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Published: 2017/01/06
by Lee Zimmerman

Warren Haynes Revisits The Last Waltz

Photo by Dino Perrucci

Warren Haynes has a new project on the horizon.

After wrapping up his Gov’t Mule’s annual New Year’s Eve dates at the Beacon Theatre, he’ll head over to Negril, Jamaica in mid-January for the sold-out 8th installment of the group’s Island Exodus (with Soulive, Nicki Bluhm, Marcus King and Ron Holloway and a bonus Warren solo set). Island Exodus runs from January 14-18 but Haynes will make a quick return to the U.S. because on Saturday, January 21, he’ll open a special series of dates with Don Was, John Medeski, Jamey Johnson, Ivan Neville and additional celebrated players.

The Last Waltz 40 Tour: A Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of The Last Waltz originated with a two-night, sold-out concert event which took place during Jazz Fest 2016 at New Orleans’ historic Saenger Theatre. Those shows, dubbed Last Waltz New Orleans: A Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of The Last Waltz, were so fun and successful that everyone is having another go at it. Haynes and producer/bassist Don Was will once again served as musical directors of the all-star ensemble which also includes Michael McDonald, Terence Higgins, Bob Margolin, Dave Malone, Mark Mullins, Medeski, Johnson and Neville along with the original horn arrangements of Allen Toussaint. After opening in Hollwood, Florida on January 21 (Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino) the tour will route up to the Northeast before dipping down to Washington D.C. for the closing night on February 4.

We recently spoke with Haynes about the tour, his frenzied schedule, upcoming Gov’t Mule album and his remarkable abilities as an unflappable multi-tasker.

How did this project come about? And how did you get involved?

I’ve done several of these tribute shows for Blackbird Presents. The first one was for Levon (Helm). Then I did one for Gregg Allman, followed by one I did one for Dr. John and one I did for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Don Was and I are friends, and I’ve become friends with Keith Workman who is the producer of the shows. Don and I were friends prior, and then I discovered he was the musical director for a lot of these shows and we started talking about doing one together. So they called me in November of 2015 and asked me about doing “The Last Waltz” concert in New Orleans. I was intrigued about the idea, so the first thing we talked about was who the singers would be. And they turned out to be myself, Mike McDonald and Jamie Johnson. Everybody loved the idea. So then we started talking about who the band might be and it all came together very quickly. We invited a lot of guests, some of whom were New Orleans staples. The whole thing was supposed to be a one off show, and then everybody started saying we ought to take this on the road and it became a bigger project.

Was it a problem trying to coordinate the time commitments? You tour a lot on your own and with your various bands. How did you manage that?

It’s definitely been a chore dealing with everybody’s schedules, but when something is worth doing it’s definitely worth trying to make it work. We just decided to pound it out and see what we came up with and I’m really glad that it worked out. I think it’s going to be a blast.

Had you mostly worked with these musicians before?

The only one I hadn’t worked with was Jamey Johnson. I’ve worked a lot with Medeski and a lot in the last few years with Don Was. Terence Higgins was the drummer in my band after I released the Man in Motion album and toured behind that. I worked with the horn guys off and on through the years. It didn’t take a ton of rehearsal. Everybody showed up prepared, we rehearsed a few days and that was that.

How familiar was everybody with the material?

In varying degrees, everybody was familiar with the songs. But everybody had plenty of time to live with the music. We decided on the song selection well in advance. We couldn’t possibly tackle the whole show because the original show was so long. When everyone showed up the first day of rehearsal everyone showed up prepared and it just clicked.

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