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Warren Haynes as rock ‘n’ roll savior

Warren Haynes attempts to preserve the sacred sound of the electric guitar and the lasting legacy of the Allman Brothers Band.
 Warren Haynes. Photo by R. Diamond/WireImage.

Warren Haynes. Photo by R. Diamond/WireImage.

By Ray Chelstowski

Warren Haynes may well be the savior of classic rock ‘n’ roll. In an era that continues to challenge electric guitar’s role in modern music, Haynes’ contributions to bands new and old have been crisp and fiery reminders of why rock matters, and why the electric guitar is still an instrument as powerful and commanding as any ever created.

His latest effort as “keeper of the flame” sees his focus applied to remixing live tracks from the Allman Brothers 2003 tour. Considered a musical apex of sorts for the band, this four-disc/36-track set assembles a singular concert experience, culled from performances across six venues and dates. The music was captured through the then-new “instant CD” technology they debuted on tour. The re-master, entitled Peach Picks: Cream of the Crop, separates the sound within these quick recordings in a manner that is organic and clean. Moreover, it preserves these moments as the historical milestones that they were — for both the band and for rock.

We caught up with Warren and talked about this project, about the legacy of the Allman Brothers Band, and about where he sees himself, the band, rock ‘n’ roll and the electric guitar headed next.

GOLDMINE:Why did everyone decide to release material from this particular tour?

WARREN HAYNES: Well, that was on the heels of making Hittin’ The Note, which was the first studio album in a long time. Everyone was very proud of the new material and of the way it turned out. And we were starting to see the new material open up and come to life. Things happen on the road when you play songs over and over. At the same time, we were reinventing a lot of the old songs with new arrangements. The band was in a real positive place, hitting its stride at that moment. It’s a nice representation of the band playing the classic old songs and opening up the philosophy to include some outside songs that had some connection to the band — songs that were from myself or Derek, or what Gregg was doing in his solo band. We were embracing a lot of material at that point and it was nice to see the band stretch out, and it carried over to the mood of the audience. I think this release replays that; you see all of the different songs with no repeats, and all of the different kind of paths that the band was exploring at that time.

GM: The jazz tendencies of the band are really evident here and were long associated with Dickey Betts. How did this band configuration gel in a way that made that possible?

WH: That was a really good time for the band and the live shows were leaning less on the classic stuff than, say, two or three years prior. We had all of this new material to play, and we could see where it would lead when we explored them the way we used to explore the old songs. So the set lists were different every night. We would include as many classics as necessary to maintain the balance of the show from an energy standpoint. But I think the audience really got to see the band digging into where it currently was, and that was a very important part of the growth period for the band.

GM: How do these cuts differ from the Instant CD versions?

WH: We were able to remaster everything, and those particular shows really sounded good. Then we chose a lot of the music based upon song selection and the audio quality. I think there’s a really nice representation of what was going on at that time. There was a lot of leg work leading up to the point where they asked me to get involved. My involvement was based around picking songs that sounded really good sonically.

GM:The Susan Tedeschi contribution really shows off her vocal talents. What drove the decision to include this song (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright)” in the mix?

WH: She really sang the song extremely well and there’s the obvious Bob Dylan connection — we’re all huge fans. It’s also a nice change of pace. When you play a really long show, which is what the band was known for, a lot of times the songs that follow the really long extended jams are a nice curve ball and a nice departure from where you just were. A lot of times the highlights of those shows would be when we did something unexpected on the heels of just having done a 20-minute version of “Elizabeth Reed or something.

GM: How does it feel to have composed songs like “Soulshine” that quickly became part of fan concert set wish lists?

WH: It’s funny, you know, sometimes I see a review of a Gov’t Mule show that says, “The band performed a cover of the Allman Brothers’ ‘Soulshine.’” The history of that song has been an odd, funny one. I wrote it around 1987 and my friend Larry McCray was the first person to record it, and he did a wonderful version of it. Gregg (Allman) and I and Allen Woody (bassist) shared a tour bus together, so it would be the three of us riding down the highway listening to music and stuff. I knew Gregg liked the song and we had listened to it together on the bus, but he had never commented to me that he thought it should be an Allman Brothers song. It didn’t happen until we were in the studio and he brought it up impromptu that he wanted to record it. For whatever reason I had never thought of it as an Allman Brothers song until I heard him sing it. Then it was like, “Duh!”

It was fun performing the song on stage and began with Gregg singing the whole song and then eventually he said, “Why don’t we do it as a duet and trade verses and stuff?” It’s not a song that you can explore and open up from an improvisational standpoint but it has been interpreted a lot of different ways.

GM: Branford Marsalis appears on this collection. By now he has to be an honorary jam band sideman. What is it about his style of play that worked so well with the ABB and the Dead?

WH: The way he played “Dreams” made all of us look at the song completely differently. We have played in so many different settings and it just seems to transform the moment into a situation where everyone is open to wherever the music’s gonna go. I think that’s a quality that’s so unique that he brings to the stage. I heard Branford say one time, “I’m not a jazz musician. I’m a musician.” I think that’s what makes the difference. He can step into any musical environment and add to it in a unique way because he truly loves all different types of music. He truly loves the challenge of getting inside all of those different genres. He is so in the moment, so unrehearsed, and so confident.

Real musicians don’t like to be pigeonholed or stereotyped. The Allman Brothers from the very beginning were the epitome of that. They hated the term “southern rock” because they saw it as a box they were being put in. At the same time they couldn’t really describe their music because it was a hodgepodge of rock, jazz, folk music, country music, psychedelic, soul music, all mixed together in a way that felt completely natural to them and to all of us who grew up on that music. That influenced my philosophy on how I listen to and approach music.

GM: It’s been a few years now since you appeared on stage with this lineup. What do you miss most about playing with these guys?

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WH: I met Dickey and Gregg in 1980. But I was a huge fan before I met any of the guys, which obviously is one of the reasons why it worked for me to be a candidate to be in the band. I had been listening to that music my whole life. The song catalog is great, but it’s the way in which the music is approached that I miss the most. Because a lot of those songs I played growing up in garage bands and bar bands. But until I played them with those musicians collectively, there was no indication of how strong that could be. That moment that we walked into the very first rehearsal with The Allman Brothers, all of us, including the original members, kind of looked at each other like, “Wow, this is that rare thing that a band chemistry can be.” This is what they had from the very beginning with each other, and that thankfully was something that the new blood was able to incorporate back into the music. The ABB chemistry is unique and a very amplified example of what it can be, but everyone has to be hitting on all cylinders all of the time to do that music justice. It’s just a jazz band in the way that everybody is listening intently to each other, paying more attention to the music than they are the audience. That’s not necessarily the norm with a lot of rock bands. But I think that a lot of my favorite rock music depended on that philosophy to be the best you could be.

GM: After Jerry (Garcia) died, the ABB famously went on the road and applied a focus to the Dead’s music in their set list. Having played with both bands in one way or another, what’s similar/different?

WH: Similar in the way that they open mindedly mixed all of these ingredients together in a way that just organically created something new and different. As far as the difference, I remember Dickey Betts saying one time he thought the difference in the two philosophies was that the Grateful Dead relaxed and waited for the magic to happen, and that the Allman Brothers impatiently forced it to happen.

GM: The Dead now has the John Mayer/Oteil Burbridge two-punch helping expose the Dead’s music to an audience that wasn’t even alive when Jerry passed in ‘95. How do you help ensure the same for the timeless music of the ABB?

WH: I think that Gov’t Mule is in a unique position because we’re not only a unique band but a band unique to that jam band scene. We’re much more of a rock band than most bands considered to be part of the jam band umbrella. The Allman Brothers music is an influence on Gov’t Mule and on my entire life, but it’s only a part of the spectrum. But it’s a very important part that now more than ever we need to continue to keep alive. It’s going to continue to show up in our live shows more often. There’s a song on the new GM record called “Traveling Tune” that is a little more Allman Brothers influenced than anything else we’ve ever done.

GM: I’ve read that one of your earliest influences was Johnny Winter; me too – especially the albums Johnny Winter And and Second Winter.

WH: Absolutely. I’ve said that my first three guitar heroes were Clapton, Hendrix and Johnny Winter in that order chronologically. And then shortly after I just started to discover everybody. I mean Jeff Beck was a big influence and the Allman Brothers were eventually an enormous influence. I obviously borrowed from all of the great guitar players, and not just guitar players but musicians from that era. Those two records were big for me. Johnny Winter And and then Second Winter were right there at the beginning when I was first starting to play guitar.

GM: With Gov’t Mule you’ve been very ambitious covering classics like Mad Dogs from start to finish? You’ve also conducted Garcia symphonic celebrations that were well received. Any other musical surprises up your sleeve you want to give us a heads up on?

WH: You know, it’s a challenge because each time we do something like that, which, usually around Halloween or New Year’s Eve, we check those off the list. The list is getting shorter and shorter, so I’m always looking for what might be an interesting challenge. We’re excited about this tour we’re about to do, The Dark Side Of The Mule. It’s the 10th anniversary of the time we thought we would do something once and never again, which was cover Pink Floyd. There’s been so much demand for us to do it again, we’re actually going to do a handful of shows. It’s going to be Magpie Salute and the Avett Brothers, with a Gov’t Mule Show morphed into a Dark Side show. I’m really stoked to do that again.

GM: Your new Gov’t Mule album Revolution Come…Revolution Go is a real political record, which is something new for you. What are you looking for it to accomplish?

WH: I guess it’s political in one sense, but I think it’s more observational. I was looking around at what was going on, and songs like “Stone Cold Rage” and “Pressure Under Fire” grew political in the way that they are observing the climate and what’s going on in our country. It’s a more divided America than I have seen in my lifetime. I think one thing that I feel is that we’re being forced to take sides now in a manner that is unfair to the American people. It’s gotten so tribal now that people really can’t agree on anything. The song “Pressure Under Fire” kind of takes this whole ‘60s philosophy of like, “Hey it’s up to us to clean up this mess. It’s (time) for the people to come together.” It might sound like the cliché thing to say but I think it’s the right thing to say.

GM: You have long had an association with Gibson. Given their current circumstance, what do you think is the future of the electric guitar?

WH: Well, I guess that’s two different questions. The instrument itself and playing it. The future of the electric guitar and rock guitar is starting to become hopeful again. I’m starting to hear young guitar players that are really good and that have the same spark and passion and desire that my generation had. That spark has only started to dissipate in the past little while. I think it depends on something magical to happen to change that. For 20 years people have been asking, “Is rock dead, is the electric guitar dead?” And my answer has always been that something has to come along to make it exciting again to the people who are just discovering new music that they depend on to be an exciting part of their lives. But in the end, the electric guitar is the most exciting thing to ever happen to rock ‘n’ roll, period.

Warren Haynes’ ‘Waltz’