If ever there were a Southern rock soap opera, guitarist Warren Haynes and The Allman Brothers Band are it.
Haynes’ best and longest-lasting music friend, bassist Allen Woody, with whom he had played 12 years in The Allman Brothers Band and the rootsy, improvisational power trio Gov’t Mule, died in August. That sent Haynes’ and Gov’t Mule drummer Matt Abts’ world into a tailspin. Haynes unexpectedly found relief touring with Phil Lesh & Friends, the rotating supergroup of the former Grateful Dead bassist. Meanwhile, Allmans’ guitarist Dickey Betts — with whom Haynes played in a solo project before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act regrouped in 1989 — parted ways with the ABB nine months ago due to creative and personal differences.
For this year’s March Madness at New York’s Beacon Theater through March 25, Haynes will take Betts’ place. The slide guitarist’s first turn in the Allmans led him to interpret and redefine the musical role of the band’s founder, the late, great Duane Allman. Now he’ll share slide duties with Derek Trucks, original Allmans drummer Butch Trucks’ nephew and longtime friend of Haynes within Atlanta’s strong, rootsy improvisational rock scene. Despite jamming and recording together extensively, March Madness marks the first time Haynes and Trucks will play dual rock guitar leads together in the group that helped to define the practice.
Formed in 1968, The Allman Brothers Band also is the architect of the Southern rock sound and remains one of the best live rock bands in the world. That’s because of the good vibes Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and original drummer Jaimoe are willing to share with such young players as Derek Trucks, bassist Oteil Burbridge of Aquarium Rescue Unit and the Peacemakers and longtime percussionist Marc Quinones.
At present, Allman is psyched to record the band’s first studio album since 1994’s “Where It All Begins.” While it hasn’t yet been decided whether Haynes will remain with the Allmans on the road, he has been writing with its namesake leader and is expected to record with the band.
Gov’t Mule also will record. Inspired by Phil Lesh & Friends, Haynes and Abts have assembled several of Woody’s favorite fellow bassists for an October-bound double disc of mainly original tunes, some of which the late musician had a hand in writing. Participants include Schools, Lesh, Burbridge, Chris Wood of Medeski, Martin and Wood, Jack Bruce of Cream, Les Claypool of Primus, Francis “Rocco” Prestia of Tower of Power, Jack Casady of Hot Tuna, Chris Squire of Yes, Mike Gordon of Phish, Parliament-Funkadelic legend Bootsy Collins and Alphonso Johnson (Chuck Mangione Quartet, Weather Report, Santana, Bobby & the Midnights, Jazz is Dead, The Other Ones). Having been on the recently-folded Capricorn Records, Haynes and Abts are negotiating with another roots-minded label.
Haynes’ own Evil Teen will release a solo acoustic disc this summer. Plans also include issuing of a live gig featuring Gov’t Mule and fusion guitarist John Scofield.
The Mule also will perform.
Haynes initially agreed to do the Allmans’ annual March Madness run because he didn’t have touring plans with his own band, which he formed with Woody and fellow former Dickey Betts Band member Abts in the mid-‘90s as an Allmans side project. He left the Allmans to do Gov’t Mule full-time because he wasn’t being given the chance to shine with his soulful bluesy vocals or showcase more of his powerful songwriting (a situation that Allman already has changed).
Well, the Mule temporarily has reformed with Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools and keyboard legend Chuck Leavell, who’s toured and recorded with the Allmans, The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton and was one of the friends on the Mule’s “LIVE…With a Little Help from Our Friends.” “The New School of Gov’t Mule’‘ briefly will tour the south later this month into April with additional dates expected in May. Haynes then will hit the road with Lesh with whom he performs Betts’ “Blue Sky.’‘ But the Allmans won’t be performing that or the other hit Betts’ vocal “Ramblin’ Man.’‘ Instead, they will be performing Betts instrumentals, such as “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,’‘ as well as compositions such as “Southbound,’‘ which features an Allman vocal.
Haynes admits that it’s a bit strange to be in the Allmans without Betts, who brought him into the group. But Allman is enjoying what he calls a better vibe. You’ll learn more via the following chats with them. For more info about The Allman Brothers band, visit www.allmanbrothersband.com or the exceptional fan site www.hittinthenote.com. Gov’t Mule is online at www.mule.net.
What a story the Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule have been. Allen dies, Dickey parts with the Brothers, you play with Phil Lesh, then join back up with the Brothers for March Madness, while keeping Gov’t Mule together. Comment on all that.
Warren Haynes: Woody and I played together for 12 years which is the longest I’ve played with any single musician. We’ve played over 1,000 shows together. Dickey Betts and I played together 11 years, which is the next closest. Aside from being really close personally, we were really close musically. When you play together with somebody that long, you start to read each other’s thoughts. We had a lot of common that would take place with no words. There’s no one else that I have that kind of relationship with from a guitar-bass perspective. But I’ve found a way to focus on the positives. It’s been nice to work with all these different bass players, and some great chemistries have been formed. But there’s a part of Woody and I and Matt that we had that went unspoken from the first time we played together. A chemistry built up over the next several years. If you build on that and nurture it, it will grow all the time. Chemistry will only get you so far, but you have to have that to start with. Each year we played together, the more we’d teach each other. If you figure you do 10 rehearsals for each show and we did 1,000 shows, that’s 10,000 rehearsals. That’s a lot of playing.
You mentioned that you played with Betts second most of anybody. Comment on how you feel about taking his spot for the Beacon run.
Haynes: It’s a little strange. I never would have imagined the Allmans without Duane or Dickey. Being one of their biggest fans, it’s not the perfect scenario for me. I’d much prefer Dickey still be in the band, but having talked to both sides, that’s not an option. We just have to deal with the reality as it exists. I love all those guys and wish everybody the best. A lot of unfortunate circumstances led up to me doing this Beacon run. Life works in strange ways. I’ve lost a lot of friends during the past year and a half. It’s been hard dealing with it. I tell ya’, I never lack inspiration for the blues.
You’re also working a lot with Phil Lesh, who’s flown the coop from his Dead mates in the The Other Ones to concentrate solely on Friends. It’s somewhat similar to Betts situation with the Allmans.
Haynes: I love working with Phil. He’s a real sweetheart and musically enlightening. All the guys in that band get along great. It’s a really cool chemistry. I already was prepared to do some stuff with Phil before Allen passed away. We had some rehearsals booked shortly after Woody’s funeral. I didn’t know if I’d be able to deal with all that. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise to be around fresh faces and music because it allowed me not to dwell on things. I think it’s part of the human condition to wallow in misery when you lose a friend like that. Sometimes it takes a situation being around different people, talking about different subjects, that makes you realize that you don’t have to think about it 24 hours a day.
It isn’t likely that Betts ever will be a Brother again, but do you think Lesh eventually will work with The Other Ones?
Haynes: I don’t know. I’d like to think these people will be able to work together and get along in the future. It’s like being in a big family. It’s hard to be in a band 30 some odd years and still get along with all the participants. It’s not unlike a family except that family is blood and you’re stuck with them. People change a lot through the years. They started these bands when they were really young and then 30-something years later, everybody chooses different paths. Sometimes peoples’ outlooks become different. It’s kind of a unique situation. Bands that are around that long, few of them get along great. It’s indicative of the situation and the nature of the beast. But from a fan perspective, you’d love to see the original members living in harmony. It’s not always going to be like that.
The three of us in Gov’t Mule got along great musically and personally, but at the same time, we were only together six years. If it was 25 years later, I don’t know. I don’t know that I’d want to be in any situation 30-something years later even if I did get along with everybody and the music was great. I don’t know what I’d want to do.
Comment on what the two new Brothers, Derek and Oteil, have done for the band and how you enjoy playing with them because of it.
Haynes: Derek and I have played tons of music together. I’m on his (solo) record. We’ve jammed together many times. Oteil and I have jammed with each other a lot through the years but not as much as Derek. But this is the first time together in the Allmans. The two instances at One for Woody and the Christmas Jam where I performed with the Allmans, Jimmy Herring was playing for him. So this is the first time I’m playing with Derek in the Allmans. We’re going to split the guitar parts because we both naturally gravitate toward the Duane slot with the slide guitar. One will play the melodic part and the other slide one night and then switch the next night. So certain songs I’ll play the slide and then he’ll play it the next night. It’s been kind of fun dividing up those parts. The rehearsals have been really good and it sounds great.
They both add a lot of new energy to the band and they’re both well-schooled with this type of music but they bring in different elements as well. I have to catch up in some ways because they’ve been playing together as a unit for some time now. Although I’m historically a part of the lineage, I still have to catch up to some of the new arrangements and new chemistry that have wound their way into the band.
Tell me about the New School of Gov’t Mule with Dave Schools of Widespread Panic and Chuck Leavell of Allmans.
Haynes: Dave’s an old friend. We all played with him many times through the years, and Woody was very close with him. They had similarities musically. Differences as well. After Woody died, Dave was the first to come to us and say, `If you want to do dates, I’m here, I’m available. He expressed that Panic was taking six months off this year, and he’d like to keep working during that time. If we were interested, let him know. After doing the One for Woody concert at Roseland in New York, then my charity Christmas jam in Asheville, N.C., it was such good vibes that it made sense, but we didn’t want to portray, `Here’s Woody’s replacement’ but rather ‘here’s an old friend who’s got a full-time gig of his own and he’s doing something with us in his down time.’ We felt it was important not to send out the wrong signal: ‘he’s the replacement.’ We don’t know if we’re going to have one. It’s hard enough to replace a musical personality as strong as Allen Woody’s, but it’s even harder in a trio, the most fragile of all rock combinations where each member has a bigger role than in a larger band, especially in an improvisational power trio. Matt and Woody play so aggressively, we’re constantly walking that line of overplaying and playing just the right amount. Both are suited to that wonderfully aggressive style that makes the perfect rhythm section for a situation like that. Not a lot of people can play that way these days, where everyone’s doing their own thing.
And what about Chuck?
Chuck is a busy man. He’s always doing something between The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, George Harrison and all the wonderful projects he’s involved with. We love to play together every chance get. He sometimes has such a busy schedule that it’s not that easy to make that happen. Chuck and I have this connection. He produced my solo record and played a big part on the keyboards. And Matt worked in that band Betts, (Jimmy) Hall, Leavell and Trucks. When Butch left, Matt took his place. They were together in the ’80s for a short time. And, of course, Chuck is on ‘With a Little Help from Our Friends.’ He’s in one of those rare times right now where he’s got a lot of time e to himself so it worked out when we called and said, ‘Hey, do you want to some dates with he us?’ And he said he’d love to. We’re psyched because it’s going to be a lot of fun.
If they’re not permanent members are you going to consider a replacement for Woody and perhaps an additional member like a Chuck or perhaps you’ll keep it Phil-like on a friendly, rotating basis?
Haynes: I’m not sure we’d want to keep Gov’t Mule a permanent situation. If we do, it probably will not remain a trio because we don’t want to put that kind of pressure on ourselves or a new bassist to try to replace the three-piece chemistry that we had. Before Woody passed, we often talked about how we didn’t want to permanently add another member, but we liked to do short runs or one-offs and have people jam with us. We’d love to play 90 minutes as a trio, then bring someone out to jam the rest of the night. Since our show is two-and-a-half hours long, it’s the best of both worlds. But we didn’t want to become a full-time quartet or quintet, not as Gov’t Mule. But under the circumstances we have now, if the Mule stays together, we’ll rethink it and let it become a new chapter.
Rotating people is a possibility. It’s one of the things to consider doing if for now other reason than it’s a viable solution to an unsolvable problem. I guess we’ll wait to see what presents itself. Right now I don’t have the answers.
You put the ‘Wintertime Blues Concert,’ out on your own Evil Teen Records. What are your post-Capricorn label plans for the album you’re making with a who’s who of bassists and your solo acoustic live album?
Haynes: We’re talking to different labels right now about which way to go. It’s not really a tribute record. It’s the next Gov’t Mule record in lieu of the circumstances. It’s predominantly original material with a few covers. In some ways it’s similar to what the next Mule record would have been. We’re stressing to everybody that this is not a tribute record. My main concern is that all these songs hold up in a timeless manner and not have the first iota of novelty. In some cases, we’ve written songs specifically with the bass player in mind who’s agreed to participate. I want it to be a cohesive and timeless record but at the same time, cover a lot of the ground of all these different bass players and their different genres. We’re letting it shine and focus on and showcase each of their own personalities. We’ve released records that have blues, jazz, folk, funk, psychedelic and hard rock. We’ll be able to showcase that even more because it’s a double CD. It’s a challenge to fit all of it into one picture, but I’m confident that it will be doable. I’m excited about it. It’s a shame Woody missed this record because we would have a lot of great material recorded by him.
So we want to have that finished up in June and out in October. The solo acoustic record could be on Evil Teen or a new label. We’re targeting ones that will be good for it.
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