Warren Haynes: First Time I Met The Blues

Warren Haynes playing guitar onstage
Warren Haynes (Image credit: Getty)

This article first appeared in The Blues #1, June 2012.

With a CV boasting three genre-defining bands, Warren Haynes is in a league of his own when it comes to blues. A key element of the Allman Brothers for more than 20 years, the guitarist founded jam band giants Gov’t Mule and also plays with the surviving members of The Grateful Dead, and has appeared alongside BB King, Little Feat and John Lee Hooker. Last year, he recorded Man In Motion, an album paying tribute to the soul and blues heroes of his youth, and has just released Live At The Moody Theater.

Warren Haynes

Warren Haynes (Image credit: Getty)

When did you first get into blues music?

When I was six or seven, I was hearing a lot of soul music. That’s what was on the radio at the time. At that time, I was enamoured with singers and had not picked up the guitar yet. I just fell in love with BB King’s voice. I didn’t know much about him. I started hearing rock music, like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Johnny Winter. I would read interviews with them and they all listened to BB King, Freddie King, Otis Rush, Son House, Wolf, Muddy… I instantly gravitated to the more aggressive stuff, like Albert King and Elmore James. My oldest brother tried to get me into Howlin’ Wolf, so he played me The London Sessions, because people like Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood were on it.

What was the first blues record you bought?

Having two older brothers, I left it up to them to buy the records! The first one I probably got for myself was probably Freddie King’s Burglar or BB King’s Live At The Regal. It’s a hard one for me to answer, because I mostly took my older brother’s albums and recorded them to cassettes. He had a lot! He had Elmore James, Wolf and Muddy – tons of great stuff! I can’t remember when I stopped stealing off him and started buying them myself.

What was the first blues song you learned on guitar?

I’m guessing Stormy Monday or Have You Ever Loved A Woman. It was something slow. I had a pretty good knack for listening to the record and then moving the needle back, trying to figure out what they were playing. It was a slow process back then.

Were British blues musicians much of an influence?

I actually discovered the British stuff first. When I first discovered rock’n’roll music, it was Cream and Hendrix. I heard all of that stuff, before I knew where it was coming from. I didn’t discover Peter Green early enough. I wish I had discovered him earlier on. When I did hear him, I instantly loved what he did, but I was more exposed to Clapton and Jeff Beck. They both had a huge impact on my formative years.

Did you go to many blues concerts when you were young?

I saw BB King when I was 18. Prior to that, I had never really seen much live blues. Not a lot of great stuff came to my town, anyway! I saw BB in 1978 or so. He was really amazing at that time.

Which of the ‘Three Kings’ – Albert, BB or Freddie – was the greatest?

Albert King influenced rock music more than any other guitar player and for no other reason than the impact he had on Hendrix. Albert’s playing was the most outlandish and fiery and different! When you listen to BB you hear T-Bone Walker, Lonnie Johnson and Bukka White. When you listen to Albert, there’s no explanation. Having said that, BB and Freddie are two of my all-time favourite singers. Their voices were equally influential. I think of them as the Mount Rushmore of the blues!

Didn’t BB King invite you on stage once?

I had just joined the Allman Brothers band, and he invited Greg to play organ on a song. He said if any of the other Allman Brothers want to come up and jam, they should come on! Having just joined the band, I had this fear that I would walk up there and he would look at me like, ‘Who the hell are you?’ So I didn’t go. It taught me a lesson, to not be so shy and take advantage of opportunities when they come. I had the opportunity several times to meet Stevie Ray Vaughan, but I didn’t want to bother him. I always thought I would meet him the next time. And, of course, there was no next time.

Warren Haynes with Bonnie Raitt

Warren Haynes with Bonnie Raitt (Image credit: Getty)

What other blues artists have you played with?

I was fortunate enough to have played with Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon. With Hooker, there was myself, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Winter, Paul Barrere and Roy Rogers, all playing Boogie Chillen. No one wanted to play a solo! We were just content just to be there and let Hooker do his thing.

What influences can we hear on Live At The Moody Theater and Man In Motion?

With songs like River’s Gonna Rise, you can hear the Albert King influence right off the bat! I never want to stay there and do an Albert tribute, but there are times when I get into that zone. The whole world needs to discover Albert King, so the more of us that point at him the better!