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By Phil Bonyata
A musician's musician
Livewire's exclusive interview with
Allman Brothers Band and Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes
Sept. 13, 2007
As lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the band Gov't Mule and long standing member of The Allman Brothers Band, Warren Haynes has seen a lot. He's been with the seminal band for the most part of 20 years and his influence and fluid style of play has helped The Allman Brothers to redefine their sound in the last decade. He fuses many styles in his music and rejoices in the freedom of inspiring improvisation. He comes from the school of thought that every show should bring a different setlist and in turn a new vibe from the night before. It's the organic beauty in music that is his muse.
Livewire: Do you agree with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame calling the Allman Brothers Band "the principal architects of Southern rock?"
Warren: Yeah, I agree with that - there are some members of The Allman Brothers that are allergic to the term "Southern Rock" because of the negative connotations. To quote Gregg Allman I heard him tell someone "Because rock 'n roll was born in the South - the term "Southern rock" seems a little redundant." But that genre of music was definitely created and defined by the Allman Brothers.
Livewire: Do you feel that your improvisational abilities fit nicely within the architecture of the band?
Warren: I sure hope so. All the musicians in this band grew up playing improvisational all their lives. This group of guys chemistry is one that any given guy can take the lead at any given moment in their own way. So, the band is relying on interplay as much or more as it ever has. The band is searching for and breaking new ground on a nightly basis.
Livewire: What do you know about the legendary Allman Brothers Band Fillmore East shows before it closed in June of 1971?
Warren: Quite a bit. You know the folklore. I think the Live at Fillmore East captures the band at their best and that is the best live record of all time! This is probably my favorite Allman Brothers album if I had to choose one.
Livewire: Do you feel that Duane Allman had reached his musical genius before he died or were there boundaries yet to be broken?
Warren: Oh, he was definitely soaring to bigger and bigger heights. He wasn't even 25 when he died and he had the world ahead of him. Amazing as he was at that young age it was certain he would have gone way beyond that.
Livewire: Haven't you been with band since 1989?
Warren: Yeah, except for the 3 1/2 years that I left. Left in '97 and came back in 2001.
Livewire: After leaving the band in 1997 to fully focus on your side project Gov't Mule - how did you think your replacement Jack Pearson fared?
Warren: Well Jack and I are old friends. I was actually a lot more involved in bringing Jack into the band then some people might realize. I'd been talking to Jack for quite some and told him that Gov't Mule had reached a point that was going to require our full time efforts and "I think it would be a good gig for you." I'm a huge fan of Jack's playing.
Livewire: Since your return to the Allman Brothers Band full-time in 2001 - the bands output has been critically acclaimed. Do you see yourself as a big reason for this?
Warren: I just think that it's all about the big picture. The chemistry that the band has right now is really strong and it continues to get better and better and better each year we're together.
Livewire: What's your take on the Allman Brothers forcing Dickey Betts out of the band in 2000.
Warren: Well I wasn't around then so I don't really have an opinion about that. That would be a question for someone who was there.
Livewire: Do you like the term "jam band" applied to your style of music?
Warren: Again, the same way that "Southern rock" is a limiting phrase...No one wants to be stereotyped or labeled. If someone looks at the phrase "jam band" as a genre of music that is full of open-minded musicians that play to an open-minded audience then I'm all for it. But, if you conjure up this musical image of endless noodling with very little direction and not to reliant on songwriting then I don't think that applies to the Allman Brothers or Gov't Mule. In my opinion - the whole jam band scene is an open-minded scene and hopefully it continues to grow and grow and become even more open-minded. It should contain reggae music and jazz, bluegrass and rock n' roll and soul music and contain all genres of music as long as they have something in common with their works in progress and the people that are making that music are improvising and growing. You know, one of the big things in the jam band world are bands playing a different set every night to keep their audience coming back and I think that's a beautiful thing. I'm a big fan of songwriting and regardless of a bands' ability or desire to improvise really doesn't matter. There have to be songs that maintain your attention and prove some sort of timelessness.
Livewire: You've played with the best in the genre - what musician has wowed you the most?
Warren: Well, playing with John Scofield is a mind blowing experience - he is one of my favorite living guitar players. It's always a learning experience playing with him and a little intimidating as well. I've been so fortunate that I've played with so many people that I look up to. You know, playing with Bob Dylan was one of the highlights of my life. Playing with Willie Dixon was one of the highlights of my life. Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker...unfortunately some of these people are no longer with us and I've been very fortunate to have played with them.
Livewire: Has Bonnaroo turned away from it's roots and become more indie?
Warren: I think Bonnaroo has definitely branched out in some different directions. Some might think that they've strayed from their original course, but I think it's all cool. It makes sense to me to reach out to different music lovers to add to the fold so to speak. I think every year is going to prove to be different and I don't know if it could maintain it's steam just by being a "jam band" festival. I think diversifying is going to be a shot in the arm. Either way it's a wonderful event and I look forward to see where it goes every year. I mean Bonnaroo has done Radiohead and that was a cool stretch.
Livewire: Would you fit Lollapalooza?
Warren: Allman Brothers or Gov't Mule?
Livewire: Either one.
Warren: Probably not...I mean Gov't Mule stretches the gamut, from blues to reggae to blues to soul music. The core of the band is rock 'n roll. The things that work both in our favor and against us - we never allow ourselves to be stereotyped so people really don't know what to expect unless they dig it up on their own. It's where our stubbornness demands that we be.
Livewire: What's next for Gov't Mule?
Warren: We actually have an EP coming out. We call it an EP even though it's almost 70 minutes long. It's coming out in October and it's called Mighty High and some of the sessions are from the High and Mighty sessions and it's a lot of dub style, reggae influenced stuff, remixes of some stuff that was included on the last record, a lot of weird covers and stuff. It's definitely different than anything we've ever done before. We're also releasing a double DVD probably in November that will be called A Tail of Two Cities. It contains a complete show from Chicago and a complete show from Boston. We're long overdue for a straight-up live Mule DVD. We feel like the time is right.
Livewire: Are you guys getting hit hard by all the free downloading?
Warren: Everybody is getting hit on free downloading, What the Allman Brothers do is sell the actual concert to the exiting fans at every show. Gov't Mule does something similar on muletracks.com What it does is make every note available to fans. If we have a bad show it's out there and if we have a great show it's out there too.
Livewire: Will the Allman Brothers Band ever call it quits?
Warren: The way the band's playing and the way that the band is getting along - I don't see that in the immediate future. I think the band always has felt that if it ever turned into a nostalgia act then it would be time to quit. We're a long way away from that.
Livewire: When it's all said and done where do you want your gravestone laid - in The Allman Brothers Bands' backyard or in Gov't Mules?
Warren: Good question. I'm not quite sure how to answer that one. (laughing) Next to my wife wherever that is.