By Jaan Uhelszki
13 April 2004, San Jose Mercury News
(c) Copyright 2004, San Jose Mercury News. All Rights Reserved.
Warren Haynes has become one of the most wanted men in rock.
With his straggly shank of ginger hair, he looks more like an overworked roadie than a Southern rock icon. But such prestigious groups as the Dead, Phish and the Les Claypool Frog Brigade vie for his guitar skills. In fact, Phil Lesh insists he arranges the touring schedule for Phil Lesh & Friends to ensure that Haynes can join the lineup.
Haynes is in the middle of a Gov’t Mule tour that lands at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre tonight. Next, he heads to the studio to finish up a Gov’t Mule album and oversee the release of his second solo album, “Warren Haynes Live at Bonnaroo,” due out June 8. Then he joins the reinvigorated Dead on the road for two months, playing acoustic guitar as the opener and electric as a member of the band. After that, it’s back with the Allman Brothers Band and then more Gov’t Mule shows to round out the year.
“I shudder to think how many dates I’m really on the road, but I think this year it’s around 200,” Haynes says on the phone from his New York apartment, where he is celebrating his 44th birthday.
The Asheville, N.C., native’s ascension to the throne of guitar god did not happen overnight. At the age of 20, he began playing with country maverick David Allan Coe, who distinguished himself by living in a hearse parked outside of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and writing such classics as “Take This Job and Shove It.”
After four years with Coe, Haynes did.
He became a session guitarist in Nashville, where he caught the ear of Dickie Betts, one of the Allmans’ founding guitarists. Betts served as Haynes’ unofficial mentor, eventually pulling him into the Allman Brothers as the second replacement for Duane Allman, who had died in a motorcycle crash in 1971. Haynes happily logged five years as one of the twin guitarists, until he and bassist Allen Woody decided they needed more artistic stimulation. So they and drummer Matt Abts formed an outfit specializing in gritty yet artful blues scorchers, which Allmans’ percussionist Jaimoe — the former Jai Johanny Johanson — dubbed Gov’t Mule.
Most people tend to think the band’s name comes from its impressive work ethic, but it’s just not so.
“We usually say that Gov’t Mule means something different to everyone, and leave it at that,” Haynes says with a laugh. “But since you pressed, I guess I’ll tell you. . . .”
As Haynes relates the story, Jaimoe and Woody were watching James Brown perform at a music festival in Memphis headlined by the Allman Brothers. At one point in the show, Brown was dancing with his wife, and Jaimoe pointed at her ample rear end and said “government mule.”
“Woody just laughed, and thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard,” Haynes says. “It’s like some sort of Mississippi colloquialism and totally Jaimoe. It just cracked us all up, and we decided to name our band that. Not that that’s the only reason. You know, the name meant a lot of things, but that’s where it came from. Usually we call the band ‘the Mule’ among ourselves.”
The band became a tour favorite, and Haynes and Woody left the Allman Brothers in 1997 to devote their energy to the new group (Haynes rejoined the Allmans in 2001). By 2000, Gov’t Mule had recorded five albums and was about to enter a studio to record another when Woody was found dead in his hotel room in New York City.
Haynes and Abts toyed with disbanding but eventually used the loss to fuel them, creating what would become a suite of recordings to honor Woody. “The Deep End” (2001) became Gov’t Mule’s fourth studio album, as well as a heartfelt tribute to their fallen compatriot. They recorded the tracks with top-tier bassists Woody admired, including Jack Bruce (Cream), Bootsy Collins (James Brown, Parliament), John Entwistle (the Who) and Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers). “The Deep End, Volume 2” (2002) had equally high-profile players — Claypool, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jason Newsted (Metallica) and Chris Squire (Yes).
Last year, Gov’t Mule released “The Deepest End,” the final chapter in the series. This massive CD/DVD captures a six-hour concert in New Orleans last year; it includes 186 minutes of concert footage, including 25 special guests — bassists as well as vocalists — performing 36 songs. “The whole intention of `The Deepest End’ was to capture the culmination of the ‘Deep End’ concept. Not to say that we won’t continue to jam with our friends, but now we’re moving on,” Haynes says. “We have a full-time new bass player, and we’ve opened a new chapter in Gov’t Mule.”
When Haynes and Abts finally felt it was time to replace Woody, they hired Andy Hess, who had played with everyone from John Scofield to the Black Crowes. “That’s indicative of how versatile he is. He plays jazz, he plays rock ‘n’ roll, he plays blues, all these different things very convincingly, which is something Gov’t Mule kind of demands,” Haynes says. “He’s similar to Woody in a lot of ways, but very different in other ways, and a great human being, someone you want to be on the road with.”
But Haynes still hasn’t replaced Woody in his heart. “We played together for 12 years. That’s a lifetime in musical years. I still dream about him. In fact, I just had a dream about him the other day. I dreamt that he was still alive, that we were somewhere in some jam session, and he showed up and wanted to play. Usually if I dream about Woody, it’s about him still being alive for some unknown reason. And it’s funny because I talk to Gregg about that, and he almost nonchalantly said, ‘Well, you’ll always have those.”
And Gregg Allman should know.