Warren Haynes talks Allman Brothers, John Scofield and new Gov't Mule releases
For the past quarter century, Warren Haynes' involvement in a host of groups, most notably Gov't Mule, has revolved around his pretty sweet day job as co-guitarist, along with Derek Trucks, for the Allman Brothers Band. Earlier this year, both Haynes and Trucks announced they were leaving the Allmans to focus on individual projects, and in October the group brought down the curtain on their 45-year-career with a series of shows at New York's Beacon Theatre.
Gov't Mule's dance card will presumably be fuller than in years past. On February 18, the band kicks off a tour with virtuoso jazz guitarist John Scofield, which will be preceded on January 27 by the release of the long-awaited album Sco-Mule, recorded at two shows in Georgia in 1999. (Listen to the song premiere of Tom Thumb from Sco-Mule on the next page.)
Sco-Mule is just one in a series of Gov't Mule archival releases marking the band's 20th anniversary. On November 28, they issued Stoned Side Of The Mule: Volume 1, a collection of Rolling Stones covers recorded at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia in 2009. On December 9 comes Dark Side Of The Mule, the group's tribute to Pink Floyd, recorded in 2008 in Boston; and early next year the band will release Dub Side Of The Mule, a collection of reggae songs that features Toots Hibbert, Gregg Allman & Friends, and John Popper. (You can pre-order Sco-Mule at the Mule Store. You can pre-order Dark Side Of The Mule at iTunes and at Amazon.)
While in New York City to perform an instrumental version of the National Anthem before a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, Haynes say down with MusicRadar to talk about the bevy of Mule archival sets and how he feels about the end of the road for the Allman Brothers Band.
A little time has past since the last Allman Brothers gig. Have you put everything into perspective yet?
“I think so. I thought the last six shows were good, but I thought the final show was amazing. Everybody stepped up to another level and made that last show something special. It was a marathon, and I’m very proud of everybody getting through such a long night of incredible music.
“It really capped 25 years for me. I’m just so grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of an institution that I grew up loving. From the first time I heard it, the Allman Brothers’ music meant so much to me. It was going to be an important part of my life whether I was involved with the band or not. It’s a very emotional time: On one hand, I hate to see it end; on the other, I think everybody made the right decision. Everything has its time.”
Was there ever any discussion about doing the last show somewhere other than the Beacon?
“There was, actually. Initially, we were going to do the Beacon in the early part of the year, and then we’d do two or three shows at the Garden that would’ve wrapped up on Duane Allman’s birthday. That plan got changed. Having said that, otherwise the Beacon was the right call.”
What will you miss about playing with that band, especially with Derek Trucks? Although I'm sure you guys will continue to play together in some forms...
“Well, yeah, that's right. Derek and I will continue to play together in other capacities. As far as the Allman Brothers Band collectively, I’ll just miss playing that music with that group of people. That band is such a unique force. There’s no other people on the planet that plays that music in that way. And that’s a big part of the music. It’s not just the songs or the performances – it’s the chemistry and everything that’s wrapped up in it. There’s no other way to get that particular fix, which I got for 25 years.”
On playing cover tunes
Above photo: Gov't Mule (from left) Matt Abts, Danny Louis, Haynes and Jorgen Carlsson.
Why did it take so long to release this batch of Gov’t Mule records? They go back a ways – Sco-Mule was recorded in 1999.
“That’s probably the biggest question of all: Why did Sco-Mule take so long to come out? The answer being that out initial plan was to release it a year, year and a half after it was recorded, because we were starting to embark on our next studio record at the time. Everything changed when Allen Woody passed away; that one got shelved for obvious reasons. Then once we decided to continue, because we didn’t know if we would, the focus became getting the next chapter of Gov’t Mule together and creating new music.
“It took a while to feel like the right time, and it’s the right time now partially because it’s the 20th anniversary and partially because the schedules are working out for us to do a tour with John Scofield.”
On paper, yours and John’s styles are so different. What does he bring out in your playing?
“I think when we play together, it automatically challenges me to play more jazzy, and it gets John to play a little more bluesy and rocky. We kind of meet in the middle, and interesting things happen at that point. It inspires us to explore different parts of our personalities. It’s fun when the lines blur somewhat.”
What kind of material will you guys do on tour next year?
“All the stuff on the Sco-Mule release, plus some stuff from his catalog and some stuff from my catalog. We’ll do some outside stuff, too. Even though the release is limited to instrumental music, the tour will probably entail the equivalent of two sets – one with John, one without him. Even when he’s on stage, it won’t have to be all instrumental. The key to the tour will be in making every set different. We’ll be honing that in as we go.”
The Stones collection is terrific. No matter which combination of Stones guitarists you’re covering, you nail it perfectly.
“Well, thank you. [Laughs] That’s always good to hear. We get a lot out of playing music by artists that we admire. I try to strike a balance between being myself and maintaining my own voice, but also paying tribute and acknowledging the fact that these guys were influences. I think if that balance is achieved, it’s the most effective thing for the music. It sort of gives it a reason for being, as opposed to just being a jukebox or karaoke. I mean, no matter how close we can get to sound of spirit or vibe, nobody can ever really sound like the Stones. [Laughs] As long as you get the spirit right, that’ll take you pretty far.”
Listen: Tom Thumb from Sco-Mule
On playing the National Anthem
Well, you get more than spirit right on the Pink Floyd covers set. My goodness, you sound positively “Gilmourian” at times!
[Laughs] “That’s probably because I’m playing a Strat and a Tele, which I hardly ever do. I’m using different amplifiers and effects, too. I used my Fender Reverb Tank for additional reverb on some things, and I went for more delay than I normally do. Mostly, though, it was me trying to come up with my version of the Gilmour sound. I wasn’t copying per se, but I was trying to get close to the sound so that I was comfortable enough playing in that style.”
You’re getting ready to play the National Anthem at the Garden tonight. First time doing this kind of thing?
“That’s right. First time.”
As a guitarist, is it possible to forget what Jimi Hendrix did at Woodstock, or does he still loom large?
“Oh, Jimi is looming so large that I’m going completely the other way with this. I’m gonna play it more chordal and melodic and true to form; it won’t be melodically or sonically an interpretation in the way that Jimi did. It’s going to be more mellow, like me with an ES-335 and a Fender Super Reverb and some vibrato, playing chords and melody. I think Jimi pretty much captured the opposite of that.”
You’ve played a lot of gigs in front of a lot of people, but this is a different kind of thing. It’s sports fans waiting for a game. Are you going to get butterflies?
“Sure. I mean, I get butterflies anyway, like you said, this isn’t my wheelhouse or my audience. And the thing about the National Anthem is, one of the reasons why I’m playing it is because I don’t wanna sing it. They first asked me to sing it, and I said, ‘No, I don’t think so. Can I just play guitar?’ And they were fine with that. Let’s face it: It’s not a fun song to sing, nor does it lend itself to interpretation, which is what I do – I’m not someone who just sings the melody and is happy with that.
“But every time I hear somebody interpret it, with the possible exception of Jimi Hendrix, I feel like it’s inappropriate. Not disrespectful – I don’t really care about that part of it so much. I just mean for my own listening taste. It’s a hard song to reinterpret without making it sound stupid. [Laughs] So I’m not gonna risk sounding stupid. Wish me luck, ‘cause I could go out in flames.”