Branford Marsalis with Gov’t Mule, 2006 Christmas Jam – photo by Brad Hodge

The 21st installment of Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam is set to take place in Asheville, NC this weekend. In addition to Haynes and his group Gov’t Mule, the line-up includes: moe., Ani DiFranco, Counting Crows, Jimmy Herring, George Porter Jr., Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, DJ Logic, Audley Freed, Eric Krasno, Col. Bruce Hampton, and Robert Kearns. Also on the bill this year is Stax legend William Bell and Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford, both of whom, Warren discusses in this look at Xmas Jams, past and present.

Before we get to the music, let’s start out with Habitat for Humanity. Can you talk a bit about your association with them over the years?

In the beginning, going back twenty-one years, we started in a small club and we would raise a few thousand dollars and pick a charity usually after the fact. We donated money to a lot of wonderful causes: Vietnam vets, AIDs victims, homeless people. Eventually we stumbled onto Habitat and I really liked that you could see where the money was going. You could see the houses being built and know that the money you raised had built these houses.

The first few years we would see what was happening and we would know that we had built x amount of houses but I didn’t go to see the houses or meet any of the families. Then after the third year I got an invitation to do that and when I finally met the people and saw the houses become homes, it was an eye-opening experience. It made me realize the work we’re all doing is very valuable and it just accentuated the entire process. And now every year I go and see the houses that we’ve built and meet the people that are moving into them and it’s pretty incredible. The fact that musicians are doing what they do every day of their lives to raise money for people who can’t afford houses is pretty awesome.

As I look at the line-up, one name that sticks out is William Bell. I would imagine that some of the younger fans might not know who he is but I know that a number of the musicians are really excited about his appearance.

William and I have known each other since the early 90s. I am a big fan. As anybody that knows my history knows, I’m a big soul music fan and William wrote or co-wrote a lot of my favorite songs, including “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “You Don’t Miss Your Water” which Otis Redding recorded and later Taj Mahal and “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday,” which is one of my personal favorites.

William and I performed together 2 or 3 times through the years. Once or twice with my band before Gov’t Mule was established and at least once with Gov’t Mule as well. He’s just a wonderful human being, a great talent and a huge part of history that I’m elated to have be a part of this Christmas Jam. I know what’s going to happen is that all the musicians are going to want to play with William Bell (laughs). One by one I’m starting to get each musician telling me, “You know William Bell is my hero, is there any way I can play with him?” So it’s really cool that some of the younger fans may not look at William as a household name but all the musicians are going, “Wow, this is awesome.”

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