Warren Haynes idolized rock stars as a kid. Now he stands in for them. He’s one hot guitarist.
Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic
23 June 2004 – The San Francisco Chronicle
Warren Haynes knew what it was like to stand in for a dead legendary guitarist long before joining the Dead this summer to play Jerry Garcia’s parts. For eight years through the ’90s, he took the place of Duane Allman in the Allman Brothers Band, another legendary Fillmore-era outfit that Haynes rejoined three years ago, only to find himself touring with both bands this year.
“Duane was a huge inspiration to me growing up,” said Haynes, in town last month for rehearsals with the Dead. “The Allman Brothers never asked me to play more or less like Duane. They left it up to me how much of my influence to show.
“Same way with the Dead. They’re leaving it up to me how much of Jerry’s personality to put into what I play, how much homage to pay. I’ve got so much respect for what these guys have done, I’m going to pay a lot automatically.”
Haynes, 44, is reaching a kind of critical mass in his own career, playing with both the Dead and the Allmans, as well as with his own band, Gov’t Mule, who will have a new album and tour this fall. He has also just released an acoustic solo album, and is squeezing in a few solo showcases such as his sold-out appearance this Friday at the Fillmore Auditorium, followed by a show Saturday with the Dead at Shoreline Amphitheatre.
Haynes, a native of North Carolina who lives in Manhattan’s East Village with his wife of six years, Steffani Scamardo, won’t be lounging around downtown coffee houses anytime soon; this year he is playing 36 dates with the Dead and 50 with the Allmans, in addition to his solo shows and touring with Gov’t Mule.
“This is going to wind up being my busiest year ever,” he said. “Rehearsing, touring, making records, between all those things, it adds up to no time at home.”
Haynes is no mere guitar-for-hire — he was writing songs, singing and making all kinds of creative contributions from the first day he joined the Allman Brothers in 1989 (he co-produced that band’s latest album).
“I have 27 songs either written or co-written with the Allman Brothers,” said Haynes. “I had written with Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman before we ever worked together. So by the time I joined, they looked on me as a fellow songwriter.”
With the Dead, too, Haynes fills a number of roles. He plays lead guitar with Jimmy Herring, veteran of post-Garcia Dead tours who also has played with the Allmans. He sings songs originally sung by Garcia and is adding some of his own songs to the book. He can be seen leading the Dead in rehearsal through a spirited take on U2’s “One” on the band’s Web site.
Haynes spent three weeks in May rehearsing with the band at the Novato warehouse the Dead maintains, staying 40 minutes away in a downtown San Francisco hotel so he could enjoy late-night dining not so easily found in sleepy Marin County. Haynes, who originally entered the Dead scene five years ago with bassist Phil Lesh’s solo project, Phil Lesh and Friends, had a lot of songs to learn. The band needed to work up new arrangements to everything, as Haynes brings a third guitar to a revamped seven-man lineup that previously toured together last summer, calling the group the Dead for the first time since Garcia died in 1995. Haynes said the band was drawing from 150 songs.
“A lot of the songs I’ve played with Phil,” said Haynes. “But I’ve never done Bobby’s stuff before. We’re getting together three guitars; we need to all find our places. There’s some new material. We’re reworking old material. We’re working a lot on harmony vocals.”
The Dead and the Allmans both scheduled their calendars this year around Haynes’ availability, although the two bands will play one show together, July 3 at Washington state’s Gorge Amphitheater, where Haynes will stay onstage all night. “These are all opportunities if I didn’t take advantage of I would look back and regret,” said Haynes.
Haynes grew up in Asheville, N.C., where two older brothers introduced him to music like the Allman Brothers (“I’ve been a fan since the first album,” he said). He graduated from local bands to playing guitar with country singer David Allen Coe, one of country music’s fabled wild men.
“Where most people can’t live up to their reputations,” said Haynes, “he had to live his down. It was a roller coaster ride, non- stop craziness.”
But through Coe, Haynes first heard his guitar playing on the radio, decorating Coe’s 1983 hit, “The Ride,” and met Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers. He worked in the Dickey Betts Band and co- wrote the title song of the 1988 Gregg Allman solo album, “Just Before the Bullets Fly,” before getting the nod to join the band for the 1989 reunion tour. His playing clearly reinvigorated the Allmans and his songs and drive spurred the renewed energy of acclaimed early ’90s albums such as “Seven Turns.”
He and bassist Allen Woody left the Allmans in 1997 to devote themselves to their own band, Gov’t Mule, but Woody died in 2000. “After Woody died, it was kind of unclear if I wanted to keep Gov’t Mule going,” Haynes said. “I got a call from Gregg Allman, who let me know the door was always open with them.”
After taking everybody’s temperature during a guest appearance on the band’s annual year-end Beacon Theater run in 2000, Haynes returned to the Allmans the next summer. He was already touring as part of Phil and Friends and also decided to forge ahead with Gov’t Mule, recording a 2001 album, “The Deep End,” with a variety of guest bassists, from Bootsy Collins to Jack Bruce. He recently added a permanent new bassist and keyboard player. The new solo album features Haynes more in the singer-songwriter mode, playing acoustic guitar by himself and singing about half originals and half covers ranging over broad territory; the Eagles’ “Wasted Time,” Radiohead’s “Lucky,” Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember,” U2’s “One” (which he brought to the Dead), and the Dead’s “Stella Blue,” so there’s at least one song he won’t have to learn.
“It’s a side of me that’s always existed,” he said. “You know, ‘one day I’m gonna do this.’ It took this long for it to happen.”
“Live At Bonnaroo” was recorded last year at the same outdoor jam band festival in Manchester, Tenn., that Haynes and the Dead played June 12 to start this summer’s tour. If his singer-songwriter side took this long to emerge, he didn’t spend much time recording his debut.
“I’d done a handful of those type of shows and didn’t even record them,” he said. “But I listened to the tape of this show and it has its blemishes like every live performance. But start to finish, it’s pretty damn good. I said let’s go with it. A lot of people already have it as a bootleg.”
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