10 questions for Warren Haynes

The Allman Brothers alumnus, Gov’t Mule main man and Southern gentleman of blues rock guitar, Warren Haynes, tackles the 10 questions we ask everyone...

1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?

“My first guitar was a Norma electric that I got when I was 12. Prior to that my eldest brother had an acoustic that I played more than he did, so my dad bought me an electric guitar for my 12th birthday. 

“I started singing before I started playing guitar and so I was mostly listening to soul music: James Brown, The Temptations, Four Tops, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding… Then my two older brothers started listening to The Beatles and The Stones, stuff like that.

"It wasn’t really until I heard Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter that I thought I wanted to play guitar.”

2. Suppose the building’s burning down. What one guitar from your collection would you save?

I think every ’59 Les Paul’s pretty great, but my particular one is exceptional

“My ’59 Les Paul. I think every ’59 Les Paul’s pretty great, but this particular one is exceptional. It has this unique vibrance and unique tone. I’ve played a lot of them - and some amazing ones, obviously - but this one I’m very lucky to own.”

3. What’s your oldest guitar?

“I guess a 1929 Gibson acoustic. I got it a couple of years ago. It’s an archtop like the one Robert Johnson is holding in one of those photographs, but slightly different. It’s like an L-1.”

4. What plectrums do you use?

“I started as a kid using Gibson Star picks - a teardrop shape but bigger than the Fender one. In the old days, they only made one gauge, there was nothing medium-heavy. Gibson stopped making them, but other companies were making a similar shape. Now Dunlop makes them for me - it’s the equivalent of a medium.”

5. When was the last time you changed your own strings?

“Probably in the last couple of years. I hate changing strings. It’s up there with raking leaves and washing dishes for me!”

6. If you could change one thing about a recording you’ve been on what would it be and why?

“I would remix my first record Tales Of Ordinary Madness. We recorded it in ’92 and a lot of the sounds that people were going for at that time were still held over from the late 80s. In the beginning of the 90s, and especially in the mid-90s, people started gravitating back toward real organic kind of sounds: drier, bigger. And so if I had the luxury of doing it, I would love to do a more ‘old-school’ mix on that record.”

7. What are you doing five minutes before going on stage and five minutes afterwards?

“Not much, really! Five minutes before going on stage, I’m just walking around trying to get rid of some nervous energy. Kind of chomping at the bit to go on stage - and as soon as it’s over, just starting to come off on the adrenal high, trying to wind down a little bit. We tend to play really long shows, so a lot of times we’re exhausted, in a beautiful way - but you’re still adrenalised.”

8. What’s the worst thing that has happened to you on stage?

“I did a show quite a few years back for a Stax Record reunion called Soul Comes Home. They put me on in between Al Green and Michael McDonald and the entire time I was performing I was getting shocked - and they were filming it for a DVD. I wouldn’t allow them to use my performance because it was ridiculous. 

I wish I had studied jazz more than I did. I listened to it all my life, but never got deep into studying it

“I was getting physically shocked the entire time! It was what I guess you guys call ‘earth’. It was a bad ground of some sort with the amplifier that I was using, which was a backline rental amplifier. Every time I would walk up to the microphone I would just get this huge shock, so it was just impossible for me to deliver a decent performance. Every time I would look to the side of the stage and see Al green and Isaac Hayes watching me. It was like having a bad dream.”

9. What aspect of playing guitar would you like to be better at?

“I guess I wish I had studied jazz more than I did. I listened to it all my life, played jazz-influenced music all my life, but never got deep into studying it. We make the choices we make at the time and certain things are more important - then years later you look back and go, ‘Oh, I wish I’d done it differently.’”

10. What advice would you give your younger self about the guitar if you had the chance?

“Open your mind to as many types of music as possible and don’t eliminate any genre of music from your influences. I’ve always been exposed to a lot of different types of music and, in my own way, kind of studied different types of music and I think that was a valuable lesson that I learned a long time ago, which I would pass on to anyone. But yeah… to tell your younger self not to be hung up on chops and techniques and learn how to say more with fewer notes.”

Gov't Mule's new album Revolution Come...Revolution Go is out now

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