Warren Haynes’ Windows of Improvisation (Jambands.com Reader Interview)
In a chat you participated in the other night, you mentioned that your first Grateful Dead show was in Charlotte in ’79 [5/3/79 at the Charlotte Coliseum]. You said your second was in Foxboro ten years later, which was on July 2, 1989 during an off-day on the Allman Brothers Band tour. Looking back, what struck you from either of those nights?
At the Charlotte show, I went with a band that I was playing with at that time that was a regional band in the North Carolina area where I lived. We had a school bus that we traveled in and we took the school bus down from Asheville to Charlotte, the whole band went to see the show. None of us were big enough fans to know the individual songs.
Years later somebody asked me, “Do you remember anything about that show?” Because at one point, that show for some reason didn’t show up on DeadBase. And I was like, “I didn’t make this up. This is a show that I went to.” [Laughs.] And then a few years back, it somehow miraculously appeared in DeadBase. I had told people, “The only thing I really remember is that they played ‘Terrapin Station,’” and when the set list was published, “Terrapin Station” was in fact part of the set list and that made me feel good that I at least remembered that much.
The ’89 show, I don’t remember a lot about it. I went with Johnny Neel, the blind keyboard player from the Allman Brothers, and we didn’t realize that it was an early show, and we got there thinking we were there early enough to watch the whole show, and in fact we had missed the first set. So we only saw the second set and since Johnny’s blind and not so easily mobile, our plan was to leave before the encore or somewhere in the middle of the second set, and get out of there without dealing with the stadium mob. And since we were confused about having missed the first set, that didn’t happen and we got stranded in the midst of this mob and wound up just hanging out in the parking long for like two hours. [Laughs.] And that was the craziest part of that experience that I remember.
You also indicated that Bruce Hornsby invited you to watch a show from the stage. Did you ever have the opportunity to interact with Jerry Garcia, however briefly?
You know, that night which was at Madison Square Garden, Hornsby invited my wife and I to sit behind the piano which we did, and Stefani saw the Dead like 150 times or something, so it was an even bigger thrill for her, and we were virtually sitting on the stage. For whatever reason that night, we didn’t push the point of, “We want to meet everybody.” I was never one to be too pushy about those kind of things anyway. You never think, “This person may not be around so I better meet him now.” I just always assumed, “I’ll meet him next time. They’re busy, I don’t want to be in the way.” And it was that same sort of kind of shy attitude that kept me from meeting Stevie Ray Vaughan as well, because I saw Stevie play 3 or 4 or 5 times, and some of those times I even had backstage access and stuff, but I was like, “Nah, I’ll meet him next time. I don’t want to be in the way.” And it was that same sort of thing that night with Jerry and you don’t realize that it could be a situation where you don’t have that chance. So I guess my lesson learned is if there’s somebody you really want to meet, don’t be shy about it.
You certainly see the other side of that as a musician whose music has touched a lot of people. How do you typically approach that situation, for instance when you encounter someone at a meet and greet or an after-show, who might be too shy or intimidated to approach you?
Well, I guess we take for granted sometimes how much it might mean to someone else to have a few moments to share with someone that they look up to or admire their music or their art or whatever the situation may be. And so if you can take a minute to show that person the respect and turn it into a positive experience, it’s just as easy to do that as it is to say, “Hey, I’m too busy.” Sometimes you are too busy and you can’t do it and that’s unfortunate, but it makes me think about Allen Woody. One of the things that I loved about Woody, one of the many things, was that whoever he was talking to, he gave them his undivided attention and made them feel, at least for that moment, that they were the only ones in the room. And it was a genuine thing, it wasn’t an acting job, it was just a charm and talent that he possessed and I think he genuinely liked sharing those kind of moments with someone. I’ve met so many people that have come up to me through the years and said, “You know, I met Allen Woody one night and he was so generous with his time and we talked about this and we talked about that.” And they still remember the conversation. So we have to remember as people that do this all the time, we may not remember that moment because it all turns into a blur at some point, but the people on the other end of it will and that’s an important part of the overall experience.
Finally, we received two questions relative to your son. People were hoping you would identify Hudson’s favorite song and also wondered to what extent you feel that fatherhood has influenced your songwriting.
Hudson’s favorite song is the Howlin’ Wolf song “300 Pounds of Heavenly Joy.” He was 13 pounds when I started singing it to him and now he’s like 30 pounds. And every time he would gain a pound, we would change the number from “13 Pounds of Heavenly Joy” to “14 Pounds of Heavenly Joy,” you know. And there’s a little dance that goes along with the song and he just lights up every time we sing it. He also has many of the obvious favorites like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
As for the second part, absolutely. I mean, it influences the way you look at the world. It influences everything which includes your playing, your singing, your songwriting, the way you interact with other people. I’m instantly drawn to other parents with children his age now. You want to have a conversation based on similarities and maybe even get advice. But as far as like songwriting, it’s hard to describe what that would be but I think every time a songwriter becomes a parent their work changes. And maybe becomes less brooding or less dark, who knows, I don’t know because writers, not just songwriters but writers of all kinds, tend to write the most when they’re not feeling their best. And so people say, “Oh, why don’t you write more happy songs?” Well, because when I’m happy I’m not writing songs. I don’t need to write songs when I’m happy, I’m enjoying myself. I don’t know anybody that says, “Oh I feel so good, I think I’ll go write a song!” And so in that way, maybe it even puts you in a writer’s slump because you spend so much time being thankful for what you have and just enjoying the moments of having your child that the whole process changes. So we’ll see, so far I’ve felt very good about the way things are going in that direction and it’s definitely worth whatever the trade-off is.