Warren Haynes: Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
With Gov’t Mule summer tour now kicking into gear, we’re sharing this cover story from December 2011.
It’s a few hours before the Warren Haynes Band will open their East Coast fall tour in Northhampton, Mass. and the group’s namesake is channeling John Scofield.
As the band begins their soundcheck, moving from Sly & The Family Stone’s “Stand” to Haynes’ “Sick of My Shadow,” the guitarist steps toward keyboard player Nigel Hall and lets loose with a few signature licks from the Scofield composition “Hottentot.”
A wide smile breaks across Hall’s otherwise intense, focused visage. Later in the month, he and Warren Haynes Band drummer Terence Higgins will leave to join Scofield on a three week European tour, and Haynes, who holds the jazz guitarist in deep regard—offering a nod to him years ago with the original composition “Sco-Mule”—jokes that he’s preparing them for the gig.
Not only is Haynes’ playing spot on in terms of tone and delivery but his riffs are also jocular, affectionate and true to the musical moment—hallmarks of his approach as a bandleader and performer.
These traits were evidenced earlier in the year, when Haynes extended his initial invitation for Hall to join the group, which came with an alluring mandate.
“The first thing Warren said was, ‘Don’t worry about anything; play everything that would get you fired from any other gig,’” Hall says. “I was sold off that and it works. Warren is a great bandleader because he really appreciates what we—as individual musicians—bring. He is a super bro, a super homie and this is a great, great gig.”
Haynes chuckles when he learns of Hall’s pronouncement.
“It’s something [founding Gov’t Mule bassist Allen] Woody said about Gov’t Mule,” confides Haynes. “One time we were talking about the original trio with him—[drummer] Matt [Abts] and myself—and he said, ‘Yeah, in this band, we can play all the shit that would get us fired from any other band.’ It’s half serious but half true. There is a common philosophy that all my projects share and that’s a pretty appropriate, albeit humorous, description of that philosophy. Don’t think of the music in a traditional sense—think of it in a way that’s paying it forward and trying to take the music somewhere it’s never been before.”
Haynes has developed this ethos during the past 36 years as a live performer. As he reconsiders the sweep of his career, he recalls the last job he ever held other than being a musician, which was as a 15 year old growing up in Asheville, N.C.
“I worked at KFC for 30 days and they laid me off because I was too young to be working the hours I was working,” he recalls. “They said, ‘When you turn 16, we can rehire you according to the state law but, at 15, you can’t work that late.’ But when they called me back after I turned 16, I wasn’t interested because I was in a band. We were having fun and I was going to see what happened as a musician trying to make a living.”
As it turned out, he did OK for himself, receiving an invitation to join country outlaw David Allen Coe’s group at age 19. Haynes reflects, “I was a little over my head as far as the lifestyle was concerned. It was a little too crazy for me but, from a career standpoint, it was a step up and it was through that experience that I met Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts, which eventually led me to join the Allman Brothers.”
He remained with Coe for four years before settling down in Nashville, Tenn. and briefly contemplating the life of a for-hire studio musician. He came to discover, however, that he just wasn’t cut out for it.
“I tried dealing with the whole nine-to-five approach and it didn’t work for me,” he says today. “I didn’t like fashioning my music to what somebody else might want it to be. Being a studio musician is a thankless job. There are few times when you’re able to be yourself. There’s usually somebody pushing you in a direction that is not the direction that you would choose and it becomes very cookie-cutter. I was feeling very limited.”
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