Catching Up With Warren Haynes

What surprised us about Warren Haynes is that the man had time to chat. After all, he is busy, heading up Gov’t Mule as well as playing in The Allman Brothers Band. And if neither band is working, he has several other interests to occupy his time, like running indie label Evil Teen Records with his manager, Stefani Scamardo, planning his or immersing himself in various projects and solo albums.

Then there are all those gigs with other artists and bands over the years, like playing with The Dead as well as Phil Lesh & Friends.

We managed to snag a few minutes of Haynes’ valuable time last week just a couple of days before The Allman Brothers Band began its annual New York City residency, playing this year at Gotham’s United Palace.

Photo: Rich Singer /
The Fillmore, Charlotte, N.C.

When did you first start playing guitar?

My oldest brother got an acoustic guitar when I was 11, and I played it more than he did, so my dad eventually bought me an electric guitar.

Was there a point when you said this is what you want to do the rest of your life?

I think I felt like that from the beginning, but there are various stages. As a kid you might think that, and then something else may come along and you change your mind. But the more I played and older I got, the more certain I was that this was what I wanted to do.

Who were your heroes when you were starting out?

Chronologically speaking, my first three guitar heroes were Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter. I started singing before I started playing guitar. I started singing when I was 7, and all my heroes at that time were people like James Brown.

You joined the Allman Brothers Band in 1989. Is there a difference between what the band was then and what they are today?

For the most part it’s the same group of people. Now it’s more about the music than anything else. There are probably a lot of factors, but everybody is very serious about the chemistry and the lineup of the band. Everybody is very thankful to be still doing it this far down the line.

The band always agreed that if it ever became a nostalgia act, it would be time to quit. We will go on stage every night looking forward to breaking new ground.

Photo: Jeff Ufberg
Derek Trucks and Vince Esquire performing with The Allman Brothers, Beacon Theater, New York City.

Both Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers Band are known for their improvisational concerts. How structured is a performance by either band?

We do come up with a set list prior to the show. Whether we follow it or not is another question.

All the groups I’m fortunate to be involved with – Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule – have audiences that will take the journey with you. When we go out on a limb, the audience encourages it. They want to be part of that.

Are there individual shows that will always stick in your mind as possibly the best nights ever?

As an example, last year at the Beacon Theatre I think every night was incredible, starting with the fact we had all these amazing guests night after night.

One example I can think of is the only night we played the first two Allman Brothers albums and knowing that was our only night to perform only as the band. It was incredible. That whole run was incredible. It’s hard for me to pick only one night.

You seem to switch seamlessly between Allman Brothers and your own band, Gov’t Mule. When it comes to Gov’t Mule, are you the captain or is it a collaborative effort?

It’s a little of both. Gov’t Mule is very much a democracy, musically speaking. I’m the leader of the band, but the band at all times makes the music better.

They come in with the rough framework of a song, and then the band kind of deconstructs it and rearranges it. I try to keep my preconceptions of what I think the song is going to turn out like until we’ve given everybody full input. I think that’s one of the beauties of being in a great band. So I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by all these wonderful musicians. Gov’t Mule is our laboratory. Every record is different than the one before.

Because of the improvisational nature of Gov’t Mule, is a new album by the band more of a blueprint telling fans what to expect rather a collection of songs carved in stone?

Absolutely. A lot of times, we record albums, especially the longer, more improvisational songs, knowing they’re going to change drastically in the next year or two. That’s cool. That’s part of it, something we’re very comfortable with.

With the Internet being what it is, and bands like us that allow fans to tape and trade the shows – we even offer downloads on of every performance we’ve done since 2004. That makes it where every note we play is accessible to the public. Scary on one level, but something we really enjoy.

But we like to make sure the new record is a surprise, so we don’t play any of those songs until the record comes out.

The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule have pretty much identical audience-taping policies, but how do you feel about amateur video, such as what pops up on YouTube?

You can’t stop people from bringing their cell phones into shows. YouTube is packed full of videos people have taken with their cell phones. Some of them are pretty good, but most of them aren’t so good. I don’t know overall if it’s a good thing or band thing because I’m all about viral promotion. Letting people discover your band in some non-typical fashion. The reason we let people tape and trade the shows is because you can reach some people that way that you wouldn’t reach with conventional marketing. And the bottom line is we want people to hear our music.

But if their first impression is a poor recording or a poor video. I think for the most part, the good outweighs the bad and that’s what we roll with.

When fans see amateur video posted on YouTube, do you think they go into it knowing the technical quality isn’t going to be that great?

I think fans kind of know what they’re up against when they’re surfing YouTube. Again, that’s one of the reasons we offer, which is an almost live album quality version of every show we do. That way, if you’re interested in a reproduction of a show, we offer that. Some fans prefer their own tapes to commercial releases, and that’s part of our fan base as well. It’s an ever-changing, still-growing model we’re trying to develop.

How soon after the actual performance is the recording available on

Usually pretty quickly. When we go to Europe it can take a little longer. But usually the music is up a day or two later.

The Allman Brothers Band New York City residency begins this month. Are there any artists or bands that you’d love to see in a similar setting?

Most of my favorite bands I’d love to see if they changed the set list night after night. I think for the audience, that’s one of the things that really makes it special. People come multiple nights and they’re not hearing the same songs.

Who would like to play with?

Whether it would be just sitting in playing together on stage or something like that, at the top of the list would be B.B. King, who is one of my all-time heroes. Carlos Santana and I have talked about something, but we haven’t done anything as of yet.

I think the longer I do this, the more I’m able to portray the overall picture of who I am as an artist or overall musician. As an example, I’m working on a record to be released probably next year that harkens back to my earliest roots, which was soul music. It’s all original material with the exception of one song. But it’s all music from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Then I want to start on kind of a singer/songwriter record. I’d like to do a blues record.

Let’s go back to your early years. How long did you play with David Allan Coe?

I think about three years. That was my first touring experience on that level. I had done regional touring with regional bands prior to that. But it was my first opportunity to make records and be part of an international touring act.

Did touring with Coe meet your expectations as to what a professional musician’s life is like? Or was it a real eye opener?

When I first joined Coe’s band, I wasn’t very up on country music. I wasn’t really familiar with his music nor was I familiar with mainstream country music. I saw it as an opportunity to move ahead of where I was at the time. But unknowingly, I learned a lot musically from playing that music and having to dive into becoming a student of that kind of music in order to perform it the best I could do it.

Any good stories you can tell about your years with Coe?

Most of them would be… illegal.

Photo: AP Photo
Jammy Awards, WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden, New York City.

The Allman Brothers Band’s annual New York City residency continues at United Palace with shows scheduled for tonight, tomorrow night (March 16) and Thursday through Saturday (March 18-20).

Click here for the Gov’t Mule Web site.

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Click here for The Allman Brothers Band Web site.

Click here for Evil Teen Records’ Web site.