Warren Haynes: Know You Got Soul

By: Dennis Cook

Warren Haynes by Dino Perrucci
Warren Haynes hasn’t made a solo studio album since 1993’s Tales of Ordinary Madness, and he’s never made an album like Man In Motion (arriving May 10 on Concord Records), where he explores his lifelong love affair with classic soul music while giving it a personal, modern spin. It’s a song cycle unlike anything he’s done with Gov’t Mule or The Allman Brothers Band, yet it reverberates with the kind of powerhouse singing and playing fans have come to expect from Haynes, a new chapter from one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest producers.

On Man In Motion, Haynes is joined by a crack band of ultra-pros - Ivan Neville (keys), George Porter Jr. (bass), Ruthie Foster (vocals) and the Faces/Rolling Stones keyboard veteran Ian McLagan, amongst others. Helming the album with Haynes is Big Sugar’s Gordie Johnson, and the overall feel is vintage Muscles Shoals and Detroit soul thrust into the now – muscular, flowing and funky as hell. Haynes burly pipes wrap around this material with real aplomb, and his coconspirators lean in just as hard.

It’s an album he’s wanted to make for a long time, and he’s now beginning to take the project on the road with a fresh crew of live players and a palpable sense of excitement. We snagged a few minutes with the ever-busy Mr. Haynes to discuss soul and how one finds it in 2011.

JamBase: You’ve said that soul music was your first musical love, so it’s pretty cool that you’re finally getting to dig into that sound and style with Man In Motion.

new solo album
Warren Haynes: It is, and I’m sure I could have done this album at any time along the way throughout my career but right now seems to be the right time, for myself and hopefully for audiences. Now, maybe it won’t be such a shock because people understand this is part of what I do.

JamBase: You’ve always had that groove aspect to your playing and composing but this puts that soulful side out there more expressly. One thing that jumped out at me about this record is a real Bobby Womack vibe, a real bred-in-the-bone kind of soul I don’t think we’ve heard from you before.

Warren Haynes: That’s what I love, and that’s what hit me as a kid – Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and the real, raw, visceral soul music.

How do you tackle that sound now? There’s a general impression that time in soul music has passed. How do you tap into that wellspring but have it be pertinent today?

That’s why I wanted it to be original material and not be some tribute to soul music past. For me, it was more important to create some new music that had elements of early soul music, blues, rock and elements of my personality coming through unabashed with lyrical content that hopefully fits the music but doesn’t limit itself to tradition.

The title track is an expression that fits with that vibe. The phrase ‘man in motion’ conjures images of someone strutting down the street even before you hear a note.

In that way, it was important that the lyrics matched the music and the overall vibe, but it also takes on a more modern, anecdotal spirit.

You brought in some pretty heavy hitters for your studio band. You probably could have played with almost anyone given your reputation and connections, so how’d you end up picking this lineup?

Ian McLagan
I just put together my wish list of the musicians I thought would best interpret this music as I envisioned it coming across. Most everyone were people I had personal relationships with and had worked with, at least to some extent, on other projects. So, George Porter, Ivan Neville, Ruthie Foster and Mr. Ron Holloway were the immediate wish list. We found a week in January that we could go in and knock it out.

A few days before the recording, I got a call from Gordie Johnson, my co-producer and engineer, and he’d been working with Ian McLagan on a project recently. Ian lives in Austin, Texas, where we’d be recording, and Gordie asked about bringing him into the fold to have two keyboard players playing simultaneously. So, I called Ivan to see his reaction to it, and he knew Ian through Keith Richards and was cool with it and thought it would be fun. So, we invited Ian, who I’d never met prior to him walking into the studio, to join us. To have two keyboard players working at the same time with two distinctly different personalities was really wonderful. Gordie and I likened it to The Band with Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. And since we were all recording live in the studio with all of us set up at the same time, it created a fuller, richer sound, and I was able to concentrate on singing and guitar solos and not so much on playing as much rhythm guitar. It just worked out to be really cool.

You knocked this album out in about a week, which goes back to how these iconic soul albums were made in the 1960s – quick and on-the-floor.

Bobby Womack
That’s how we wanted to do it. Originally, I didn’t even send anybody demos. I just thought we’d wait until we got into the studio and learn the music from the ground up. A few days before the sessions, a couple guys called and asked if there were a few things they could hear with just guitar and vocal, but for the most part, they were hearing the music for the first time in the studio. We were set up in a way that we could rehearse in the studio and when we felt like we were close to ready, we’d roll tape and capture all the earliest performances. That’s the way those old records were made.

You mentioned Bobby Womack earlier, and I recorded with him and it was the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever seen! You’re learning a song and as you’re learning it you’re recording, and that’s the take – let’s go on to something else. This was sort of like that, but I think for this music it’s important to get the early takes. Plus, when you’re dealing with these kinds of musicians it’s important to catch that early interplay in interpreting the songs. Very seldom did we do a lot of takes of anything.

It’s very conversational music. You can really hear the players picking up on the accent somebody else made and then taking it a few yards down the road.

Warren Haynes by Stewart O’Shields
And that’s what gives it legitimacy because if it were the same songs but not approached that way it would be tired and there’d be no real reason for it. The music we were taking our cues from was very conversational and very improvisational and no one was coming up with a part and sticking to it – everybody was basing what they were playing on what everyone else was playing. That’s what beautiful music is all about. I’m not saying you can’t make great music one instrument at a time, like some people do, but for the kind of music I prefer to make and for the legitimacy of this music, you can only capture it together.

Were these songs written fairly recently or had you been squirreling away tunes for years for this project?

Three of the songs were older songs that had been around for a while. “On A Real Lonely Night,” “Your Wildest Dreams” and “Save Me” were written 10 years or more ago. The rest of the songs were written in the past three years. Once I started writing songs that worked together, I began to dust off songs I’d long wanted to record while continuing to write in a way that hopefully connected the dots on what I had and didn’t have. So, suddenly I’ve got a collection of songs that want to be together under one umbrella. It was great to write new songs but also to get to some songs I’d been dying to record, songs that never seemed like Allman Brothers or Gov’t Mule songs but at the same time, I was very passionate about them as songs, and in some cases, I thought they might be recorded by someone else.

Warren Haynes Band by Allison Murphy & Dino Perrucci
What made you choose Gordie Johnson as your creative foil for this project?

Gordie is someone I have the ultimate amount of respect for as a musician, a person, a musical historian and someone who not only knows how to capture different sounds but why to capture different sounds. He and I agree philosophically on how records should sound, the importance of trying to make a recording sound timeless rather than having some date stamp on it. He’s studied so many genres of music to an amazing extent, so his knowledge is overwhelming, not to mention his gift for arrangements. When we’re putting songs together, he’s the only person I’ve worked that I’ll let take my songs and rearrange them to the extent that he does sometimes because he’s so good at it. He’ll come up with ideas I’d have never thought of. My first instinct is always, “No!” but then I listen to it and think, “That’s really good!” We trust each other, and we’re a good team in the studio. We usually agree on almost everything, but in the event we don’t agree, whichever one of us is most passionate about our argument usually wins.

The challenge now is taking this into the world and performing it live. You’d be hard pressed to put together a more talented, perfect group of people than you have.

Nigel Hall (keys, vocals), Ron Johnson (bass), Ruthie Foster (vocals), Ron Hollway (horns) and Terrence Higgins (drums) are the touring band and I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be a pleasure to watch this band grow on the road. It’s all great folks. It’s important to me that it be a combination of a lot of strong personalities because that’s going to raise the bar for this music and let me relax and do what I need to do.




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[Published on: 4/22/11]

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