Destiny Calling: Warren Haynes (Relix Revisited)
With what may be the Allman Brothers Band's final Beacon Theatre run set to kick off next week, we look back to our April-May 2009 issue which celebrated the group's 40th anniversary and this conversation with Warren Haynes.
Photo by Brad Hodge
Everyone knows that it was Dickey Betts who brought Warren Haynes into the Allman Brothers fold when the band reformed in 1989, after being impressed with the young slinger when he and Gregg Allman hung with him at a late-night recording session with country maverick David Allen Coe. But the seed was planted 15 years before that, when inspiration struck the North Carolinian when he was just 14 and he wrote “Sky Man,” a song about Duane. “It was one of these weird songs that I wrote, never showed anybody,” he says. “One of the lines went, ‘Now your brothers all know me.’ I think about that now and it’s so strange that I actually predicted what was going to happen to me 15 years later.”
Kismet finally struck when Dickey Betts booked studio time to work on demos and needed to round up some background singers. Haynes turned out to be one of the hires. The two had such good chemistry that Betts invited him back to the studio to work on some songs – he ended up with co-writing credits on four of them – that ultimately became Betts’ solo album, Pattern Disruptive. Just around the same time, Gregg not only covered Haynes’ “Just Before the Bullets Fly,” but named his 1988 solo album after it (Haynes’ involvement in both projects was, believe it or not, entirely unrelated). When the Allmans got back together, they contacted Haynes, who at the time was playing guitar in Betts’ band, and asked him to join. Meanwhile, with Allman bassist Allen Woody, and Dickey Betts Band drummer Matt Abts, Haynes formed Gov’t Mule in late 1994 as another creative outlet.
By 1997, with three albums under their belt, the two friends realized that they needed to leave the Southern Rock institution if they intended to give Mule the attention they felt it deserved. All was going well, until Woody died in August 2000, leaving the band’s future in a state of tragic limbo. Would Haynes have returned to the Allmans in 2001 had Woody lived? It’s anybody’s guess, but the guitarist tried his best to clear it up, as well as what it was like replacing his mentor/friend, Dickey Betts.
Did you ever think you’d be in The Allman Brothers Band?
There’s no way that I could ever say, “Yeah, one day I’m going to be in that band” because I’m two generations younger. However, a long time ago when I was a kid, I wrote this song/poem called “Sky Man.” I’m sure it’s in one of my dad’s boxes full of crap that he’s kept through the years. But it was just a song that I wrote about Duane after he had passed away. But in the song, from the narrator’s point of view, it predicted that down the line, I would know some of the surviving members or whatever. There was a verse in there about, “Now your brothers all know me,” or something like that. Growing up in the South of course, Duane represented more than just a great musician to us; he represented the South being recognized in new ways and a lifestyle that was starting to kind of gain momentum.
He was only 24.
He was about to be 25 and when you look at someone now that age, they look like a kid. To me, he never looked like a kid, even when I look at pictures of him now – he looks like a full-grown man. Of course he played like a full-grown man but it’s amazing what he accomplished in such a short period of time. I think those of us who have studied his progression, you could see year by-year how much better he got: From ‘68 to ‘69 a huge improvement, from ‘69 to ‘70 a huge improvement, from ‘70 to ‘71 a huge improvement and all of a sudden, he’s gone. You knew that ‘72, ‘73, ‘74, ‘75 were just going to be enormous steps.