of blues then, eventually, to a lot of jazz. I was fortunate that I grew up in a family with two older brothers who aside from having great taste in music also had thousands of albums. So it was like growing up in a music library. I could literally check out anything that I wanted. They had such great stuff that I was constantly exposed to all of it. One of the reasons that I like so many types of music now is cause I've been that way all my life.

JPG: You mentioned Hendrix and Clapton, which reminds me, congratulations on being recognized as number 23 in the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Is that vindication in a way, not just for you but for many of your fellow players as well because prior to this critics would think of the jamband scene as a bunch of guys just noodling around on their instruments for a half-hour?

WH: Well, yeah, it's hard to say. I really had no idea that I would be Top 100 at all, much less number 23. It was quite a surprise to me and it's quite an honor. I'm very honored by the whole thing. There were a lot of people that should have been there above me, in my opinion. It's not like I'm not going to accept the honor.

JPG: Something like that seems to be purposely thrown together so it will encourage people to talk about it. "He’s there and this person’s not there…"

WH: You know, any list is going to be that way, going to be controversial. It would be totally different if it were my list.

JPG: Who would you put at number one?

WH: I'd have to stay with Hendrix for number one just because of the impact he made on everybody. But I would have definitely had Albert King listed who was omitted. I would have definitely had Billy Gibbons [ZZ Top] listed who was omitted. Billy's definitely someone who belongs in there. I made a mental list of people I would have included. There are a lot of them. You can't dwell on that.

JPG: Back to Gov’t Mule, now that you have Andy into the fold, you’re celebrating that with a tour called Rebirth of the Mule. Do you plan on following up on this by going into the studio and making an album with Danny, Andy and Matt.

WH: We have a fair amount of material together now but I don't really want to rely on that. I want to start creating a lot of music as a band and doing a lot of jamming and seeing what comes out of it in the same way that we used to do with Woody in the old days. We would like to have another Gov't. Mule studio album out, I would hope, before August of next year. We're very much looking forward to making a band record. As awesome as it's been working with all the special guests, I'm really excited about going back into the studio as a band.

JPG: As far as the bass playing role, I recall an article in which you commented that when Allen [Woody] passed away you were ready to just say, That’s it.’ And then, you’re getting calls from other people saying No you just go on.’ What ultimately led you to keep you moving forward?

WH: It took me some time and also listening to a lot of people who had gone through similar situations. We got phone calls and letters and faxes from a lot of people who had lost band members and they continued. They weren't trying to talk me into moving forward. They were just talking about how hard it feels in the beginning.

In most cases, all these people went on to achieve bigger and better things based on the momentum they had already created with the people that they lost. It took a lot of encouragement like that to get us to start looking at it from a different angle. I'm really glad that we decided to keep it together. Now I wouldn't have it any other way. It took a while.

JPG: Once you decided to continue Gov’t Mule, at what point did you recognize that you needed to solidify your line-up and move away from Gov’t Mule with special guests.

WH: I think that was something that we knew from the beginning that we were looking forward to but we weren't ready for that to happen. We knew it was going to take some time. The last thing we wanted to do was audition a bunch of people and decide on a bass player who may or may not be the right person.

The way the whole concept was born, it was time for us to make a studio record and it just didn't feel right to go, Okay, let's sit down and play with a bunch of bass players and decide who's going to be the guy.' That just didn't make sense to us. What came from that was the whole Deep End concept. Let's get all of Woody's favorite bass players together and have em each play one song. That way we could continue forward, not lose momentum. Actually, in some ways, we gained momentum, but not have to make a premature decision on who was going to be in the band.

JPG: And then having finally made that decision you decided to put together one last big hurrah at the Saenger Theater?

WH: Having worked with all these great bass players and all the special guests, it just seemed like once we decided to move forward as a band and made a decision that we're going to decide on and announce a permanent bass player, let's close this chapter, have a big blow out with all the people that we'd been utilizing over the last couple years. And it just seemed like the right way to celebrate the entire process and close the door on it. One final hurrah with all these great wonderful musicians who volunteered their time and services for quite some time before we get back to being a real band.

JPG: Speaking of bands, you’re one of the busiest men around. I was at Bonnaroo, saw you make a guest appearance with moe. and I know you joined other artists as well during that time and, of course, you did your solo set. But, you’re playing in three bands as well. How do you keep it all together physically and mentally with so many songs to learn and play?

WH: Well, it's a fun challenge. It definitely takes a lot of cooperation between the different camps and coordinating with management and all that kind of stuff, between the three bands and my solo acoustic projects, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of songs. But I love that challenge.

That's definitely something that in some ways is a dream for a musician to be able to do this sort of thing. About the time that I start to get stagnated in any one project, I move onto something else that breathes fresh air into what I'm doing. You know, it's hard to complain about being a working musician because if you're making a living doing what you love, then you really shouldn't complain about it. But if a working musician had a complaint, in most cases it would be that they'd have to play the same 20 or 30 songs over and over. So, we've created this environment where that's not the case.

Each band has a different set of dynamics musically and politically. I just fall in and find my own place, so to speak. It's nice to bounce back and forth between those different dynamics like that. In Phil's band, he writes the setlist. I don't have to take on that responsibility where I do with Govt. Mule and in the Allman Brothers. It's nice to not deal with that, although at the same time, it's nice to do it as well. One of the beautiful things about being able to do this is not getting stuck in a rut.

JPG: At the same time working in a style of music that is improvisation-based. You’re stuck dealing with a group dynamic and each personality and what each person is going through. For example, if somebody in the band gets news that all their kids got strep throat and those feelings of worry may not stay in the dressing room. Can you tell if something’s not right and how do you fix it?

WH: Usually in most of the cases that we're referring to, all the different projects that I'm doing and the different bands and the different musicians, you walk onstage and the audience gives you this energy to play a great show when you may not feel like playing a great show. Everybody has good days and bad days, but it's amazing sometimes how as soon as you walk onstage it turns into a good day as soon as you walk onstage because the audience gives you that.

I'm sure all of us have experienced situations where an hour before the show you're going Oh Man, I don't feel so great, how am I gonna play a great show tonight? But you rise to the occasion and it is for the most part based on the energy that the audience gives you.

JPG: This kind of ties into that- back to The Deepest End, I was reading the liner notes and you mentioned that you were surprised and, of course, happy at how smoothly everything came together, even if people were running late, you just vamped a little and it worked out. When you were done with such a long show, was it adrenaline that pushed you all the way through it or was it, We’re going to be playing four to five hours here guys, you better eat a good meal tonight.’

WH: We knew it was going to be a long show, possibly one of the longest ones we'd ever played. We probably projected it would be somewhere around four to four-and-a-half hours. It wound up being six. None of us ever guessed that. The energy from the audience and the adrenaline and all that, just the excitement based on all the wonderful people that were part of this thing. What a great experience it was to be a part of something of this magnitude. Definitely kept us going.

As cliched as it might sound, there was this big massive wave of energy pushing us along and we were just riding it. That's the way it felt. To get up on any given night and do a six-hour show is not something you can depend on. Definitely not (slight laugh) what I would advise.

JPG: Does that mean you didn’t get out of bed until the next evening or something like that?

WH: Well, the next day we had a show in Atlanta. I didn't go to sleep on the bus until about 7:30 in the morning. I tried to sleep as much as possible, but the light at the end of the tunnel was that the Atlanta show was the last show of the tour and then we could all rest. We kept thinking in Atlanta, we're going to all be so tired. We rose to the occasion there too and had a great show. Bob Weir sat in with us and we had a lot of fun. Totally cool, but then the next day we all collapsed.

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