Back in Australia for Bluesfest and sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne, guitarist Warren Haynes talks about the late Gregg Allman and last year’s landmark gig for The Mule.
By Brian Wise
You cannot possibly talk to Warren Haynes without talking about the late Gregg Allman; their lives and careers are inextricably linked. It was Allman who recruited Haynes as a guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band and through that Haynes got to work with some of the legendary names of that outfit including drummer Butch Trucks, who also died last year.
“It was a tough year losing Butch Trucks and then Gregg not long after,” says Haynes when I mention their passing. “It was a really tough year for the Allman Brothers.”
“I miss him a lot, it’s a big loss,” he says of Allman.
I guess it is appropriate that the day I am on the phone to Haynes is the first anniversary of Trucks’ death. It also just happens to be the same day Haynes is appearing in a tribute to Allman and his final album Southern Blood in New York at the City Winery with Gregg’s son Devon, along with Alison Krauss, Graham Nash and Billy Gibbons. Needless to say, the gig sold out in minutes.
“We were very close,” recalls Haynes of his relationship with Gregg. “We met in 1981 and knew each other casually for the next few years – and then in 1988, ’89 started working together. And then, in ’89 I joined the Allman Brothers. And, of course, that was for 25 years.”
“It was an amazing opportunity,” he continues. “I always tell people that if I was gonna join a band that I grew up listening to, the Allman Brothers would be at the top of the list. And it was life-changing and career-changing. What started out as a reunion tour that was supposed to last for one year lasted for 25 years.”
Haynes agrees that Southern Blood, recorded at Muscle Shoals, was a fitting legacy for Allman.
“I was so happy that he felt compelled to make a final statement like that,” he says, “because he had been really sick for a long time and his strength would come and go. There were a lot of us that were encouraging him to take more time at home and not push himself so hard. I’m sure it was a tough decision for him to make, but it was something he felt strongly about doing, and I think it’s very important, and people get the urgency of that record when they hear it.”
On January 24 last year Butch Trucks died of ‘a self-inflicted gunshot wound’ at his home in Florida at the age of 69, apparently in financial strife.
“It’s very poignant to be doing a tribute to Gregg on this day,” says Haynes. “Butch I knew for a long time. I guess we first met around 1982. When I joined Dicky Betts’s band in 1986 we wound up at Butch’s studio recording the Pattern Disruptive album in ’87, ’88. And that’s when we really became close.
“When I joined the Allman Brothers in ’89 we travelled the world together and became extremely close, like family. Butch was one of a kind; he was one of those rare breed musicians. As a drummer, he was someone that gave 110% every minute of the show. And I don’t know how he did it, but he was amazing that way.”
When you think about the history of the Allman Brothers you could hardly invent a story that was as complex.
“The history is quite incredible,” agrees Haynes, “and we used to joke about it, but, I think, in some ways it’s true that a lot of those characters wouldn’t have been friends had they not played music together and shared this amazing chemistry together. They were coming from all walks of life, all backgrounds, and all different personalities.
“And I think one of the things that makes an incredible band or an incredible chemistry is strong personalities that come from all different directions – and that’s what they had. Each of them contributed. I’m referencing the original band in 1969. Each of them contributed their own personality, which was unique into itself.”
One of my favorite collections of music over the last couple of years has been the Skydog seven-disc box set that collects much of Duane Allman’s amazing guitar playing with a whole variety of acts, much of it recorded at Muscle Shoals.
“I think in the beginning he had his heart set on being a session musician,” says Haynes, “and played on some amazing records, but then eventually figured out, ‘This isn’t really for me, I think I wanna create my own thing,’ and was very versatile when you think of all the different types of music that his guitar appeared on. He was always himself, but he played on so many diverse, different projects, and never seemed to be happy just doing one thing. And I can relate to that.”
Apart from playing with Gov’t Mule you can also see Haynes each year in New Orleans during Jazz Fest playing in one of the major tribute shows put together by Don Was. Last year it was a tribute to Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus, the two previous years it was The Last Waltz and a tribute to Dr John (starring Bruce Springsteen as a guest).
“I think I share that affinity for so many different types of music and that kind of not being happy doing any one thing,” observes Haynes. “I think having the opportunity to express myself that way is something that’s very important to me. And, of course, people like Duane Allman paved the way for that.”
While Haynes enjoys his side projects, including the impressive solo album Ashes & Dust in 2015, his main focus these days is still the Mule, which continues to record and tour after nearly 25 years. The band played its 2000th show in New York’s Central Park last northern summer, touring behind their latest studio album Revolution Come…Revolution Go.
“Government Mule celebrated our 20th anniversary about 3 years ago,” says Haynes, “we did our 2,000th show, we released our 10th studio record. There seems to be a lot of reasons to celebrate.”
Despite the fact that he has recently become a father, Haynes is not intending to slow down anytime soon.
“Well, I think things just happen the way they’re supposed to happen,” he says. “When the time’s right I’ll probably slow down a bit organically, but right now I feel like things are going better than ever in a lot of ways, so it doesn’t really make sense for me to slow down. But just being mostly concentrating on one band is a bit of a slowdown, as opposed to being in two or three at the same time.”
Haynes says that the forthcoming Australian tour will feature songs from the latest album along with some audience favourites.
“We also wanna give a bit of everything because we don’t get there very often,” he says. “So a few new songs, and then a few things from various parts of our career.”
One of those new songs might be ‘Stone Cold Rage,’ one of the several overtly political songs on the latest album.
“It is mostly about the divide that’s going on in our country right now,” explains Haynes. “And just from an observer’s perspective, that divide would be the same regardless of whether Donald Trump won or lost. There are a lot of angry people because there’s so much division right now. Of course, we, like everybody else, didn’t expect Donald Trump to win. But it didn’t change the fact that we’re divided, other than maybe making it even more so.”
MARCH 27 – The Corner, Melbourne, AU – w/ Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real
MARCH 29 – Byron Bay BluesFest, Byron Bay, AU
MARCH 30 – Byron Bay BluesFest, Byron Bay, AU