(Oct. 3, 2006) © 2006
(Originally published in Modern Guitars Magazine - Oct 3, 2006 - Also published in the Gov't Mule Site)
The "High & Mighty" Interview
Warren Haynes began his professional career in the early '80s with David Allan Coe. He appeared on nine albums and toured the world extensively with the country outlaw pioneer. This experience was no doubt a crucial step in the development and direction of the future leader of Govít Mule and member of The Allman Brothers Band. It was through Coe that he met Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman.
Betts had recognized Warrenís unique vocal ability and guitar playing talent and invited him to perform on his Pattern Disruptive album, released in 1988. Subsequently, he joined The Allman Brothers Band, a version that also included future Govít Mule bassist Allen Woody.
Warren received his first guitar at age twelve, but it was vocal interest that initially surfaced. His older brothers introduced him to the Motown sound and the soulful voices of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. He eventually discovered the guitar-oriented rock of Eric Clapton and Cream, as well as others. Curiosity of the musicís origin led him to appreciate the blues. These early influences of soul, r&b, rock, and blues, mixed with the country atmosphere he was involved in, steered him toward his eventual destination as a musician.
Though Warren Haynes has ridden the roller coaster ride that befalls many famous rockers, he keeps going strong and never settles down for long periods. Labeled the hardest working guitarist in rock, he's an enthusiastic performer, one who never defers from the opportunity of creating good music. However, in August of 2000, when he and Matt Apts were dealt the heartbreaking blow of the death of their friend and colleague, bassist Allen Woody, Govít Mule had no other choice but to go through a transition of sorts. They eventually persevered, and some excellent music was made throughout the bass player revolving door situation. Following the releases made by the original Mule lineup (1995's ĎGovít Muleí, 1998's ĎDoseí, 2000's ĎLife Before Insanityí, and the extensive live material), the Deep End volumes were released. With Woody making his final appearance on a cover of Grand Funk Railroadís Sinís A Good Manís Brother, the efforts of numerous distinguished bass players were incorporated into the mix, in the effort to keep the Mule alive.
With the spirit of Allen Woody surrounding him to this day, Warren Haynes continues to lead Govít Mule to new heights. Simultaneously, he sustains membership in The Allman Brothers Band, pursues solo efforts, and joins in on collaborations and the efforts of others. ĎDeja Voodooí, the album that introduced fans to bassist Andy Hess and keyboardist Danny Louis, was released in 2004. ĎHittiní The Noteí, the first studio release in ten years for The Allman Bothers Band, was released in 2003 to wide acclaim. The year 2006 marked the release of ĎHigh & Mightyí, an album that's not only considered the best of Mule to date, but one that also possesses all of the qualities of a true rock classic.
Below is my 2006 interview with Warren Haynes, just before a Gov't Mule show in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our conversation was delayed a bit because of sound check issues. Understanding the dilemma, I waited patiently of course. After all, I was totally aware of the fact that I was about to converse with the hardest working guitarist in rock and roll.
Brian D. Holland) I hear you just had a little sound check problem.
Warren Haynes) It has been a very hectic few days. Today was no exception for sure.
BH) Well, I understand the delay. They donít call you hardest working guitarist in rock for nothing.
WH) The last few days have been crazier than normal, you know, because, Iím doing double duty with Govít Mule and The Allman Brothers.
BH) Warren, Iíve been into your music for quite a while now. I think the new album, ĎHigh & Mightyí, is your best to date.
WH) Thank you. Iím really happy with the way it turned out.
BH) Mule has been making great music for over a decade now. Is it as good for you now as it ever was?
WH) I think itís better. When I say that, I donít want people to take it the wrong way, but the way that the band sounds now, with Danny and Andy, is just an extension of all the nights playing with Matt and Woody and myself as a trio. You know, with each year the band gets better and better. I feel like weíre back at a place now where the band consistently sounds amazing on a nightly basis. After Woody died it took us a while to get back at that place. And, you know, itís just one of those things you encounter when something like that happens. Of course, we worked with so many guest musicians. That helped us to kind of relax and make some beautiful music without putting the kind of pressure on the situation that would only have made it worse. Once Andy and Danny settled into being permanent members the band just got better and better. I look forward to every night we walk onstage.
BH) As I had mentioned, youíve been referred to as the hardest working guitarist in rock. Does it feel that way to you?
WH) No. I mean, musicians are blessed, you know. We get to do what we love for a living. Iím taking advantage of opportunities that have been given to me that I feel Iíd regret if I turned them down. But, you know, I donít feel like I work as hard as the average housewife.
BH) Yeah. [Laughing] There may be a lot of truth to that, Warren.
WH) I have the best job in the world. What can I say? Iím a very lucky person.
BH) Do you ever yearn for the typical family life of the average middle aged man?
WH) Yeah, well, I donít see my wife enough. My personal time is limited, more so than I wish. However, my wife and I have talked about the fact that there are opportunities right now that wonít be there forever. For example, when the Grateful Dead offered me to tour in 2004, my first reaction was to say no, I just canít do it. Then my wife said, "Well, letís rethink this. You donít want to look back down the road, and say, I couldíve done that, but I said no." So we made it work.
BH) In working with both The Allman Brothers Band and Govít Mule, is there a different mindset or change in approach you need to gear yourself up for when going between the music of both?
WH) A little bit. But it happens more naturally than people might think. You just respond to your surroundings. If I were to play for four, five, or six hours, Iíd rather play in two different bands than in the same band because each has their own challenges. Itís kind of refreshing to do both.
BH) You utilize many nice guitar tones on ĎHigh & Mightyí. Talk about recording guitar on that CD and what you went through to reach each tone.
WH) Well, Iíll start by saying that we worked with Gordie Johnson for the first time. Gordieís a great guitar player in his own right, and heís a great engineer. Thatís a good combination when it comes to getting guitar sounds. The entire time in Austin Texas we kept the same setup as far as amplifiers were concerned. We recorded with a combination of my Soldano SLO-100, which has been modified, and my Cesar Diaz CD100, both through 4/12 cabinets. We also included a Fender Pro Jr., which is a very small amp with one speaker. We mixed those three amps together, regardless of which guitar was plugged into them, and that combination of amps responded very well. We tweaked the knobs from song to song and guitar to guitar, but every song was recorded with that combination. It turned out to be really cool. I used a lot of different guitars on the record, more so than normal.
BH) ĎSo Weak, So Strongí is an amazing song, in arrangement and tone. I see it as a real rock anthem for today. Did you use the Les Paul 12-string on that?
BH) Itís a nice glassy sounding guitar.
WH) Itís a beautiful sounding guitar, and Iím real happy with the way it recorded. I like the way that song turned out a lot.
BH) I like the way ĎBrighter Daysí sounds as well. The slide is beautiful, dirty, and dark. Was that the 61 ES335?
WH) No. That was actually a Gibson RD that belongs to Gordie Johnson. It was tuned to an open C chord. It had gigantic strings on it. The tuning, from high to low, is C-C-G-C-G-C. Thatís the same guitar and the same tuning that was used on ĎLike Fliesí. I used the 61 335 on ĎMr. High & Mightyí and ĎStreamline Womaní. I used a 58 Les Paul Special on ĎBrand New Angelí and ĎUnring The Bellí. I used a 64 Firebird on ĎChild Of The Earthí.
BH) I recently did a review of ĎHigh & Mightyí in my Modern Guitars Magazine review column. I put it on a pedestal with the likes of ĎLed Zeppelin IIí in potential classic relevance. I obviously like it a lot. How does that opinion stand with you?
WH) Well, thatís very nice of you, and I appreciate that. Iím honored to be in such high company.
BH) What are your personal favorite songs on the CD, and which do you prefer playing live?
WH) I like all of them. Iím real happy with the entire record. The ones that tend to be my favorites are usually the departures. You know, the ones that donít sound like anything weíve ever done, like ĎSo Weak, So Strongí, ĎEndless Paradeí, ĎUnring The Bellí, and ĎNothing Againí. All of those songs are so different for us. I really like them a lot. We havenít played ĎSo Weak, So Strongí, ĎNothing Againí, ĎBrighter Daysí, or ĎLike Fliesí live yet. We may play ĎSo Weak, So Strongí tonight. We rehearsed it at sound check and it sounded really good, so we may play it tonight for the first time.
BH) How do you go about songwriting? Is there a certain method you follow?
WH) No. Thereís no certain method, but my usual approach is that I wait until Iím lyrically inspired to write. I donít usually sit around trying to come up with riffs and guitar motifs and stuff unless I have something to say. It doesnít always work out that way; itís just my normal thing. Recently Iíve been making myself write music first, just to do something different and shake it up a little bit, you know.
BH) Do you ever suffer writerís block? If so, do you have a cure?
WH) Iím not one of those people who write all the time. Sometimes Iíll go several months without writing anything. Iíll sometimes second guess myself and wonder if Iíll ever write another song. Then something starts coming, and two or three ideas will happen all at once. The next thing you know Iím writing again. Youíd think Iíd just learn to go with it, but it scares me every time it happens.
BH) Of everything youíve done, Mule, Allman Brothers, etc., what do you consider to be your best guitar work?
WH) I donít know. I mean, in my mind, Iím better now than I was a year ago, five years ago, or ten years ago. I feel Iím getting to be a better musician all the way around. When I listen to really old recordings Iím not happy with my playing, but I donít know if Iím ever completely happy with my playing anyway. In general, I tend to like the newer stuff better.
BH) Since recently coming off of a European tour, can you describe any differences between those and US audiences?
WH) Well, they tend to be very hardcore fans, fans that have waited a long time for us to come to Europe. Most of them have every CD weíve put out. Itís quite amazing. I think there are more hardcore fans and fewer casual fans in the European crowds. Itís not uncommon for us to sign autographs at the end of the night for a long time. A lot of the people have stacks, sometimes of every CD Iíve ever played on. [Laughing] Theyíre very appreciative, partly based on the fact that, you know, it took us until now to ever make it to Europe. Itís amazing to see audiences in some of these countries where they barely speak English sing along, and sing along with all of the words. They know the songs very well. I was shocked.
BH) From what I understand, you take the newer guitars on the road and keep the vintage stuff at home.
WH) Usually, yes.
BH) Are the newer custom shop models up to par with the vintage guitars?
WH) The new Gibsons are better than theyíve been in a long time. The ones I play, the custom shop guitars, are really great guitars. Iím very happy with them. Sometimes Iíll go through several before I find the right one because they all sound different, and everybody looks for something different in a guitar. I like very meaty, dark, and warm sounding guitars. Some people like very bright guitars, but that has never been my thing.
BH) Youíve been ranked in a few different positions in the many lists of greatest guitarists over the past few years, most recently, twenty-third in Rolling Stoneís list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. I know that most players agree with Hendrix being near or at the top of the list, others as well, but do you think the voters overlook many of historyís blues and jazz greats?
WH) Yeah. I mean, itís almost as if they should label them lists of rock and roll guitar players. Most of the great jazz players are better than all of us. If youíre going to include jazz players then youíve got to list Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, and Charlie Christian. Then, of course, there are people like Grant Green and Jim Hall whom I absolutely adore. But at the same time, if blues guitarists are included, Iíd have to include Albert King. I think Albert King was the blues guitarist who influenced rock guitarists more than anybody else. Without Albert, thereíd have been no Hendrix, no Duane Allman, no Clapton, and no Stevie Ray Vaughan. There definitely wouldnít have been a Warren Haynes because Iím a huge Albert freak.
BH) In your opinion, when it comes to mp3 downloading, e-zines, viewing sites like Youtube, has the Internet been more of a help or a hindrance to the professional musician?
WH) I think it has been more of a help than a hindrance, but it is both. I think it serves more of a positive than a negative, although there are opinions to the contrary. With Youtube, itís cool to see a video of Albert King that Iíve never seen before. But I guess everybody has different opinions about it. There are a bunch of videos of us on Youtube; some are good and some arenít. Then you get into copyright issues and all that kind of stuff. The worldís changing and thereís nothing we can do about it.
BH) It was players like Peter Green and Roy Buchanan who first taught me that lead guitar could express human emotion, such as cries of pain, devastation, and even joy. Your playing is expressive as well. Is this a trait thatís often missing in todayís music?
WH) I think so, yeah. I think those were two great examples. I think the human voice is the greatest instrument in the world, and every other instrument, in some ways, tries to emulate that. The musicians who can sing through their instrument are the ones who tend to connect with people more, especially people who want to be moved. Sometimes, in the case of certain musicians, it goes beyond just singing though the instrument in creating emotional sounds that come from the soul and into someone elseís. Roy was an amazing guitar player, Peter as well. Peter Green was one of my favorites. You could detect Royís dark personality in his playing.
BH) Both his and Greenís, really.
WH) Yeah, absolutely.
BH) I know we touched on this a bit already, but talk about your guitars of choice, the Firebirds, the R8, the Les Pauls, the ES335. Do their differences in tone dictate when to be used?
WH) Yeah. For me, the Firebird is Gibsonís answer to the Fender. You know, if I want a brighter sound but still want the meat that a Gibson gives me, Iíll play a Firebird. P90s have a sound; humbuckers have a sound. Usually these days, not always, but usually, when Iím playing a Firebird itís tuned down a half step. So, you get some warmth and darkness from the fact that the guitarís tuned lower, and you get the brightness from the length of the neck and the body style, the type of wood and the pickups. Everybodyís looking for something different, and for me, the combination of Gibson guitars that I use covers a lot of ground. Iím able to get a lot of sounds from them.
BH) Yeah, and they do sound good. Thatís for sure. The amp situation, itís mainly the Soldano SLO-100 and the Marshall?
WH) In the Allman Brothers I was using the Marshall instead of the Soldano for a while. So I was using the Diaz and the Marshall. Iíve recently started back using the Soldano again. In Govít Mule, predominantly, itís been the Soldano and the Diaz together and sometimes a Fender Super Reverb. Iíve a lot of other amps that I really like and they come into play as well, but those mentioned get the most play from me.
BH) How important is it to have a good guitar tech, like Brian Farmer, along with you?
WH) Farmer is great. He makes my life much easier. As busy as Iíve been in the past six or seven years, and as many different guitars and amps as I have on the road, I couldnít do it without him.
BH) Heís known to say that youíre not gentle with your guitars. In fact, he has mentioned that youíre not gentle with him either. [Laughing]
WH) [Laughing] Well, he likes to exaggerate. Iím not a real mellow guitar player. In fact, I can attack the guitar pretty hard. I like dynamics, everything from extremely soft to extremely loud and everything in between. Thatís the only way youíll get the sounds youíre looking for.
BH) Do you break a lot of strings?
WH) Sometimes. Usually E strings, hardly ever anything else.
BH) In my opinion, youíre one of a new breed of rock guitarists, along with players like Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa, and a few others. You appear to be so into the music that substance abuse and other issues, the errors of rockers of old, aren't part of the picture.
WH) Yeah. I like to think people have learned a lot since the sixties and seventies. In that regard, you know, itís a different era, a different time. Most of the people in the circles I run with are there for the music. Thereís a cool social scene, but the old sex, drugs, and rock and roll vibe is kind of a thing of the past, for the most part.
BH) You appear to handle fame quite well. Is there a secret to that?
WH) You know, my dad and my two older brothers were all very good influences on me, and they tended to keep me pretty well grounded for the most part. Fortunately, I wasnít thrown into instant fame at an early age. I know some whoíve had that done to them, and itís got to be hard. When I was twenty years old I started playing with David Allen Coe, but that wasnít a very glamorous gig. It was more glamorous than what I was doing prior, but he was the star and I was the sideman. And even though a certain amount of glory and notoriety went along with it, I was able to watch the people around me and see the way in which they behaved. I learned from both the positives and the negatives and focused on the positives.
BH) What music are you listening to these days, besides your own and the Allman Brothers?
WH) Iím always listening to the stuff that I consider timeless, you know, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Van Morrison, and stuff I think will be around forever. I donít discover a lot of new music; there are a few things here and there that I really like a lot. I listen to a lot of blues and jazz, and a lot of soul music. Thereís so much great old music you can never discover it all.
BH) Yeah, thatís very true. I read somewhere that youíre a big fan of Ray LaMontagneís ĎTroubleí.
WH) Yeah. I love that record.
BH) Yes. I love it a lot myself. I was surprised to see that you had said that, because unfortunately, as great a record as it is, it still appears to be unknown to many. He writes great songs and has a really soulful voice. (link to my 2005 review of Ray LaMontagneís ĎTroubleí)
WH) Well, weíre friends as well. Weíve done a couple of things together. He opened for Govít Mule at Red Rocks two or three years ago and he performed last year at my Christmas Jam, the charity show that I do in North Carolina every year. I really love that record, and I just got the new one. I think Iím going to love that one as well. That record (Trouble) sounds like it could have been made in any era.
BH) What motivates you as a musician, entertainer, and songwriter?
WH) I love music; I love every aspect of it. When I get tired of guitar playing Iím usually happy with my singing and songwriting. When I get frustrated with my songwriting, usually Iím happy with my playing and singing. Having all three of those things in my life keeps me from getting completely frustrated with myself. Itís very rare that I hate all three of those things [Laughing]. I donít thing Iíve made my best record yet. I donít think Iíve written my best song yet.
BH) I hope you keep on going. If the Mule records get any better than ĎHigh & Mightyí, I canít imagine what theyíll sound like.
WH) Well, I hope so. I feel Iím getting better, and I think thatís what musicians are here to do.
BH) Govít Mule albums are always getting better, and The Allman Brothersí ĎHittiní The Noteí is a great album, too.
WH) Yeah. Thatís a good record.
BH) Whatís on the horizon for Warren Haynes?
WH) Iíd like to see Govít Mule continue for years and years to come, touring, recording, progressing and growing. Iíd like to do another solo record at some point. Iíd like to get involved in producing other peopleís records and stuff as the years continue. Thereís a lot I want to do that I havenít done, so I want to accomplish as much as possible.
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