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This article was originally published in issue #41
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As far as guitarists go, few have the list of credentials and the talents to back them up as Warren Haynes.
Warren Haynes has an unimpeachable pedigree in American Rock and Blues. More or less starting out with The Allman Brothers, with whom he spent a quarter of a century, he has worked with a who's who of US talent, has recently released a Bluegrass album (Ashes & Dust) and is still the driving force in Gov't Mule. Levi Clay met the man with a taste for the finest Gibsons and an unerring ear for American music.
As far as guitarists go, few have the list of credentials and the talents to back them up as Warren Haynes. For over 30 years Haynes has been wowing people the world over as a singer, songwriter and guitar playing behemoth, either as a solo artist or as a sideman for numerous acts including a 25 year credit with legendary southern rockers, The Allman Brothers Band.
Born in 1960 in North Carolina, Warren picked up the guitar at age 12, but this was after experience as a singer. From here he took influence from all the names you'd expect at the time, Eric Clapton in Cream, Peter Green, Duane Allman, Jeff Beck and the like. This blend of the British Blues revival mixed with the Southern Rock and Appalachian music he was surrounded by really pushed Warren down the root of creating a voice on the instrument.
After a few years of playing solo and with bands trying to land a record deal, Warren eventually landed a gig with infamous outlaw country man David Allan Coe. While this wasn't a direction Warren saw himself heading in, you never know who you're going to meet on the road, and it was during this stint that Warren was introduced to some of the Allman Brothers Band members, most importantly, Dickey Betts.
As time went by and the friendship grew, Warren was eventually asked to join Dickey Betts' band where he became a key member as both a guitar player and a songwriter. This was more of a stop gap in the long term (though playing with one of your heroes can't be a bad stop gap!) as in 1989 the reunion that was never to happen finally happened and the Allman Brothers took to the road again, this time with the young Warren Haynes in the group as a guitar player, singer and eventual songwriter. The stuff dreams are made of!
In 1990 The Allmans released Seven Turns, their eighth full studio album, and it featured Warren as a songwriter as well as a player. He would go on to release seven more albums with the Allmans and would tour the world in the band that went on to have the deadly guitar playing duo of Warren and Derek Trucks. A pair so perfect for each other that they even have a song they wrote and recorded alone as part of an Allman Brothers album, and very few things say you're a fully fledged member of the band than that. For those interest, check out the classic “Old Friend” to see some wonderful slide playing and outrageous vocal prowess.
It was in 1994 that Warren branched out with his own band, Gov't Mule (that's pronounced Government Mule for the uninitiated), a Southern Rock band, jamming in the vein of The Grateful Dead. Drawing influence from Cream, Hendrix and the James Gang, the group would go on to build a huge following during periods of downtime from The Allman Brothers. Check out tracks like Lola Leave Your Light On to hear what these guys are all about, great grooves, killer solos, a solid song and an outstanding lead vocal from Warren.
When it comes to gear, Warren is undeniably Mr Gibson. When he's out on the road you can expect to see numerous Les Pauls, most notably his Signature Gibson Les Paul he's named “Chester” (complete with Chet Atkins bell cover). He also loves using Firebirds which are often tuned down to Eb, and ES335s (of which a signature model can be purchased) as he's well known for his 1961 he uses for recording. Essentially any fat humbucker equipped guitar is going to do the trick if you play it right and Warren is famous for using Seymour Duncan pickups, notably the Pearly Gates humbucker!
Amps wise Warren has used a lot, from Paul Reed Smith to Soldano, Diaz and (obviously), Marshall - really, it's all about getting that classic plexi sound. Pedal wise he has a wide variety which is always changing, but the one you'll see and crave is the infamous Klon Centaur overdrive - these all fit in a pretty big rack, so Warren has a CAE switcher on stage with him, a wah and a mid boost for his Diaz amp. It's a complex rig for sure, and not a cheap one to copy - but in reality it's a gritty old Marshall style amp with some added dirt - just don't take it too far!
It's this authentic and varied background that makes Warren an in demand player and a common face in numerous other bands, from The Dave Matthews Band to Derek Trucks. There's a rich list of albums to dig into if you're wanting to see what Warren can do.
In terms of current recordings to listen to, Warren had a busy 2015 with the release of two Gov't Mule albums, one of Pink Floyd tracks jammed live, and one of an older set of gigs with Jazz master John Scofield. He also released his sixth solo album, Ashes & Dust - an absolutely stellar album of Americana which features a great collection of songs and refreshing instrumentation that would fit in North Carolinian folk gigs. From the prominent banjo playing to the luscious violin playing it's a real treat for any fan of Blues and Southern Rock.
One of the coolest aspects of Warren and his philosophy to music is that he's an old jammer, and a huge part of what made that scene so big around the world was the trading of bootlegs - so outside of his official studio releases, he has a HUGE catalogue of live gigs recorded with Gov't Mule which are available to listen to and purchase on muletracks.com, and these are well worth a look if you're wanting to hear how consistently good the band are night to night, but also to just hear something magic and unique to that gig. At the same time though, he doesn't have issues with people coming to shows and recording audio to share around - just don't use a camera!
If you hadn't guessed yet, Warren is one for live shows, so get out and see him whenever you get the chance, because you're going to get something personal when you do, and with tours lined up through till early August, you might just get the chance sooner than you'd thought.