Call And Response: Warren Haynes

I wanted to sing like Otis Redding and play guitar like Albert King,” says Warren Haynes, who has just made his third solo album, Ashes & Dust. “Their records took me into a world I never knew existed. It was a magical world and I never lost that feeling of wonder for it. It was always the case: I want to do this, I want to make something special, I want to conquer the world.”

It’s what’s driven the Asheville, North Carolina bluesman forward from a 14-year-old sneaking into the local bars to 25 years fronting The Allman Brothers Band, performing with The Dead and helming power jam trio Gov’t Mule and his own solo outfit. Not to mention the collaborations with Dylan, Elvin Bishop, Willie Dixon, Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, James Cotton, BB King, Kenny Wayne Shepherd et al.

“Every time I find myself on stage in front of an audience, it’s always exhilarating, always a learning experience. It just makes me want to do it more and more.”/o:p

Ashes & Dust is a real departure for you.

It’s more song-based, coming from the storytelling, Appalachian music tradition. I grew up in Asheville. Bluegrass, Celtic, folk and mountain music is everywhere so I was exposed to it from an early age. My father was a singer, he had a beautiful voice, and he was influenced by that kind of singing which carried over to Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley. At 14, I was discovering Bob Dylan and voices like James Taylor and Jackson Browne, so at the same time as studying blues, jazz and rock’n’roll, I was also interested in the art of songcraft and telling a story./o:p

You’ve got Railroad Earth on the album.

Railroad Earth opened for The Allman Brothers Band six years ago and I really enjoyed their set, then not too long later, I was booked to play the DelFest festival as a solo acoustic performer and they were on the same bill. I invited some of the guys up to join me, it was very impromptu but it was fun and the music was very good, then at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, I decided to invite the guys again, this time with more preparation. The chemistry was great and I thought this would be a good direction for my next solo record and that maybe I should make it with these guys.

You also duet with Grace Potter on Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman.

She came into the studio and it was beautiful. Most of the music on the album was recorded live, we set up in a way that we could all look at each other when we were recording.

How did you get started?

I used to sneak into Caesar’s Parlor, this small place in Asheville, where they had live music. I was only 14 and I was exposed to all this great music from great songwriters like Billy Edd Wheeler, and one night someone told the owner there was this underage kid coming in every night and he got me up on stage with a guitar.

The Allman Brothers Band were a huge influence. Joining them must have been exciting and scary.

I learned so much from listening to their music. Gregg [Allman]’s voice, the two guitars working together, Dickey [Betts] and Duane [Allman] were creating a sound no one had created before, with two drummers, two guitars and aggressive bass and how they mixed jazz, soul, blues and rock. It defied categorisation. When I played the songs with the actual band, it was a life-changing experience, really powerful./o:p

Saying goodbye last year must have been hard then?

It is difficult, and for all of us it’s very bittersweet, because we agree it’s the right thing to discontinue touring, but it’s something we all love. It was a hard decision, it was hard to let go, but that’s the way things are.

You conceived Gov’t Mule in 1994 as a side project.

Allen Woody and I were listening to Cream and Hendrix one night and got to thinking how no one seems to be doing an improvisational trio. We scheduled a jam session with Matt Abts and the first time we played, the chemistry was amazing. In The Allman Brothers Band, the original members were not communicating, there was no rehearsing, writing or recording, but in Gov’t Mule all those things were happening so we decided to do it full time.

You finally released Gov’t Mule’s 1999 collaboration with jazz guitarist John Scofield earlier this year…

Well, the right time would have been in 2000 had Woody not passed away. But when he passed, we weren’t sure if the band was going to stay together, so it seemed odd to release an all-instrumental jazz-influenced record at that point. The focus shifted to staying afloat then to find a new bassist and move forward, so we put the recordings on the shelf. In my mind I was always looking for the right time to put those recordings out, and I can’t believe it took so long.

You played for President Obama at the White House in 2012. What was that like?

That was a real honour. I was performing with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi who are close friends, and then in the same room you’ve got Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, BB King, Buddy Guy, Gary Clark Jr, Shemekia Copeland… we did Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind. It was amazing./o:p

Ashes & Dust is out via Mascot Label Group this summer./o:p