By: Jeff Gottlieb
For: The Boston Herald
Duane Allman will live forever. Never mind the fact that the Allman Brothers Band guitarist died 35 years ago. As Southern rock’s most-storied axeman and the definitive Allman Brothers guitarist, Duane has transcended mortality. This has complicated things for Warren Haynes.
When the Allman Brothers Band re-formed in 1989 after a half-decade hiatus, it invited then-29-year-old Haynes to take on Duane’s role: foil to second lead guitarist, Dickie Betts.
“They made me feel like an equal right away,” Haynes said on his way to Ontario to kick off the Brothers’ summer tour. “There was a long time between Duane’s death and when I joined the band, so that made things easier, and no one ever asked me to play more like Duane or less like Duane.”
During his tenure with the band, Haynes has played more than 1,000 shows alongside founders Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson. He even became the senior guitarist after Betts, another founding member and the guy who ushered Haynes into the band, was unceremoniously booted in 2000. But more importantly, his talent for remaking Allman warhorses such as “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post” anew every night has become integral to the band’s latter-day brilliance.
Haynes won’t replace Duane as the definitive Allman Brothers guitarist. No one could. But while fans have accepted him as the best substitute, many consider it blasphemy to even insinuate today’s Brothers can hang with Duane’s Brothers.
Haynes insists he’s not competing with Duane.
“It’s never been about that,” he said. “It’s always been about adding what I can, who I am to the band.”
Haynes, who also fronts the guitar-heavy Gov’t Mule, is currently at the center of a resurgent Allman band capable of matching its illustrious, Duane-fueled past. Gregg Allman’s voice has aged into its whiskey-drowned prime. Percussionist Marc Quinones has inspired drummers Trucks and Jaimoe to up their energy and sharpen their focus. And Haynes and second guitarist Derek Trucks display an eerie chemistry equal to Dickey and Duane’s.
“I’ve known Derek since he was 11 years old and we’ve played together hundreds of times,” Haynes said. “The first time we played together was good, but the 20th was better, and the 50th was better. Now the interplay on stage between us, in fact between the whole band, is borderline telepathic. That’s what happen when you keep a lineup together. You can read each others’ thoughts.”
Haynes said what he wants out of the band’s Newport Folk Fest debut is “a definitive Allman Brothers show.” It seems a reasonable request, but for many Allman fans it’s impossible – a definitive show just can’t happen without the band’s definitive – but dead – guitarist. It’s a shame too many people will be looking back when yesterday and today’s best jam band will be looking forward.