By: Jimmy Leslie
For Guitar Player, 1 August 2003
Copyright 2003 United Entertainment Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Pop in the Allman Brothers Band’s Hittin’ the Note [Sanctuary]-the group’s first studio album in nearly a decade-and the first sounds to meet your ears are a stomping beat, a swampy blues lick, a warbling slide note, and Gregg Allman’s gravelly voice. By the time the bittersweet harmony lines of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks close the tune, it’s obvious the band’s distinctive double-guitar signature is as exciting as ever.
It’s a different type of signature, however, as original guitarist Duane Allman is long dead, and his cohort, Dickey Betts, left the band in 2000.
And yet, the current Allman Brothers Band lineup-which also includes original drummers Butch Trucks (Derek Trucks’ uncle) and Jaimoe, bassist Oteil Burbridge, and percussionist Marc Quinones-has embraced what Haynes and Trucks bring to the group’s legacy, and is now enjoying a resurgence in critical and popular acclaim. The renewed spark is a testament to an act that has endured tragedy (the deaths of Allman, original bassist Berry Oakley, and replacement bassists Lamar Williams and Allen Woody), drug and alchohol addiction, serious conflicts between band members, the bankruptcy of its original label (Capricorn), and a debilitating “has been” phase throughout much of the ’80s.
Warren, you co-produced Hittin’ the Note with Michael Barbiero at Water Studios in Hoboken, New Jersey, between December 2001 and the early months of 2002. Can you tell us about some of the session highlights?
Haynes: We were set up in a big room, and we recorded live with the exception of a couple of overdubbed slide solos. The mics were placed fairly close to the speakers, which gave us the best of both worlds-the ambience of the room, and a close sound with a little more bottom end.
For me, the highlights included recording “Old Friend” in a small room with Derek. I played slide on my Gibson CL40 Artist acoustic, and Derek played his National. We placed one Telefunken mic on each guitar, and the two contrasting and complementary sounds are gorgeous-it almost sounds like one big 12-string. We also put two pieces of plywood across the floor, which made the guitars sound better. We actually miked the plywood, too, so you can hear not only the resonance of the guitars bouncing off the wood, but also my foot stomping throughout the whole thing.
“Instrumental Illness” was another good track-it’s the first song written by Oteil and myself, and a lot of stuff in that song comes from Oteil’s amazing sense of harmony. The song is basically a vehicle for us to jam-even though it’s a beautiful piece, and I’m really proud of it.
Then, there’s “Desdemona.” We recorded that track before I got the Zeeta amp, so I’m using the Diaz for part of it, and the Soldano for part of it. You can actually hear me switch amps in the middle of my solo. Whenever you hear the really rich, creamy sound, that’s the Soldano. The solo section is Cm7 to Gm7, but it has that 6/8 swing, which is so fun to play across. At the end of each solo there’s a tag. In Derek’s solo, the chords are Abmaj7 to Fm7 to Cm7 to G7. At the end of my solo, it goes Abmaj7 to C# to G7, and the C# is very strange. Gregg stumbled upon that chord by mistake when we were writing the tune. He didn’t remember what it was at first, and when we finally found it again, it was like, “Man, that’s beautiful.”
How did you and Derek end up occupying the guitar chairs in the Allman Brothers Band?
Haynes: There were some tragic circumstances-the first being Allen Woody’s death in September 2000. Woody and I left the Allman Brothers Band in April 1997 to pursue Gov’t Mule, and had Woody not passed away, there would have been no reason to look back. But soon after that, I got a call from Gregg Allman saying that Dickey was out of the band, and the door was open if I wanted to come back.
Trucks: I started sitting in with the band when I was 11 or 12 years old. When I joined in 1999, it was me, Oteil, and Dickey on the front line, and I really knew my role. About six months into playing with Dickey, I started feeling comfortable, and I had some really high musical moments. We were starting to find a voice together about the time the split happened.
How did the split with Dickey Betts affect your perception of the band relationships?
Trucks: After everything went down with Dickey, we brought Jimmy Herring into the mix. For me, that was a great time because Jimmy is one of my closest friends. But it was an uncomfortable position for him, because he felt like he had come between the Allman Brothers and Dickey Betts. When Warren came back, it made a lot of sense because he and Gregg write really well together.
Haynes: I never imagined the Allman Brothers Band without Dickey and Duane. They are huge influences on us, and they’re the foundation for the chemistry that Derek and I have cultivated. We certainly want to keep pushing the boundaries, but we’re very careful not to go too far outside the blueprint.
How did you determine your roles, now that the possibility of a “Dickey/Duane dynamic” has been lost due to Betts’ departure?
Trucks: Well, as Warren and I had played opposite Dickey at different times, we had to rethink everything about the band’s guitar sound-which is exactly what the band needed. Now, instead of somebody taking the Duane role and somebody taking the Dickey role, there are just two guitar players who play well together.
How do your approaches with the Allman Brothers Band differ from those of your other projects?
Haynes: It starts with different instruments, amps, and effects. In the Allman Brothers, I don’t really use effects, whereas in Gov’t Mule I use a few to add different colors to the smaller band format. But my approach also goes way beyond gear, and focuses on reacting to who I’m playing with.
Trucks: The Allman Brothers Band is much more of a rock band than the Derek Trucks Band, and it’s also a band with a legendary and magical sound that must be respected.
How do you guys work out your harmonies?
Trucks: After the tune is written, we’ll decide who is going to take the melody, and who is going to play harmony. Whomever has the harmony role just works it out. The fun thing is we’ve developed harmonies so much that we can, at times, harmonize to each other’s improvisations. That happened a few times on the new record, like at the end of “High Cost of Low Living.”
Are there “typical” Allman Brothers guitar harmonies?
Trucks: Most of the time, the harmony is one inversion up. Of course, we’ll also just mess around until we find one that best fits the tune.
Describe your slide techniques.
Trucks: The slide is on my ring finger, and any muting with the left hand is completely subconscious. On the right hand, I use all five fingers at one time or another, but mainly the thumb, index, and middle fingers. I don’t use a pick.
Haynes: I wear the slide on my third finger, as well. It’s important that I can still play chords with the slide on, and that makes it easy for me. For scales, I usually use fingers one and two, or one and four, depending on how much space is required. I keep the pick curled up in my second finger, and I roll it out when needed. I’m really liking the sound I get playing with my fingers more and more, but I can’t pull off everything I do without using a pick at times.
What tunings do you use?
Trucks: I tune to open E [E, B, E, G#, B, E-low to high], although I’ll sometimes switch to standard tuning to play slide because it gives me a different melodic perspective.
Haynes: I’m basically in standard throughout the record-except for “Old Friend,” where the low E is dropped down to D.
How does playing in standard tuning work for you when Derek is in open E?
Haynes: I just can’t watch his fingers [laughs]. I have to listen. If I watch, I’m screwed!
Guitars: ’61 Gibson ES-335, ’59 reissue Gibson Les Paul, Martin HD-28, Plummer Resonator, Gibson CL40 Artist.
Amps: Zeeta 15-Watt 1×12 combo loaded with a Celestion Vintage 30, mid-’90s Diaz CD-100 head, Soldano SLO-100 head, Engl 4×12 cabinet with Celestion Vintage 30s.
Effects: Chandler analog delay, Ernie Ball volume pedal, Dunlop CryBaby, Custom Audio Electronics amp switcher.
Strings & Things: GHS Burnished Nickel, .010-.046 (ES-335); GHS Nickel Rockers, .010-.054 (Les Paul); GHS Vintage Bronze, .012-.054 (acoustics); GHS Roller Wound, .012-.054 (Plummer); D’Andrea Xcell 96mm picks, Dunlop 215 and Coricidin bottle slides.
Guitars: ’63 reissue Gibson SG with Vibrola, Washburn Custom Shop electric, ’30s National Resonator (once owned by Bukka White).
Amps: Marshall reissue Super Lead 100, ’66 Fender Super Reverb, Marshall 4×12 cabinet with 25-watt Celestion greenbacks.
Effects: Ibanez TS-9.
Strings & Things:
DR, .010 -.046; Coricidin bottle slide.