Written By: Chad Berndtson
:: Interview - Warren Haynes ::
We long ago stopped wondering how Warren Haynes keeps it all straight and
revel in the fact that he
does what he does. That means Gov’t Mule, the Warren Haynes Band, the Allman Brothers
Band, his regular
associations with Phil Lesh and other surviving Dead members, and still making room for
sit-ins, one-offs and valued
family time with his wife and son. He’s one of the jam scene’s true luminaries – hugely
influential and on the short
list of musicians recognizable by first name only.
[Photo By: Sterling Munksgard ]
The workhorse Haynes, 53, is big on traditions and milestones – you don’t even have to ask
if the Mule will be
acknowledging its 20th anniversary as a band in 2014, for example, because you’re right to
assume. Before then
however, he’ll mark the 25th Anniversary of the Christmas Jam, one of the most beloved
shows of the year for Warren
fans and one of this scene’s biggest annual nights of music.
We caught up with Warren last week, just before he was set to play a string of Friends
shows with Lesh at Terrapin
Crossroads and about 10 days before the two-night Christmas Jam spectacular in Asheville,
which this year boasts
arguably its strongest-ever lineup.
JAMBASE: Twenty-five years of the Christmas Jam blows my mind and I
haven’t been to
all 25 like you. Tell
me what this tradition means to you.
WARREN HAYNES: It’s grown organically, which is the best way to watch
grow. We had no
expectations when we started this back in, yeah, 1988. It was a local event, it was put on
as an opportunity for local
musicians who were all friends to hang out together and donate whatever small amount of
money we made to
We did it the next year, and the next year it grew, and the next year, and in early years
we’d just pick a different
charity and that’s how it went for a few years. We sort of stumbled into Habitat, and that
somehow rose up as the
It’s been wonderful to watch what this turned into. I have to give the credit to all the
amazing musicians who have
volunteered their services over the years. As you probably know, nobody gets paid at
Christmas Jam. Everyone is
playing for free, and all the proceeds go to Habitat. That’s what makes it work. The
better we get at putting it
together and keeping expenses down, the more money we can generate. We’ve all enjoyed
watching it grow.
JAMBASE: It’s become a destination event, particularly for Mule fans.
Have you ever
been asked to move it
from Asheville, not that I imagine you would?
WH: It’s been brought up from time to time, and we’ve also gotten
requests to do
somewhere else. But Asheville is my home. That’s the inspiration for the Christmas Jam in
the first place. I could see
maybe doing a different event somewhere else, but Christmas Jam is in Asheville.
JAMBASE: How involved are you in the day-to-day planning, including
reaching out to
WH: Well, that is my job: coordinating the bands. I have a lot of help
from all the
people in our office and a
lot of the logistical stuff doesn’t involve me – I’m coming more from the creative side.
Most of the relationships that
lead to somebody appearing at the Christmas Jam come about because I have personal
relationships or someone I’m
close to is friends with someone or we have some kind of working relationship.
With these kinds of events, it’s harder to get people to respond if you just go through
the normal chain of command
and just let one booking agent call another booking agent. It’s still a lot of me calling
friends and saying, hey, no
pressure, but would you like to join us.
JAMBASE: How closely involved are you in the sit-ins and collaboration
at the Jam? Makes
sense you leave plenty of room for spontaneous moments but anyone who’s run an event knows
those things don’t
all happen magically.
WH: We have a rehearsal area downstairs at the [Asheville] Civic Center
always someone in it.
People go in there looking to take advantage of collaborating with someone else, and there
are a lot of people who
go in there who have never collaborated before, and in some cases have never met before.
I have a lot of ideas about pairing people up – people who have worked together and people
who haven’t. But the
spirit of the event is that people get their own ideas, and ask each other to play, and a
lot of that really does happen
organically over the course of the show.
JAMBASE: In the Mule set, especially, or whatever the headlining set
of, there are maximum sit-
in possibilities from all the other musicians at the Jam. How do you decide who’s going to
end up joining you without
becoming a traffic cop?
WH: I try to keep it different every year. That said, almost every year
people who are staples or
core people who come and are welcome to be part of it every year for as long as they like,
just as there are people
who have never been a part of it before.
I look at previous setlists not only to determine what songs we’re going to play but also
what guests we’re going to
have – it’s important that everyone gets well-represented on stage. That said, there’s
sometimes going to be
individuals that get asked to sit-in by a lot of different artists. That’s great as well.
There’s really no method to this.
JAMBASE: What are some of the more unusual things that have happened in
rehearsal room you
mentioned? I remember John Paul Jones was all over the show when he played during the 20th
Christmas Jam, for
example, including with Michael Franti.
WH: That’s a good story. He loves to play. I was honored that John Paul
wanted to come to play.
Franti was there without his band and we had talked about maybe utilizing some of the
talent that would be there, so
Franti had some conversations, approached different people – there are a lot of those
conversations that happen
during the show.
I’d mentioned to him that John Paul Jones might be willing and able to be part of his set,
and he said, that would be
awesome. And all of sudden Mickey Raphael and Robben Ford are in there, and I remember
walking backstage where
they were rehearsing this impromptu thing and that it sounded amazing in the dressing
JAMBASE: Who’s at the top of your wishlist of Christmas Jam participants
haven’t yet hosted?
WH: I’ve been talking to Bonnie Raitt a bunch, very recently actually. I
able to do it and I’m very
honored she’s expressed interest.
JAMBASE: There are a bunch of eye-catchers on the bill at this year’s Jam
wanted to ask you about a
few in particular. Mule played with John Scofield at those famous Georgia shows all the
way back in 1999 but fans
still clamor for that collaboration and how fun you’re doing it again now. Why do you
think that is?
WH: John is my favorite modern jazz guitar player – what I’d refer to as
McLaughlin modern jazz
guitar players. There are so many wonderful players out there, but he’s the cat I enjoy
the most. We’re good friends.
Playing with him is kind of like when people talk about trees growing and pushing
together: he tends to play a little
more rock and I tend to play a little more jazz and we’re all just so interested in being
on stage together and people
That opportunity we had in ’99 was very special and I’m still looking forward to putting
out that live record from the
Atlanta show. Maybe this will be be a way of kickstarting that. Especially with [Gov’t
Mule’s] 20th anniversary next
year, there’s a lot of cool stuff we’re excited to put out.
JAMBASE: Will come back to that in a minute. Warren, by the time our
this you’ll have wrapped
another set of dates with Phil Lesh at Terrapin Crossroads and will be just ahead of
another Q reunion at Christmas
Jam. I’ve asked Jimmy Herring and Rob Barraco in recent months about what made the Q
special but I’d love your
WH: When a chemistry comes together in an uncanny way is something you
predict. You put a bunch
of musicians – good musicians – in a room together, and you just don’t know if they’ll
have amazing chemistry or if
that will develop or it won’t.
With the Q, it happened right from the beginning and a lot of it was the blend of
personalities. Myself and Jimmy
Herring were similar enough to play well together and the more we played together the more
we could read each
other’s thoughts and finish each other’s statements. All of us all really enjoyed each
other’s company and that was a
big part of it.
JAMBASE: Do you expect to play more with Phil in the new year?
WH: I hope so, yeah.
JAMBASE: You’ve done lots of interviews about Shout! and how all
performers came to be involved
so I won’t retread there. But with the 20th anniversary coming up, is it safe to say
you’ll be busy with Mule in the new
WH: Yeah, we have a big year ahead of us. We’re very proud of Shout!
what we’re about and
is a nice culmination of all the genres of music that influence Gov’t Mule. Next year will
be a year when those two
things – our 20th anniversary and Shout! – really kind of come together.
JAMBASE: Can you talk about what you’re planning?
WH: We would encourage as much collaborating as possible with the guest
that are on Shout!. I’d
love to have a few key shows where we get a bunch of them together. The door’s always open
for them to join us
anyway, but I’d like to see that happen.
JAMBASE: Are you planning to put out more archival Mule material? The
Bootleg Box did well.
WH: That was something I was really proud of: a cool snapshot of what the
then, when our
repertoire was small but the band was growing exponentially. Yeah, I suspect we will.
JAMBASE: What kinds of stuff? Will you key in on another Mule era like
you did with
the Georgia box?
WH: Oh, there’s audio and video from the Deep End anniversary shows, the
End shows and the one
from five years later. There’s outtakes from the Deep End studio recordings we want to
look at. There’s a lot of stuff.
JAMBASE: You have a well-deserved reputation for turning up as a sit-in
also doing plenty with
different bands. I remember years ago you telling reporters you never want to look back
and think you’d missed an
opportunity. But you’re also a dad now and I imagine you want to be home with your family
as much as possible. So
how do you balance that?
WH: If I’m not working, I’m doing family. That’s that. If there’s
special that I want to be a
part of then I will, but at the end of a nice little run of shows, I’m doing family.
JAMBASE: Can your boy play slide yet?
WH: No, no, not yet!
JAMBASE: Well it sounds like you’ll have a typically full plate for the
months. Anything else we can
highlight? I know the Boston Pops are inviting you back for a return engagement on the
Jerry Garcia Symphonic
WH: Yes, and I hope that will turn into some more shows doing that. I
just yet, there are only so
many days in the year. But it’s going to be busy. We have the 20th anniversary of Gov’t
Mule and the 45th
anniversary of the Allman Brothers, so you know it will be.