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Published: 2008/04/25
by Mike Greenhaus

Warren Haynes’ Many Returns: From NOLA To The Jammys

Since the late 1980s, few musicians have come to symbolize the jamband scene like Warren Haynes. As a member of both the Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule, he’s performed on countless stages across the globe, sharing the spotlight with everyone from The Dead (with whom he toured in 2004) to Deep Purple. As a solo performer, he’s showcased his flair for acoustic music and helped introduce singer/songwriters like Ray LaMontagne and Damien Rice to a scene built on electric guitars and live improvisation. While it’s impossible to list all the musicians he’s collaborated with over the years—-from Flea to Phil Lesh to Jack Casady to Leslie West to Phish to Dave Matthews Band to Widespread Panic to moe. to John Medeski to Robert Randolph to Les Claypool to The Meters to Grace Potter to John Scofield and Grace Potter—-it’s easy to understand that Haynes embodies the jamband scene’s open, collaborative nature.

Haynes made his first appearance at the Jammys in 2002, when he performed a stealth set with the Allman Brothers Band and anchored a Gov’t Mule spot that drew in Trey Anastasio, John Scofield, Stefan Lessard, Derek Trucks and Gregg Allman. He returned in 2004 to play with both Lifetime Achievement Winner Steve Winwood and a Robinson brothers-bolstered version of Gov’t Mule and has picked up four Jammys himself along the way, including Song of the Year (“Soulshine”), Live Album of the Year (_The Deepest End_), Live Performance of the Year (for the New Orleans show documented on The Deepest End) and Studio Album of the Year (_Deja Voodoo_).

On May 7, Haynes will return to the Theater at Madison Square Garden to host the 7th Annual Jammy Awards with Grace Potter. The show caps off a busy few days for the always active guitarist, including two guest-heavy shows at New Orleans’ Contemporary Arts Center (5/2-3) that will celebrate that fifth anniversary of the Jammy winning Deepest End sessions. Gov’t Mule will then hit the road with RatDog, before kicking off a solo headlining tour that includes festival like High Sierra, All Good and Rothbury. recently caught up with Haynes on the road to talk about his upcoming New Orleans shows, his favorite Jammys memories and how he managed to reunite the Robinson Brothers after a bitter split.

MG- You’ve played the Jammys a number of times over the years with a number of special guests, as well as both Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers Band. Looking back, what was your favorite performance?

WH- If I had to pick one it would probably be playing with Steve Winwood [at the 2004 Jammys], just because I am such a huge fan. Also, the reuniting of the Black Crowes with Gov’t Mule was really special. And the year at Roseland with the Allman Brothers and when Scofield and Trey played with Mule. It is all about the spontaneity and the collaborations. There is a feeling that anything can happen.

MG- You just touched upon two of the most memorable Jammys moments: When the Allman Brothers showed up unexpectedly in 2002 and The Black Crowes reunited in 2004. Can you walk us through how those performances materialized? If you recall, neither performance was announced before show time.

WH- Chris Robinson had done a tour with Gov't mule with his band New Earth Mud and we collaborated a good deal. We were talking about doing something special for the Jammys and Rich happened to be in town, so we immediately thought about having them play together. We didn’t tell anyone, even [Jammys executive producer Peter Shapiro] and on the guest list wrote crew member x and whatnot. [Black Crowes keyboardist] Eddie Harsch was around as well and came down and they all did “Sometimes Salvation.”

With the Allman Brothers, it was one of those things were someone said yes and one by one everyone just started saying yet. In a way it is kind of similar to what happened at X-Mas Jam a few years. Gregg and I agreed to play an acoustic set and Oteil [Burbridge] and Jimmy Herring were already there to play with Aquarium Rescue Unit, so one by one everyone else started saying, “I’ll do it.” That was actually the only incarnation of the Allman Brothers where Jimmy Herring and I played together [note: Jimmy Herring played with the Allman Brothers Band in the summer of 2000, a few months before Haynes rejoined the group in March of 2001]. At the Jammys, we didn’t tell anyone. The rumors leaked out, so people suspected it, but at events like that I think it is good to have an element of surprise.

MG- This year you are co-hosting the Jammys with Grace Potter. Do you remember the first time you shared the stage with Grace? What were your initial impressions of her and the Nocturnals?

WH- About three years ago we did one show together at a theater in upstate New York and I was surprised how much of a connection they made with our audience. Our audience really connected with Grace and the Nocturnals and our audience doesn’t always connect with our openers [laughter]. So they came out on the road with us last Fall and we played together quite a bit.

MG- What about Grace’s sound do you feel resonated most strongly with your fans?

WH- You can feel from her and the band the respect they have for rock, soul and the blues. They all have extremely good taste in music and create really honest music. Even when Grace is strutting around on the stage there is something really genuine about her performance.

MG- How have you felt the scope of the jam-scene has widened since you joined the Allman Brothers Band in 1989?

WH- I think people are realizing and discovering that there is no reason to be close-minded to other styles of music, whether it is jazz, blues, reggae or soul. If we are going to rebel against mainstream music, there should be no limit on what genres are allowed to be part of the rebellion [laughter]. It basically comes down to great a great live show.

MG- As a fan of all types of music, is there any band or performer that you have championed that hasn’t been accepted by the scene?

WH- I was surprised when people didn’t take to Earl Greyhound. Like Grace, they are a great young rock band. A few people got them and they are one of my favorites, but not as many as I thought. But we need bands like them or Rose Hill Drive. We need more young bands keeping the torch of rock-and-roll music alive.

MG- Phish is receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Jammys this May. Over the years you’ve collaborated with that band on many times, both on and off the stage. Mike Gordon even directed your Deep End film Rising Low. Do you have a favorite memory collaborating with either the band or an individual member of the band over the years?

WH- The first time in Portland, ME in 1995 [12/11/95, Cumberland County Civic Center]. Gov’t Mule had just started and we opened for them and I sat in [on “Funk Bitch” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”]. I guess it is mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. We had that first taste connection when I played with them.

MG- A few years earlier you also played with Mike and Trey at your Ritz Power Jam, correct?

WH- Yeah they came over after they played another show [at Roseland Ballroom]. In retrospect, that Power Jam was actually quite foreboding. There were a lot of musicians up there, many of which had never played together at that point. Noel Redding, John Popper, Dave Matthews, Chuck LeavellWe kind of winged it with virtually no rehearsal, but if came off real well. Looking back we assembled quite the collection of players.

MG- Speaking of power jams, next week you are celebrating the anniversary of your Deepest End concert. Can you give of a sense of what that event will be like?

WH- Well, we are celebrating the 5th anniversary of the Deepest End concerts, which came at the end of the Deep End Tour. At the time we were touring with a bunch of different guest bassists, like George Porter, Dave Schools and Oteil. So we had a ton of the bass players who appeared on The Deep End Vol. 1 and 2 come down and play with us at the State Theater. More and more people stopped by over the course of the night and we had over 20 guests, bassists and other surprise performers. We ended up recording the show and releasing it as both a DVD and CD film.

It’s been five years so we figured we’d do something special and it worked out perfectly. A lot of people are going to be in town for JazzFest and we are going to do two nights at New Orleans’ Contemporary Arts Center (5/2-3) with Grace and the Nocturnals opening. We are going to have a lot of guests, but probably less bassists than the Deepest End show by far [laughter].

MG- What is the rehearsal process like, if any, for an event like The Deepest End?

WH- Well, were surprised that it went as smoothly as it did [laughter] since the whole thing was so unrehearsed. We had about 15 minutes to rehearse with all the guests we hadn’t played with before and zero time to rehearse with all the guests we had played with before. But it was one of those things that just came together.

MG- In regards to that show in specific, does any moment stick out in particular?

WH- Well, towards the end of the night George Porter Jr. was suppose to come down after like his 5th gig that night [laughter]. So we are waiting for Porter and I went out and did an Eagles song [“Wasted Time”] as a solo piece to stall to get Porter there and he showed up at the perfect moment and we played “Thorazine Shuffle.”

MG- Bringing things back to the Jammys one last time, of your four Jammys is the most meaningful to you?

WH- I learned a long time ago not to look at accolades that way. Maybe it is a weird way to look at it, but everyone’s tastes are different. You tend to appreciate the acknowledgement regardless of the category.

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