Photo: Linda Wolf 2016
An Interview with Warren Haynes
In 1970, when I was 19, I was a member of the Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour as a photographer. JCMD&E was a two-month traveling circus of 45 young people: musicians, singers, girlfriends, roadies, a 5 person film crew, 2 official photographers, some children, a nanny and a dog! We traveled around on a private plane and played concerts in something like 50 states. The Tour is iconic — out of it came a documentary movie, a double album, the “JCMD&E Memory Book” I created last year, live albums, and many tribute concerts worldwide. The original Tour is considered by many to be one the top 10 R&R tours of all time. In fact, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi modeled their 12 piece band, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, after the JCMD&E Tour.
A couple years ago Derek (Trucks) and Susan (Tedeschi Trucks) got in touch with Joe about collaborating on a tribute to the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. Joe was game, but sadly he died before it could happen. Not long after that, Derek, Susan and the band decided to go ahead with the tribute but to make it a memorial concert to Joe and a reunion of us original members. The idea emerged to perform the show at the 2015 Lockn’ Festival in Virginia. Long story short I was contacted by the producers of the Lockn’ Festival as they began to seek out the original alumni and soon the majority of us still alive agreed to come reprise our roles from the Tour.
Leon Russell on piano; Chris Stainton on organ & piano; Space Choir members Rita Coolidge, Claudia Lennear, Daniel and Matt Moore, Bobby Jones, and Pamela Polland; Bobby Torres on Congas and me as official photographer. Besides the 12 members of Tedeschi Trucks, we were also joined by Dave Mason, Warren Haynes, Doyle Bramhall II, Chris Robinson, and a number of other well known musicians. We all came together for 5 days to rehearse, hang out, perform and have a great time and that it was. Jesse Lauter and Jojo Pennebaker assembled a film crew to capture the whole thing and a documentary is in the works to come out next year about it all.
In the months before we all congregated at Lockn’, I started reading about the musicians who were going to join us on stage and one in particular stood out to me– Warren Haynes. From the get-go I wanted to meet Warren in particular and it struck me that he would make a great interview for this blog. I read about his life and discovered he’d grown up with brothers and his father but not his mom. I wondered how his life developed without a mother. I wondered if he had women in his life who were role models. At Lockn’, I mentioned the idea of interviewing him and he said he’d be glad to. A few months later through his record label, Hard Head Management | Evil Teen Records, we set up the interview for March 28th in Seattle, where he was going to be playing at the Moore.
I asked Audrey Lane, my TTC assistant and videographer (Fem de Film), musician Zach Fleury, and my daughter, Heather Wolf to assist me. We arrived at the Moore just as sound check was happening and we set up our cameras in Warren’s dressing room. I thought the interview would last about 20 minutes but we ended up talking for well over an hour, and even that was not long enough.
Warren was exactly who I’d imagined him to be. Generous, warm, smart, funny, personal, and willing to reveal his authentic self. Warren is a multi-talented, openhearted person — a husband, father, brother, musician, songwriter and producer who, for over two decades, has produced an annual Christmas concert in North Carolina in support of Habitat for Humanity.
Warren is considered one of the greatest guitarists in the world. He has been part of and/or has founded many famous bands including but not limited to The Allman Brothers Band, Les Claypool, Coheed and Cambria, Dave Matthews Band, The Dead, The Derek Trucks Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Dickey Betts Band, Gov’t Mule, Kevn Kinney, Phil Lesh and Friends, Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration and the list keeps growing. It was an honor that Warren allowed us to video a portion of his show, Ashes and Dust, and a delight to get to know such a special man.
For more information about upcoming shows and and Warren’s summer tours, check out warrenhaynes.net
“I hate to think what my life would be without music…” Warren Haynes
Extras: More Q&A:
Linda: Why wasn’t your mother around after your parents divorced?
Warren: She met someone else and they fell in love. And they’re still together. My parents were like so many parents from that era; childhood sweethearts, known each other their entire lives. They were from the country in North Carolina and when you get married and are raising kids at such a young age you’re almost to kid yourself. They were 20 years old. The norm’s changed now. Now, people are choosing to have kids later, which I think it is a good thing. I had mine at 50, which I don’t necessarily recommend, but it worked out for me! Being 50 is a bit of a challenge because my son’s in the modern world and I tend to gravitate towards sealing myself off from the modern world but I can’t really do that.
Linda: They were practically teenagers themselves! As a teen did you do things that you regret?
Warren: Yeah, but I was not as wild-natured as a lot of my friends and it could’ve been a lot worse! But, I definitely experimented and did things that I regret, things many teens do. For example, I started drinking at an early age and now I don’t drink it all, but that’s what everybody who was cool was doing so that’s what I wanted to do.
As a musician you are as student for life… if you’re lucky to have something like music in your life there’s all these levels that you can explore. You can enjoy it on a fundamental, basic level where it is just about enjoyment or the other extreme is this enlightenment that you try to achieve a few times in your life and hopefully will be able to and everywhere in between. The only way to truly grasp the true power of music is through a lifetime of study and committing yourself to it.
Linda: Were you brought up religious?
Warren: We grew up Baptist but at some point it became less and less important. One of the things we learned in an unspoken way back then was that you don’t have to adhere to all the dogma and the fear factors that can be part of that whole scene.
Linda: Were your brothers musicians, also?
Warren: Both of my brothers are artists. One is a folk artist and the other is a wood carver. Both are very talented and were into music. My oldest brother plays a little bit but both my bothers have not only amazing taste in music but a great passion for music, which is where I got mine. When I was growing up my brothers had thousands of records I could go through, and that made a huge difference for me.
I lovingly referred to my brothers as the music police when I was growing up. They would say things like, “Don’t listen to that, listen to this — don’t waste your time with that –check this out.”
Because of my brothers, I was able to avoid getting trapped listening to what every other kid was listening to, all the trends of the day. I don’t mean to take away any value that trendy music may have, but in general trendiness is not something that helps shape or mold our personalities. Usually, it is highly marketed to us even if we don’t want it. Marketing can be highly manipulative. I understand that marketing is important but when you take something that someone inherently does not want or even like and repackage it to manipulate them to want it, it’s just wrong.
Zach Fleury, When you’re doing a show, how do you judge if it was a good night for you?
Warren: When it’s kind of effortless and I’m not struggling. There has to be a bit of a struggle but when everything I try seems to fall into place and I’m not having to fight too much that’s a good night for me, but I can’t imagine anyone walking off stage thinking they did absolutely the best they could ever do — I just don’t think that’s a possibility. Whoever the greatest guitar player in the world is walks off stage sometime saying, “Wow, I sucked tonight,” because that’s just the way it is. I think as people, we tend to only focus on what we did wrong and not what we did right. But I think that makes you better because it’s those people who were like, “Wow I’m great” that are not going to get any better, that are not going to peel off layers of discovery and find something new. I’ve had nights that I thought I played really good and somebody came up to me and said, “I’ve heard you better.” And there are times I’ve walked off stage thinking, “Wow, I didn’t do anything new tonight, I didn’t create anything that I haven’t been practicing my entire life, and somebody will come up to me and say, “That’s the best I’ve ever heard you play,” and it kind of freaks me out a little bit and eventually I realize it’s because everything I did was tried and true, it was all stuff that’s made the grade; that I’ve made as part of my vocabulary. I’m happy when I’m finding something new some new territory. That doesn’t mean someone listening is going to think that way.
The way all the projects that I’m involved with and the way I approach music is from a conversational standpoint and so the more conversational it is the more musical it is and the more dimensional it is, from my perspective. We always walk on stage and do something we call rumble where in a symphonic way we make little musical noises just to get our bearings — like a two minute improvisational thing that happens before the first song and on a good night the very beginning of that falls into place. The beautiful thing about playing with great musicians is that everybody’s listening so intently and that’s one of the hardest things for musicians to achieve; how to listen and perform at the same time; how to play what’s coming into your mind and also be influenced by what you’re hearing from across the stage coming from someone else.
I always tell people my favorite band is probably Miles Davis with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. That quintet. Everything they played sounded like a musical conversation and no one knew what they were going to play next until they heard what somebody else played and what they played was the response to that. That’s the most rewarding way to play music for me.
If you’re playing with the right musicians you can play forever. If you’re playing with the wrong musicians it’s over really quick and that’s just the way it is because what I’m playing depends completely on what I’m responding to.
It has to be an equal playing field onstage. When I joined the Allman Brothers in 1989, even though I wasn’t an original member and an equal member so to speak, musically we were all equal because we wanted the music to be the best it could it could and there had to be that quality on stage.
Linda: That’s one of the reasons why Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen was such a success. All of us, the kids, the nannies, the roadies, the friends, the girlfriends everybody, we were all treated as equals. And sometimes Leon would have the house lights turned up so that everybody would feel part of it all.
Warren: That opens up a whole other sense of a kind of communal connection it’s an energy you can tap into from a different source. That’s why I think trying to do as many different projects as I do has always worked for me because I learn from every experience. People ask me why do I do so many different projects and the reason why is so that I don’t get stagnate. Each project brings fresh energy.
Linda: Warren, we better let you go prepare for the concert! Thank you so much for taking so much time tonight.
Warren: We can do this again sometime, I really enjoyed it.
Other exciting news from TTC:
Upcoming Teen Talking Circle Facilitator’s Trainings:
August 25 – 28th in Oregon
September 22 – 25th on Bainbridge Island
TTC in Cuba with Taj Mahal
Stay tuned for our next blog interview with the legendary Jim Keltner