“It’s all about what the individual likes and I can’t tell you what to like and I can’t tell you what not to like. So if you like something it’s good, if you love it it’s great and if you don’t like it it’s bad. And that’s the way it should be”
Soulful rock legend, Warren Haynes, is noted for being one of music’s most intelligent and talented blues guitarists of all time. Made famous for his work with the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule and the Warren Haynes band, Haynes insatiable talent spreads beyond his shredding guitar style. His hard-nosed, loyal dedication to making gritty music and pushing his personal musical limits has crafted Haynes into one of the most gnarly and sought after guitarists and singers of our time. The Warren Haynes Band will be playing at Busters tonight, in Lexington, KY Wednesday April 11. Doors at 8, show at 9. $25 advance, $28 at the door. 18+ Article originally published in www.kykernel.com
By Alexandria Sardam
So you were a fan of the Allman Brothers before you started playing guitar with them. What was it like being a part of that?
Well it was such a gradual process you know? I was an Allman Brothers fan since the time I was 9 years old. And my oldest brother brought home the first record when it was just out and having two older brothers I got force fed a lot of great music. And prior to that I had been listening to a lot of soul music and my oldest brother had a lot of jazz records, blues records. Hearing the Allman Brothers, even at such a young age, was very overwhelming. Of course I grew up hearing each record as it would come out. By the time the Live at Fillmore East record came out I was starting to play guitar and all my friends that were the same age had that record. We were all studying it and very enamored with it. But then you fast forward and I started playing with Dickey Betts when I was 25 or 26, which was many years later and that led to me, three years later touring the Allman Brother when I was 28. Something I could have never predicted, or I don’t think anyone could have, you know just a very unique circumstance. They reformed after having been broken up for 9 years. They reformed for what would have been their 20th anniversary in 1989 and since I’d been playing with Dickey for three years at that point, they asked me to come along and at that point it was really, the only expectations were to do a summer tour, an anniversary tour and it was nothing really beyond that but it went so well that we did it the next year and the next year and here it is 23 years later, I’m still there.
Has there ever been a moment that it’s all just kind of hit you at once?
I tend to not forget that in general. I’m very grateful for all the wonderful opportunities I’ve been given. You know there’s been a lot of dedication and hard work and commitment that’s gone along with it, but that’s not enough. You can work your ass off and still not be successful so I’m very fortunate to have worked with so many great people through the years. Again, it’s something I could have never predicted but I don’t lose sight of it for the most part. I think musicians tend to be thankful to play music for a living because there’s not a better job on the planet as far as I’m concerned-playing music. It’s frustrating from time to time, just like any other job with all the traveling, being away from home, uh and eating crappy food and sleeping hotels but when you weigh it against other options.
What made you choose the ’58 Gibson Les Paul over the ’59-used by Clapton and Page?
Well actually the guitar that I designed for Gibson, signature model Les Paul is actually half ’58 half ’59. I actually love both of them and they’re very similar. I prefer those to the next year, which is 1960, which unfortunately that was the year that I was born, which that would have been cool if that was my favorite. But they changed the neck to a much smaller, thinner neck in ’60. And the thinner neck’s just doesn’t sound as good to play. And you know maybe some people can tune them easier to play but I think the sound is more important.
What was it like playing with some of the remaining members of the Grateful dead? Bob Weir and Phil Lesh?
Well you know I started playing with Phil in the late nineties and it was through him that I was able to join the Dead and be part of that for 2004 and 2009 when they did those tours. So all the remaining members playing together was a very special thing. Of course playing with any of them individually was always fun. You know I look forward to doing it again as far as if the Dead decides to tour again, I’m psyched to be part of that and I’ve been doing more stuff with Phil Lesh recently and we have some dates coming up in about three weeks. So I’m really excited about that. I really enjoy the challenge and the opportunity of having a lot of different irons in the fire. You know doing Allman Brothers, doing Warren Haynes Band, doing Gov’t Mule, doing Phil Lesh and friends-it’s all different and it keeps me fresh.
You are listed as #23 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 greatest guitarist of all time. That’s quite an honor.
You know those kinds of lists are what they are-they’re someone’s opinions and I appreciate that very much. I’m honored and flattered that someone would think of me that way. I think my list would probably have been completely different but that’s neither here nor there. I take more pride in being acknowledged for all the hard work I put into something because music, it’s not a competitive sport. It’s not something you can look at the stats and see who’s better and for what time period, etc, etc…It’s all about what the individual likes and I can’t tell you what to like and I can’t tell you what not to like. So if you like something it’s good, if you love it it’s great and if you don’t like it it’s bad. And that’s the way it should be. You know music is a personal thing and I don’t expect people to have my taste in music and they obviously don’t expect me to have their taste in music. So I’m really blessed to have an audience that I think is open minded and just very serious about music and doesn’t mind working a little bit to discover new music and is willing to join me on this journey through all the different projects that I do. I think that’s the most important aspect of my career.
How do you stay so grounded? How did you get this attitude about music?
I don’t know I think in general music or the biggest fans, we think are such big fans that we go that extra mile to learn how to play or sing or write songs or whatever. Maybe some people get into it for a different reason, I don’t know. I’ve always had such reverence for the music that I love, that someone will tell you you’re a student for life if you’re a musician. You’re never going to learn a fraction of all the knowledge that’s out there so for me all the different experiences that I’ve been afforded are so valuable. Each group of people or artist that I work with I’ve learned something from them and I think that’s the most rewarding thing knowing that you’re still growing as a musician, as an artist. I feel stronger and more positive about what I’m doing right now than I probably have in my entire life.
You’ve been guest to the Dave Matthews Band for a handful of songs at numerous concerts. How did that relationship form?
We became friends in the early nineties and I’ve known those guys so long that the relationship goes back to when they were playing small clubs, you know? And I think it’s those kinds of relationships that never deteriorate. It was there as a friendship then as a musical experience and I don’t think anyone could have predicted that they would become the phenomenon that they have because they didn’t set out to do that. They set out to make music that they love for likeminded people and I don’t think there was any design of being some enormous band that could fill stadiums. And hopefully that’s one of the things that helped enable them to get where they have become because the music is unpretentious the music is what music is supposed to be. It starts with pleasing yourself and carries over to the audience and hopefully that audience grows based on the fact that people are experiencing an honest art form. I think those guys, when they look back they are probably overwhelmed with the fact that some people would consider their music pop music because when they first started it was anything but.
What drives you to keep playing with them?
I enjoy the music and I enjoy the company and I enjoy being part of that whole scene. There are a lot of people in that audience that are just discovering my music and they’re doing so by hearing some of the various performances that I’ve done with DMB. Again, it’s an opportunity for me to express myself differently because I think, you know, I love so many different types of music, I would hate to be pigeonholed into just performing or writing or recording a certain way and that’s another chance for me to express myself in a way that is a little more well rounded.
Let’s talk about Grace Potter. When did you first discover her and what made you want to join her for performances?
Grace started doing shows, opening for Gov’t Mule, wow [pauses] it had to be at least six years ago. I lose track of time sometimes. It was one year where we only did like three shows together and I was able to kind of hang out and watch their set and was very impressed and wound up on stage with them and then they eventually wound up on stage with us and it was just like any situation when the bands are touring together, you wind up becoming friends and then sharing the stage together. Grace and I have a chemistry that really works. Our voices blend well together, we hear a lot of common interests musically but we’re also different enough to where the sum outweighs the individual parts. I think every opportunity we get to play together is welcome on both sides.
In ’89 you started an annual benefit concert called The Christmas Jam. What’s been your favorite memory from it?
Well you know there’s been so many. John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin coming all the way from England to be part of it was quite amazing. And I mean it’s hard to pick even ten, you know, Dave Matthews coming, all the guys from Phish and Widespread Panic and the Dead and the Allman Brothers and Ben Harper and Peter Frampton, Steve Miller-I mean it’s, it’s overwhelming. You know we had Johnny Winter there one year and I made a speech about how my first three guitar hero’s were Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix. And of course I’ve had the opportunity to play with Eric which was a tremendous thrill for me, playing with Johnny’s great and of course Hendrix died before I ever had a chance to meet him obviously. You know I could talk about those musical situations for hours because there’s been so many great ones. One that really stands out in my mind was Ralph Stanley, to some people maybe not be as much of a household word. Ralph Stanley is one of the pioneers of mountain music and bluegrass music and performed the song, “O Death” in the movie, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, which is a chilling, amazing performance. We invited him to be a part of it and it was the only year that I can remember every artist, every musician making a point of being on the stage for a certain performance-that every musician and artist was on stage to watch Ralph Stanley. It was [pauses] overwhelming because people of all ages, from all musical backgrounds knowing that they’re seeing an important part in history and I thought that was beautiful.
You’ve accomplished so much as a musician. Is there anything you haven’t done yet that you want to tackle in the future?
Well I have a lot of records that I want to make as far as in the process of making another Gov’t Mule record. I want to do solo records in the future that will be different from any of the solo records that I’ve done in the past. I’d like to do an instrumental, kind of jazzy record. I’d like to do a more singer songwriter acoustic oriented record. I’d like to do a traditional blues record. There’s a lot of people I’d like to record with and perform with but obviously the list is getting shorter. I’ve been very blessed to check most of my heroes off that really long list and again that’s not something I take lightly.
Who’s an artist that you’ve listened to since you were young and still listen to today?
Oh there’s so many. I think I was lucky to come up in a time period when a lot of timeless music was being made. All the soul music that I grew up listening to, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and of course blues like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, B.B. King, Albert King and Freddie King. Songs and songwriters like Roger Waters, Neil Young and Tom Waits and obviously Bob Dylan-who I’m an enormous fan of-Bob Marley. When I listen to stuff like that, or Van Morrison, or Ray Charles, it kind of brings me back to square one. When I get saturated with my own disappointment of modern music, I’ll always go back and listen to something that I consider timeless and it never fails. That music is going to stand up 200 years from now.
“I feel stronger and more positive about what I’m doing right now than I probably have in my entire life.”-Warren Haynes