Interviews & Features
A Whole Lotta Haynes
Warren Haynes talks about Gregg Allman and Gov’t Mule’s new album
By Gary Graff
June 9, 2017
It’s been a rugged spring for Warren Haynes. On one hand, he was part of the celebrated Last Waltz 40th Tour and played at a tribute to Merle Haggard in Nashville and at a recreation of Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. More importantly, he’s also releasing a new album, Revolution Come…Revolution Go, on June 9. But Haynes, who served two tours of duty with the Allman Brothers Band, is also mourning the May 27 death of Gregg Allman, a friend and collaborator as well as a bandmate. The good news is that the music continues; Haynes and the Mule will be on the road throughout the summer promoting Revolution Come…, which the group recorded primarily with longtime collaborator Gordie Johnson (Big Sugar) in Austin, Texas, but also worked on a pair of tracks with Don Was. Allman’s passing means Haynes’ musical cup of joy isn’t as full as it might be with a new album coming out, but it also provides some perspective as well as additional inspiration — as if the always-working Haynes needed any — to carry on…
FGPO: You saw Gregg before his death, right?
Haynes: Derek Trucks and I went to see him [in late April] and we had not seen him in awhile. It was good to catch up, and we just kind of told stories for a few hours and gave him positive thoughts. Things haven’t been good for a long time, and he could’ve surprised everybody and held out for a really long time, or in this case it didn’t take long.
FGPO: How did you hear that he died?
Haynes: I was on the road when I received the news. [Allman manager] Bert Holman called me shortly after it happened, and of course the rest of the world found out pretty quickly. We were at a festival that’s run by moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, and we invited some of the members of each band to join us early in the set on “Dreams” and as a closer on “Whipping Post.” I guess there’s two ways of looking at it; one way is: “Let’s try to let the music be part of the healing process,” and the other way is: “What the hell am I doing here?”
FGPO: Talk about Gregg and where he fit in your life, personal and musical.
Haynes: Gregg was very special to me. Being a lot younger, I heard the first Allman Brothers Band record in 1969 when it came out. My older brother had it, and I was nine years old. I had not even started playing guitar yet. The first thing that struck me was Gregg’s voice and how unique and captivating it was. He was just one of those rare singers that everything that came out of his mouth felt natural and unpretentious and it made the connection very genuine and it was just an honest musical connection that his voice made with listeners. We met in 1981, I was 21 years old and he was very very encouraging and complimentary toward me at that time, and we had some nice conversations. Not too long after that, I started doing some stuff with Dickey Betts. I was starting to write songs with Dickey, and then Gregg recorded my song “Just Before the Bullets Fly.” So when they invited me to join the Allman Brothers in ’89, I had kind of had a little buffer zone where I wasn’t just completely being thrown into the fire, but I was still intimidated.
FGPO: That is a “holy crap” kind of moment, isn’t it?
Haynes: The Allman Brothers were possibly my favorite band of all time, and I was a huge fan of Gregg, but he was very disarming and had a way of making me feel comfortable from the beginning and that really kind of helped my situation in that band and made it a lot easier.
FGPO: So what was Gregg like to be in a band with?
Haynes: Gregg was always shy and soft-spoken, never intended harm on anyone…I think it pained him to see anybody being hurt. And as a collaborator we wrote a lot of songs together, and he was never in a hurry to finish them. He always had a much more relaxed approach. And in some cases, we would stop working on a song, and we’d say: “Yeah, we’ll get back to that at another time.” And he was that way from the time I first met him. He just never wanted to rush the songwriting process and a lot of us kinda come from that school of: “We’re in the moment now, let’s keep this going.” And in each case we would always get back together and finish the tunes when the time was right. There’s one [unfinished] song that may present itself; everything else I think we finished and recorded.
FGPO: Is there anything about Gregg we don’t know, that we wouldn’t expect?
Haynes: He loved scary movies which was never my thing — definitely not a big horror movie fan, but for some reason he really had an affinity for those types of movies which was kind of strange to me. It was always me and him and Allen Woody on the same bus in the beginning; for the first eight years the three of us were always on a bus together and our bus was the fun bus.
FGPO: So how do you hope he’s remembered?
Haynes: I just think he’s one of the greatest artists of all time and simultaneously a founding member, singer-songwriter of one of the greatest bands of all time. And I can say that because that’s the way I felt before I knew any of those guys. I was the biggest Allman Brothers fan from the very beginning. He changed the way people perceived music. And as a singer, like so many people were influenced by him, so many people that came after Gregg were influenced by him. And he wrote these great, honest songs that connected with people because they were real. There are very few singers, very few artists, that made that kind of impact, and I think we’re gonna see all over the world examples of how much impact he had.
FGPO: The music goes on, of course. What was Gov’t Mule shooting for with Revolution Come…?
Haynes: I think being on the other side of our 20th anniversary was cool, because when we made [2013’s] Shout we were kind of looking at that like the culmination of 20 years. So this album is like the new chapter opening up — Where are we headed? What are we gonna do? That kind of thing. We were looking at it like this is a new beginning and a clean slate, so to speak. Getting through 20 years is no small feat for any band, especially for one that never knew they were going to do another record.
FGPO: Revolution Come… is as wide-ranging and diverse a record as Gov’t Mule has ever made. Was that by design?
Haynes: I think so. There was already a wide range of material when we first started rehearsing and when we first went into pre-production, and then we wrote a couple songs, “Traveling Tune” and “Sarah Surrender,” that added even more dimension, ‘cause they were both different from anything we’ve ever done. It’s important to us to make the records cover as many of our influences as we can without spreading it too thin or killing the momentum, because we’re a rock ‘n’ roll band first and foremost. But we like to tackle all the stuff that we love.
FGPO: Your guitar, then, becomes something of a unifying factor?
Haynes: That’s the intent, anyway. Even if I’m utilizing different sounds for it, hopefully I still sound like myself. But it was important for me to use a lot of different guitar tones. And I experimented a lot. I probably played more guitars on this record than any of them before.
FGPO: How did you “cast” the instruments you used?
Haynes: It’s just trying to find the right sound for the song. I played a Telecaster on two or three songs, which was a first for Gov’t Mule. And on “Sarah Surrender” I’m playing a Gretsch hollow body jazz guitar. Both of those are new to me, and I’d never played them on a record. And when I’m working with Gordie Johnson and, in this case, with Don was as well, they have their input on what sound seems to be selling the song the best. Gordie spent five days with us for pre-production and a lot of times there would be time spent choosing guitars and keeping track of which one sounded best for which songs.
FGPO: Everyone in Gov’t Mule, and none more so than you, have things they do outside the band. What impact does that have when it’s time to reconvene and record as Gov’t Mule?
Haynes: Any time you immerse yourselves in a different situation, it enables you to gain perspective when you go back to your normal situation. You don’t necessarily think about that, but it’s always good to get your head into another space. When we come back together with Gov’t Mule, then everybody’s bringing some fresh perspective to the table. I’m grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had, but it’s been a wild ride and in some ways gone so much quicker than I would ever expect. Thankfully I’m still going strong and my career’s as good as it’s ever been, so I’m thankful for that and just want to do something we haven’t done yet. It’s always about: “What’s next for us?”