Goin' Off the Deep End with Warren Haynes
by Michael Buffalo Smith
From his massive body of work with Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers Band, to his unforgettable jams as a member of Phil Lesh & Friends and his days with The Dickey Betts Band and David Allan Coe’s ensemble, Warren Haynes has made more quality music in a few years than many musicians have made in their entire lifetimes.
I know the death of Allen Woody was devastating for you, as it was for all of his friends and fans. How did you get past the emotion and move ahead?
I talked a lot with other bands who had lost band members, you know talking to the guys in the Allman Brothers and Phil Lesh and Blues Traveler and with the guys in Metallica and people who have been through these things and have managed to keep moving forward. They were all saying the same kind of thing, “I know you don’t feel like you can do it now, but you can.” And of course people are encouraging us to keep the music alive and the music was Woody’s legacy and it is very important.
I started thinking about it that way. you know. Gov’t Mule is Woody’s legacy much more so than our music with the Allman Brothers because he and I were such huge fans of the original Allman Brothers with Duane Allman and Barry Oakley and that’s what we always thought of when we thought of the Allman Brothers. The fact that we were allowed to come in years later and become a part of it was a wonderful opportunity but Gov’t Mule was something we built from the ground floor up. I started looking at this from a different perspective I started thinking that it would be a shame for these songs to just die along with Woody.
Dave Schools was very instrumental in telling Matt and I, “Hey, no pressure, I know you have to do what you have to do, but if you need me then I am here. Meanwhile, I am going to learn all of your material and when the time comes you want to do something let me know.” Since Dave and Woody were such good friends and Woody and Oteil were close friends as well, the fact that they are both sharing the bass duties in Gov’t. Mule right now seems very appropriate and that they were not strangers to us or to our music. It really kind of helps the whole situation.
Did you ever think during that time that to stop it would probably the last thing that Allen would want?
Yes, there is always speculation as to how he would feel about it. I think the bottom line there was keeping the music alive. After so many years of hard work we had finally reached a point where we were spreading the word really good, and right before he died it was on the horizon, things were getting better for us, ticket sales were up and the record sales were up. There were more people coming to the shows who had never seen us and more and more kids that were coming to the shows. And they were telling us it was their first Mule show and all my friends are just digging it and you could just feel it growing and something big happening. It was something that we acknowledged, you know, all of us talked about it before Woody died and he never really got to see it come to fruition to the extent that Matt and I are seeing it now. But you start thinking about the music being the most important thing. That the music should not die along with Woody. So many bands could have given up but didn’t and Allman Brothers being a classic example. If it was not for the fact that the Allman Brothers moved on past Duane’s death and past Berry’s death and eventually many others,then Woody and I would have never gotten that opportunity to be in the Allman Brothers in the first place.
Right, and I guess being in the Allman Brothers was pretty much how you guys were brought together and how The Mule came about, is that right?
Yeah, because Woody and I had met prior to both of us joining the Allman Brothers but we did not know each other very well and we had jammed together a couple of times in impromptu type bar settings but never in a serious way. It was really the Allman Brothers that brought the two of us together.
Yeah, well the whole concept of the The Deep End is just amazing to me. It is a wonderful tribute to Allen. I wanted to ask you how and when you came up with the idea to use both of these bass players?
Well, everytime someone brought up the possibility of us doing a record well, let me back up, when Allen died we were at the point where we were supposed to be making a new record. Then, when Woody passed away, we decided well, that’s it. We are not going to record, tour or do anything. And then people would say, well but if you were going to record, have you thought about who you would want to record. We just were not ready to make that kind of decision. The last thing we wanted to do was auditioning people to come up with some kind of permanent bass player replacement for Woody so, somehow we came up with the idea of doing a record with all of his influences.
Then that changed to, well, why limit to his influences and make it his favorites. It can include some current favorites too. He loved Les Claypool (Primus) and Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) he loved people like that that although there were only a handful of current bass players that he got off on and he did really respect those people a lot. He was the one that turned me onto Les Claypool. We thought, lets make it Woody’s favorite bass players and our favorite bass players and thinking that most would not be available or not interested or whatever. Then we had dinner one night with Jeannie, Woody’s wife, and Michael Barbiero, who had produced most of Gov’t Mule’s records. Both of them loved the concept and it was at that point we knew we were onto something. So, we started making phone calls and were extremely surprised that everybody we contacted felt like they would like to be part of it. That’s why it turned into two CDs.
How did you guys and Mike Gordon decide to do this documentary film? I have seen the little abbreviated version and it looks like it will be pretty awesome.
Mike was hanging out with us on New Year’s Eve and Matt and I were supposed to open up acoustically for Phil and Friends New Year’s Eve a year ago. Mike was going to be there anyway and we asked if he would play a few tunes with us. We had a short little dressing room rehearsal. Mike ended up playing like four songs with us that night. We were just hanging over the next few days and stuff and we knew we were going into the studio over the next few days and stuff and we knew we were going into the studio to record the first six bass players which was going to be Les Claypool, Phil Lesh, Chris Squire, Rocco Prestia, Alfonso Johnson and Jack Casady.
We started to feel like it would be a shame not to have this documented in some way even if it is just a friend in the corner with a video camera, then we thought about Mike being a filmmaker and somebody said, “Well, let’s just buy a camera and set it up in the corner and video the entire experience.” Someone said Mike was a filmmaker and we should ask him what kind of camera we should buy and then it occurred to me that if we call him let’s just ask him if he would be interested in actually doing the documentary. So, I called Mike and he said he would give me a call back in an hour. He called back in an hour and said we are just going to get a film crew, pull out all the stops and do it up right. We were ecstatic and he was basically taking over that mission at that point. So, he filmed every session and interviewed every bass player, interviewed a lot of other musicians and filmed lots of behind the scenes stuff and did some great documentary type stuff about Woody and his life and I am very pleased with the way everything turned out. We kind of just stayed out of it and let Mike run with it and we were there to whatever extent he wanted us to be involved. But I purposely did not want to be a part of the film process. It is something that I am really glad worked out the way it did and he did a wonderful job and although we were pretty good friends at that point we have become much closer and I am glad he was part of the whole experience.
Can you tell me what it was like because this was an unusual recording having each bass player come into the studio individually. Did everything have to be rearranged and what was it like to change everything and how much time did it take? Were you recording with a different artist every day or what?
Well, one thing we wanted to avoid was having any bass player misrepresented or less represented than another. We wanted everybody to feel that they were showcasing their own musical personality. These are all legendary figures that are legends for a reason. We all grew up here in all star lineup records where in some cases people were jamming late night in the studio and it is just playing blues and Chuck Berry songs or whatever, or other all star lineups where so and so would only be able to be there for 30 minutes and what could we do together.
We really wanted to avoid that at all costs and we made a point of making a minimum of 1-2 days with each bass player and most of the thought went into what song each bass player was going to be married to. That is where I was really wracking my brain trying to come up with a song that was already written and in some cases I had songs that were written years ago that made sense for certain people, and in some cases wrote songs for specifically for certain people, or wrote songs with some of the bass players. It varied from track to track and in a few situations an actual cover song would come to mind that made sense but we knew we wanted it to be predominately new original material and we did not want it to be a tribute record in the way that tribute records usually tend to be pre-existing material that is being redone by other artists. Marrying the right song to the right bass player was the most important part and the part we spent the most time on. We would take as much time as it meant, rehearsing in the studio and in some cases sending tapes back and forth in the mail. It was so cool, just watching all of these people work because they are legends for a reason and everybody let their personality shine through and it was amazing to be a part of it.
You have become a hero to a whole generation of guitar players. As far as the “hero thing” goes, I know how much you love your music because it shows and here you are doing this album with Jack Casady and Jack Bruce. Did you ever feel any kind of intimidation?
Yeah, but in a good way. Matt and I both everyday would wake up and go into the studio with a different legendary bass player and we dealt with the intimidation in a good way and used it as excitement and adrenaline and did not let it turn into a negative thing. The whole situation was about rising to the occasion. Everyone was really cool and left their egos behind them when they got there. There were not situations where anyone was difficult to deal with and everyone was very nice, courteous and professional and we were blown away by the entire project.
I think that the fact it was what it was and born out of the death of our best friend helped to sway it that way. No one would want to come in and be hard to deal with in that situation. Although some of the people were fans of our music and some of them had never even heard us. There were certain cases where we would send people CDs and ask them to get familiar with our music before we would get together. It was flattering that some of these artists had heard us and it was very odd that all of these people we had grown up listening to and learning from them to be in there playing with them on a daily basis and they would be playing on Woody’s rig, we had his old SVT that he had since the '70s. We gave every bass player the option of playing through it and most of them did and that was really cool as well. His presence was there the whole time.
Did you do it all multitrack or did you record any of it live in the studio?
It was all multi-track but it was also all done live the way we normally record and we are all playing together at the same time. There were a few cases where we would add something later like we recorded for volume two we recorded “Catfish Blues” with Billy Cox and we recorded it as a tri, and then, after we got the tape, it would be nice to have an organ on it and Bernie Worrell played it in one take.
Nice to have a professional to just get in there and do it...
Yeah, you gotta love that. Our whole thing is based on the call and response thing and reacting to what someone else is playing. For the kind of music we play, live as possible is the best approach.
You have created a great driving album. Nothing is better than turning “Life on the Outside” up loud and driving down the road. Larry comes in singing it’s like “Oh boy!” It’s awesome. Jack Bruce the same way. Oh, every cut is good, and I said that in my review.
Well, thank you, Michael. I appreciate that.
Talk about logistics for a moment. I live in Greenville, South Carolina near your hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, and we go there a lot. Don’t you live in New York now?
Yeah, for 12 years.
Do you ever miss Asheville?
Oh yes, all the time and I wish that I got to go there more than I do. I miss it and my family is still there and I try to get there as often as I can. It was a great place to grow up, but is even cooler now than it was and has turned into an artsy community with lots of artists and musicians. Just a cool scene and am proud to be from there. It is just so beautiful there.
I did not realize that you had lived in New York so long, but I had not heard from anyone where you were on Sept. 11th. Were you in New York then?
Yeah, my wife and I were here on September 11th and we watched both towers crumble from our window. We have a view from our apartment that was the World Trade Center. We watched it go down on the biggest screen television, it was right in front of us.
What were your feelings on that Warren?
It was one of those things where as soon as the first tower started crumbling we knew that nothing was going to be the same. Without thinking about it or speaking about it. It was just one of those things where you knew that everyone’s life from that moment on was going to be changed. It was one of the heaviest things that I have ever witnessed. I still can’t believe that I watched it in person. Our apartment is about one and a half miles from the Trade center and the wind thankfully was blowing in the opposite direction so we did not get a lot of the smoke and debris others got. It was so surreal and I kept thinking that I would sleep tonight and tomorrow I would wake up and it would be over.
My wife had turned the TV on that morning and we thought it was some kind of awful air disaster when the first plane hit and then the second one happened and you knew that it was something else. It looked like a movie, like Independence Day.
Right, and the people of New York are bonding together after this.
All the people of America really.
Yeah, I think so.
It looks like you are working so hard these days, some people think you are taking over the “hardest working man in show business” title from James Brown.
Well, James needs a break. (laughs)
Why are you working so hard?
I think that the opportunities that are there for me now that I have worked all my life to achieve and now these doors are open and it is hard not to take advantage of all the situations that you have worked so hard to achieve, as well as mourning Woody’s death. People choose lots of different ways to deal with grief and death and to just lay around and wallow in misery is not the solution. Music is always a part of the healing process and I am thankful every day for the opportunity to play music and make a living at it.
It’s got to be really cool to be a member of The Allman Brothers Band and Phil Lesh’s band, there you have two of the best bands that ever were and you are right in the middle of it.
Yeah, they are so different in some ways and so similar in others and I am learning so much from working with Phil and learned so much through the years from the Allman Brothers. But growing up I was much more of an Allman Brothers fan than a Grateful Dead fan. I am learning a lot about them and their music, their approach and Phil’s way of looking at music, and playing with all of these musicians and it is bizarre that I have had the opportunity so far to do all three of these things and it takes some juggling and lots of work but it has been so rewarding and I look at a musician’s time span like an athlete’s because it’s not like you can work like this forever, there is this limited window and you must take advantage of the opportunities while they are there. I do want to be playing like John Lee Hooker at age 82 but do I want to be doing 200 shows a year then? Probably not.
75th Annual Christmas Jam? (Laughs)
(Laughs) But at a time like now when the kind of music I love is in vogue and people are getting off on it in a big way then I am taking advantage of that because you never know when the world will change and into a type of music I can’t stand.
There’s some stuff out there now I can’t stand.
There always is but you know there was a time period when the Allman Brothers did not fit in and the Grateful Dead did not fit in and improvisational music in general was looked at as a dinosaur.
We used to talk about when you and Woody and Matt were out playing how you guys were bringing the power trio back like Hendrix, Cream and stuff and that you guys were single handedly bringing that back into vogue again. We were purposely trying to do that because we felt like no one else was doing it.
I remember a conversation Woody and I had on the tour bus one night listening to Cream and talking about how nobody does that any more and if we had the right drummer we could pull it off. I thought of Matt and we called Matt and said let’s get together and jam and when we got to California and jammed that led to the birth of the Mule, so to speak.
How did it feel when all of that started taking off for you with the Mule, you all of a sudden had a cult following and I saw it happening on the internet when I started working on my magazine. How did you feel when people started wanting to collect your tapes from shows?
The whole taper thing is quite a phenomenon in itself. It is a good feeling to know that people on the other side of the world have a tape of your show then there is that fanatic who has 175 tapes of shows and it is pretty cool. The stuff that I am excited and fanatical about I approach the same way. I have tons of Hendrix bootlegs and tons of Miles Davis bootlegs and try to collect Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf bootlegs when I can get my hands on them. To think that someone feels that way about my music is great because I am just as passionate about the things that I love as well. Live music is meant to be free. Then people will say don’t you think that hurts your record sales? Well, if someone is a really big fan and if they got 50 shows on tape that will not stop them from buying a record. It really will increase the word because they will tell their friends about it and someone will hear about you that did know and I think it will all balance out in the long run. Your goal is for people to discover the music. There are all sorts of ways to make that happen.
The biggest part of my collection is Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule live shows on CDRs.
It has to be bands that play differently night after night. It can’t be bands that play the same stuff rehearsed night after night.
I love the variety and never knowing what the next cover tune will be.
Yeah, we love that, too. And that is something we come up with that day and play that night and that is fun to us. It helps keep the energy fresh.
Update: Gov’t Mule continue to tour and record and Warren continues to perform with The Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh and Friends, The Dead, solo and countless guest appearances.