Warren Haynes’ talent is a product of divine intervention
Wednesday, 4/18 • 6 p.m.
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
$30 in advance; $35 day of
He was ranked number 23 by Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke’s list of 100 greatest guitar players of all time. He offered stability to a flaky Allman Brothers Band in the early 2000s, leading the group to multiple and consecutive Grammy nominations. He, along with Allen Woody, founded the Southern jam-band staple, Gov’t Mule. Having toured with The Dead and been the lead guitarist for Phil Lesh and Friends, Haynes’ list of collaborations is as large as the number of songs he’s written—they’re nearly incalculable. It encompasses an array of artists, including Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Dave Matthews Band, Coheed and Cambria, and David Allan Coe.
Before Haynes was a guitar player, he was a singer. Engulfed by the power of song, his inspiration emerged from an unlikely source at a very unlikely age. “I think the first sound that made the hair on my arms stand up was black gospel music, regionally, coming over the radio on Sunday morning when I was really small,” he remembers. “Hearing that music, I thought, What is that and why is it changing the way I feel?”
Shortly thereafter, he encountered the music of James Brown, instilling the same effect. Likewise, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and other mighty, soulful voices enthralled young Haynes. Still, there is one influence that truly resonates, someone who pushed him to be both a great singer and a great instrumentalist.
“I remember hearing B.B. King’s voice and just being amazed at how powerful it was,” Haynes says. “I was more drawn to either guitar players who also sang, or guitar players who I felt were singing through their instrument and had that vocal quality while playing. I just always loved the sound of the human voice.”
Haynes, at 7 or 8 years old, was already honing his craft. A legendary songwriter, he’s long held a pen in his hand. “I was enamored with poetry when I was a kid, and was already starting to write poems before I picked up the guitar,” he tells. “I just always loved the way people turn a phrase, and [when] a story is being told, and the words that are chosen to tell the story.”
At the age of 12, he finally found an outlet for his adoration of words. Hearing Cream and Jimi Hendrix, Haynes was certain he’d be a guitarist for the rest of his life. “I didn’t get far; I never got into real poetry,” Haynes says, a laugh breaking his calm, introspective voice. “I was just kind of putting my toes in the water. Once I picked up the guitar, all my love for lyrics turned into songwriting. In music, the melody and the inflection and the performance enhances [the story]. It makes it larger than life.”
Over 40 gritty, hard-working years of making music, Haynes has not only solidified himself in the art, but he’s become a mentor to those around him. His philosophy—though one might argue he was a child prodigy—is a wisdom developed through the ages. Citing the three acts he’s most known for, Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule and The Dead, he explains that he’s tapped into all of the separate elements of his work.
“Each band is different even though they all have some of the same influences,” Haynes says. “I guess they’re just ingredients mixed up in different proportions. In each band I find myself thinking and performing differently. Part of that is just responding to the other musicians, but part of it is by design. It’s just having the wonderful opportunity to express yourself differently, because we all have different sides of our musical personalities.”
On Wednesday, April 18th, Haynes will make a stop in Wilmington at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater—the quintessential venue for any jam-band musician and a treat for locals to welcome such a caliber of talent. His current tour is in celebration of “Man in Motion,” Haynes’ third solo release but the first produced in 18 years. “The reason I decided ‘Man in Motion’ should be a solo record is because I’d written enough songs that all seemed to work together and all were kind of crying out for a more traditional treatment,” Haynes divulges, “that in my mind should sound a little more influenced by soul music and blues than Gov’t Mule.”
Haynes’ writing isn’t a product of a selfish indulgence. He scribes with a particular song in mind, and in the end it could become a product for any of his endeavors. Though many of his songs don’t find a home in any of his projects; he’s looking to create a solo record with an acoustic songwriter focus in the future. “I’m happier in a band where I’m one of the singer/songwriters, but occasionally it is very rewarding to do something that’s just myself,” he notes. “Gov’t Mule is such an open-ended laboratory, so to speak, for me to do whatever I want to do anyway.”
One could say that Haynes is a poetic, philosophical mad scientist. As his mind constructs lyrics, words attack in a quick onslaught and he takes advantage of the inspiration. In his age, the desire to test and probe his work comes forth. Where he grew up writing first and adding music later, he now intentionally performs the opposite, just so he doesn’t fall into a pattern. It’s a frolic in lyricism that likely keeps the musician young.
“You have to know that you’re not gonna learn as quickly, later in life, as you did in the beginning,” he warns. “But there’s always something to be learned, and sometimes it comes from a very unlikely source. I may hear music that I wouldn’t expect to like and learn something from it. Keep your ears and mind open, because musicians are students for life. When I feel like I’m having a good performance, it’s because I’m experimenting and trying stuff that I’ve never tried before. Improvisation is such an important part of my life as a musician. You just have to push yourself and hopefully the barriers will break down, and you’ll discover something new.”