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Published: 2008/07/22
by Dean Budnick

Warren Haynes: The Reader Interview

Warren Haynes is having one of those summers. He started things off on the road with Gov’t Mule, performing a series of dates on a co-bill with Bob Weir & RatDog. Currently, Gov’t Mule is the midst of its own High Mighty summer tour that will culminate with a multi-band event at Masquerade Music Park in Atlanta on August 9. Shortly afterwards, he’ll begin the slightly-delayed but much-anticipated Allman Brothers Band tour. Beyond that he’ll offer up two solo acoustics gigs and also return to the road with the Mule. He addresses his upcoming plans, looks back at his most nerve-wracking performances and contemplates Joey Arkenstat in the following reader interview.

I heard a possibility of you moving the Christmas Jam from Asheville to NYC. Is that true? I would hope the Christmas Jam would remain in Asheville for as long as it is held. I am an Asheville resident and we appreciate what you do for our community. Wally M.

WH- There are no plans to move it outside of Asheville. This year we’re doing two nights at the Civic Center in December, 12th and 13th. It’s going to be the 20th anniversary and we’re pulling out all the stops and trying to make it the best yet.

You just wrapped up a series of dates with RatDog which features guest appearances all around, can you share some of your favorite moments from the tour? Kevin B.

WH- There were many because we shared the stage every night for the most part. I think “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” the two nights we did it was really fun. The “All Along The Watchtower” that Bob did with us was really fun. My doing “Sugaree” with themThere were so many, a lot of highlights. I really enjoyed the other guys from Gov’t Mule sitting in with RatDog and the guys with RatDog sitting with us. It was really fun and we all got to know each other even better than we knew each other before. I thought it was a really positive experience.

You have had a lot of big shoes to fill over the years (e.g. Dickey Betts, Jerry Garcia). What is the most nervous you have ever been for a performance? Jim McWalters

WH- Probably playing at my brother’s wedding trying to sing in front of fifty relatives and childhood friends outdoors in a little botanical garden. I completely forget the words to the song I was trying to perform.
Other than that maybe my solo acoustic performance at Bonnaroo which I wound up really enjoying a lot but it was really intimidating to play by myself in front of a crowd that big.

When was your brother’s wedding?

WH- That was in the early 80’s.

Speaking of your acoustic performances, a few people wanted to know if you have plans for studio or live solo work in the near future, beyond the Aspen acoustic shows in September.

WH- Well I’m starting to work on some solo recordings, although not necessarily by myself. I have material for what I think will wind up being two different solo records, one that’s more soul music influenced and one that’s more coming from the singer-songwriter side. I’ve started recording some of the stuff already. I was going to try to do a solo acoustic tour before the end of the year but I don’t know if that’s going to work out because of my schedule. But I am very much looking forward to the two nights in Aspen.

I’ve always been amazed at your ability to assimilate multiple influences into your guitar playing and songwriting process. Your recent live collaborations with Grace Potter seemed to be a great musical marriage ala the current Robert Plant/Alison Krauss project. Do you have any plans to record or tour with Grace in the future? Randy R.

WH- We have no plans but of course I’m open to anything. I like working with Grace and we work well together. I’ve really enjoyed everything we’ve done so far, so I wouldn’t rule out anything.

Warren you have played with many great musicians over the years, who is that one musician that you have yet to jam with that you really wish you could? Joseph N.

WH- I’m still hoping to jam with B.B. King who is one of my first heroes. When I first joined the Allman Brothers in 1989, I had the opportunity to jam with B.B.. We were doing a show together in Texas and Gregg Allman was sitting in with B.B. and B.B. went up to the mic and said, “Any of the other Allman Brothers who want to come and jam, come on out.” I had not met him at that time and I thought, “Well, I’m going to walk out there and he’s going to look at me like, Who the hell are you?’” So I was kind of shy and didn’t take advantage of it and it’s turned to be the only opportunity that I’ve had. So I’m hoping that eventually we’ll get to play together. I’m such a fan. I think none of us would be here if not for people like B.B..

Warren, whatever happened to Joey Arkenstat? Dave R.

WH- I don’t keep track of Joey, I don’t know where he is these days. I’m sure he’ll surface again, he’s a hard one to keep tabs on.

A number of years ago you performed a series of shows with John Scofield which I had read you were going to release. Is that still a possibility and if so what is the status? Heather B.

WH- I think it’s a definite that we’re going to release it, it’s a matter of when and how. I’m hoping to do it very soon. It actually has been mixed and mastered. I really love the performances, I think it turned out great and it’s probably a good thing that we’ve waited until now to release it, because back when we did it our fan bases were much further apart than they are now. I think there are a lot more people who like both Scofield and Gov’t Mule than back when we recorded it, which was I think was 99. But the music’s tremendous, it’s with Allen Woody and our friend Dr. Dan Matrazzo plays keyboards and I’m really happy with it, so I’m looking forward to it coming out.

Hey Warren just wondering my wife and I were at last years New Year’s run, and I noticed on New Year’s Eve the entire show was filmed. Will there be a DVD release of this as well in the future? Rob

WH- Hopefully so, we’ve been filming a lot of projects. Of course we can’t release them all at once but yeah that’s one of things that we’re considering.

What influence has your wife had on your music and what do you think of her Sirius radio gig? Kev J.

WH- Well Stefani and I have very similar tastes in music, she’s a very music-oriented person and she’s turned me onto some music that I might not have heard and vice versa. But for the most part we tend to agree on what great music is.

I think she’s doing a wonderful job at Sirius and she’s a natural at that. She’s so much a part of that scene that she can talk off the top of her head about what’s going on in the jamband world and it’s not like she had to research it, she just knows all the players. It’s interesting to see it happening and I’m really proud of her for doing it.

Do you ever listen in and she says something or plays something that just knocks you on your butt because it’s so interesting, amusing or compelling? Lauren T.

WH- All of the above. She’ll pull out information and I’ll be like. “Where did you get that from?” If it’s about moe., she’ll be like, “Oh I was just talking to Jon Toper on the phone,” or if it’s about some other band she’s like, “I was hanging out with so- and-so last night and we were talking about it.” It’s all just inside scoop which is the best kind.

William Howard Ector, publisher of Hittin the Note magazine passed away Wednesday July 9th. Bill was a long time friend and fan of Warren, Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers Band. I was wondering if Warren would share some of his memories of Bill. Teresa L.

WH- Bill was a beautiful human being and we’re going to miss him dearly. He was one of those people that brought this wonderful spirit wherever he went. I don’t think I was ever around him when he wasn’t in a good mood. He was just one of those people that makes you feel better and I cherish all the time we had hanging out together.

A while ago you recommended that I should purchase Frank Zappa’s "Roxy and Elsewhere" album. I’d been listening to Zappa, and new the more "popular" stuff – Apostrophe, Overnite Sensation, Joe’s Garage, etc… Roxy and Elsewhere changed my life. How has Frank Zappa’s music influenced you, and what has it meant to you? Justin B.

WH- The first two Zappa records I heard as a teenager were Apostrophe and Roxy and Elsewhere, both of which really changed my life and my open-mindedness about music. I think the most important thing that we can all learn from Frank is that music doesn’t have to be any certain thing, it can be whatever you make it. He was one of those people who was just so good that he forced people to pay attention to whatever he was doing. He often said he would prefer to make instrumental records and the only reason he wrote lyrics and sang was because people demanded it, that the world didn’t accept instrumental music. So if he was going to write lyrics, they were going to be his kind of lyrics which I love him even more for.
I had the pleasure of seeing Zappa at the Fox Theater in Atlanta when I was a senior in high school in 1978. It’s still one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen.

While it was understandable that the format of Gov’t Mule would change after Woody passed away, do you ever miss playing in a three piece band? Ritch H

WH- We actually played recently as a three piece, we played an hour and forty minute first set as a trio because Danny had a prior commitment and couldn’t be there until later. It was really fun and I think one of the cool things with the line-up we have now with Danny playing keyboards and he also plays guitar and trumpet, is that there have been moments where he’ll leave the stage and we’ll become a trio again. So we always have that option.

One of the reasons for becoming a quartet after Allen Woody died includes the fact that we were already starting to write a lot of material that sounded better as a quartet. So it’s fun to go back and visit the early stuff as a trio but it’s also fun to visit that stuff as a quartet and take it somewhere other than where it was. Again, one of the great things about music is you can do whatever you want.

Hey Warren, did you try to find a tech guy (Farmer) that looks like you or did it kinda just happen? Kirk A.

WH- Brian Farmer was Allen Woody’s friend and at the point we were looking for a guitar tech/bass tech, Woody recommended Farmer and he casually alluded to the fact that, “Oh he kind of looks like you.” I didn’t realize what he meant until I met Farmer and I definitely see the similarities but at the same time we look way different too.

The odd thing about my relationship with Farmer is we didn’t find out until quite some time later that we have the same birthday.

Most people see Farmer from a number of rows back and from that perspective it’s much easier to see the similarities, particularly when he walks on stage and picks up your guitar. Not to insult either of you.

WH- Farmer’s got his own following.

As well he shouldHere’s the next one: I saw that you traveled to England to check out the Led Zeppelin show? What are your memories of that night and how did they sound?Karen H.

WH- They sounded amazing. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience. Even if they decide to get back together which looks more and more like they’re not gonna do but even if they do, I am going to be really, really happy and proud of the fact that we went to see Led Zeppelin in London. The whole experience was great. They sounded great, the audience was so pumped up and we knew so many people there, we were constantly running into friends from the States.

We were guests of John Paul Jones and so they purposefully sat us next to Ben Harper and Laura Dern and so we watched the show together and that was great. We all felt like high school kids.

I recently read an interview where Derek Trucks talked about some of his favorite recorded solos by other musicians. Can you name a few that stand out for you?Steve G.

WH- Other people’s solos? There are too many to mention. Cannonball Adderley’s solo on the Cannonball Adderley record Somethin’ Else, the first track on that record, “Autumn Leaves,” is just something that every time I hear floors me but that’s one of many. Any solo Wayne Shorter ever played. There are classic Muddy Waters solo and Albert King solos, I could make a list and it would be as long as Relix magazine.

A number of people had questions about another possible Allman Brothers Band studio disc and the next Gov’t Mule studio record. Can you talk about the possibility of the former and share the status of the latter.

WH- There are some new songs floating around in the Allman Brothers camp. I know all of us would love to make another record, I don’t know when that’s going to happen. Maybe we’ll see some of the new songs start to surface on stage.
In terms of the next Mule record, we’ve recorded about half of a record that I really love that I’m really excited to get back in the studio to start working on the other half. So hopefully next year they’ll be another Mule record.

What goes through your head when you launch into a solo, can you describe it?Roger F.

WH- It’s really hard to describe what you’re thinking during an improvised solo. Best case scenario you’re not thinking at all, you can completely shut that side of your brain off and you’re just responding to what’s going on but so much in the moment that you don’t have time to think about it.

If you can get completely into that zone where you’re not thinking, then you can’t screw up. You don’t screw up until you start thinking again. It’s hard to explain but I know a lot of people would agree about that particular reference.

Having said that, I get glimpses of what I’m going to play shortly before I play it and as a musician it was always a major goal to be able to play whatever popped into my head. But the longer I’ve continued to play and improvise and learn, I’ve realized that one of my major goals is to know how to play what pops into my head but not necessarily play it, maybe play something else instead based on what I’m hearing coming from someone else in the band or the audience or whatever the case may be.

I think if you open yourself up to be able to respond to everything that’s going on around you and at the same time shut off the thinking side of your brain then that’s the best you’re going to be able to solo.

Warren, with Gregg Allman’s health affecting this year’s shows, how long can you envision the the Allman Brothers Band playing together? William M

WH- I don’t see the Allman Brothers slowing down anytime soon. Gregg’s situation right now is an isolated incident. It’s a situation where he needed treatment for hepatitis C which he’s had for a long, long time. It’s been coming back to him recently, according to his doctors, most likely as a result of getting some steroid shots for his neck which was bothering him. He has some degenerative discs in his neck and that seems to be what’s triggered the hep C. This treatment he probably should have done a long time ago and the treatment was very successful, so he should be back stronger than ever and any rumors that are different from that are just rumors.

Warren, I was excited to see you sit in with Phil. What are the chances that you’ll play additional shows with him and/or the Dead in the future?Dave H.

WH- My experience working with Phil was a very positive experience and my experience working with the Dead was great. I have nothing but fond memories of all that stuff, and look forward to any opportunity we get to do it again. I’ve become friends with all those guys and really value their friendships and the musical relationships that we have. It was really fun playing with Phil the last few times that I’ve done it and I look forward to the next time.

Finallylooking ahead, what are your plans for Gov’t Mule and your other projects this coming fall?Lee G.

WH- My year is going to be pretty busy from now until the end of the year. Mule tours up until the next Allman Brothers tour. Then as soon as that’s over I go back out with Mule. I have a little bit of time off here and there but for the most part my schedule is going to be crazy pretty much between now and Thanksgiving which is usually a good time to start slowing down. Of course at that point Christmas Jam is right around the corner and New Year’s Eve is right around the corner

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