Warren Haynes: Working-Class Hero
Warren Haynes takes us inside "Man in Motion", his first solo album in 15 years. Plus, co-producer Gordie Johnson and bassist George Porter Jr. discuss working with one of rock’s busiest guitar slingers.
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Gordie Johnson Talks About Capturing Haynes' Tone
How did the physical studio space contribute
to the sound of the album?
There’s a lot of room at Pedernales. We had
several different size rooms for isolation. I
put the Leslie for Ivan Neville’s Hammond
B-3 out in the lobby, which has Mexican
tiles on the floor, a wooden ceiling, and
Willie Nelson’s platinum records on the wall.
It’s really reflective in there, and it made
Ivan’s Leslie sound like an organ in church.
What mic’ing techniques do you use to
capture Warren’s tone?
We have a technique that we use from
time to time, which is really mic-intensive.
Say we have a 4x12 cab, a 4x10 cab, and a
mini-amp with a single 10" speaker. I will
mic all three of those rigs with about twelve
microphones. I tell you what though, I
have also recorded him on a number of
occasions through a 15-watt amp, and I
just put a mic in front of it. I have used
dynamic mics, condenser mics, old fancy
Neumanns, newer Shure mics, whatever.
So it mostly depends on the situation and
feel you are going for on a particular song?
I just mic it in whatever way might excite
him in the moment and create a nice vibe.
Sometimes the vibe is, “Hey man, let’s just
put one mic on this sketchy little amp I
found in the closet.” If he
thinks its cool, then we
are going to get a good
performance out of it. If
the prospect of putting
12 mics on the rig excites Warren, then
that’s what we will do. Ultimately, though,
Warren sounds like Warren Haynes.
For this album, was it more of the 12-mic
setup or a paired-down version?
We had a Fender Super Reverb, a Fender
Pro Junior, and a custom Trainwreck.
All of the amps were mic’d, but I didn’t
always use all of them when mixing. I
just wanted to be covered in terms of the
tonal colors I might need. If Warren was
listening primarily to a Super Reverb, then
that’s one I would use during the mixing.
How did you keep the Pro Junior from
getting lost among the other larger amps?
That little Fender Pro Junior is really
handy. It was actually the biggest sounding
amp because it’s so direct. You have
to mic it in an isolated way that makes
the guitar sound really big with a tight
bottom end. It’s not a Princeton or some
special old amp. You can buy one for a
couple hundred bucks at Guitar Center.
We have used it on Mule records, and it
is just this little supplement that goes into
the sound and is very effective.
With all the tones at your disposal, how
did you handle the mixing?
I prefer to print the tones I want to hear on
mix day. I’ll hear the guys warming up and
rehearsing the song a little bit and go, “I’m
not going to want to gate the toms, let me
run out there and put a piece of tape on
it.” Or I might move a mic a foot away
from something because that’s how I’ll
want to hear it in the mix. Instead of just
putting reverb on it later, I’ll move that mic
away. I am pretty hands-on that way.
What was the most challenging part of
Getting George Porter, Jr. to change a note
in a bass line. I felt bad even asking because
it’s George Porter and I am just some dude
in a cowboy hat sitting in the control room.
He was playing a bass line that was like “In
the Midnight Hour,” and I said, “Can we
change it a little bit?” He just looked at me
like I had a horn growing out of my head. I
hated to even ask him. I wasn’t going to suggest
what to play, but I just wanted it to be
something different. About 10 minutes later
it would just fall right back into that. It was
getting uncomfortable. I was like, “Look,
George, can you please play something different.
I don’t really know what to tell you.”
George was like this statue, this bronze
statue just staring at me. I was thinking,
“What am I going to do? Warren doesn’t
want to record ‘In the Midnight Hour.’”
George holds out his hand and looks at it
and nods his head. I had to reach in my
pocket and pull out a $5 bill. I had to pay
him five bucks to change a note! Anytime I
had a suggestion for the bass, I had to hold