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December 2014
more... GuitaristsBluesClassic RockWarren Haynes

Warren Haynes: Working-Class Hero

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Warren Haynes: Working-Class Hero

Warren Haynes with his Cherry Red 1959 Gibson ES-345. "I always think back to B.B. King, Freddie King,
and Albert King. That was the sound I was looking for, and they played a lot of hollowbodies."
Photo by Stewart O'Shields

More Warren
- Warren breaks down Man in Motion track by track
- Producer Gordie Johnson on capturing Warren's Tone
- Bassist George Porter, Jr. on holding down the low end.
Warren Haynes is probably the leading candidate to take over the late, great James Brown’s title of "The Hardest Working Man in Show-Business." Haynes’ ability to morph into any musical situation is a rare trait and one that has brought him to the forefront of modern guitar heroes. Combining a Southern rock attitude with a classic rock ethos, Haynes’ main creative outlet has been Gov’t Mule. Shortly after he formed the group in 1994, they released their self-titled debut album. The muscular sound of Haynes, drummer Matt Abts, and bassist Allen Woody forged one of the strongest power trios in recent memory. After Woody’s death in 2000, Haynes and Abts expanded the group to include keyboardist Danny Louis and current bassist Jorgen Carlsson.

In 1993, Haynes released his first solo album, Tales of Ordinary Madness, to critical acclaim. Produced by legendary session keyboardist Chuck Leavell, this album foreshadowed the sound and material that Haynes would later develop further with Gov’t Mule. Since then, he has released two live solo albums, (2003’s The Lone EP and 2004’s Live at Bonnaroo), and released 16 live and studio albums with the Mule. It is easy to see why his latest album, Man in Motion, was a long time in the making.

With Man in Motion, Haynes returns to his roots with a collection of R&B tunes that combines elements of Motown, Stax, and Muscle Shoals into a modern tribute to his heroes. “This album was a real labor of love and a dream that Warren has had for a long time,” says Gordie Johnson, who co-produced the album with Haynes. Even though this is a new release for Haynes, he recorded the album at the same time as the most recent Gov’t Mule album, By a Thread.

For this project, Haynes wanted to expand the sound beyond the trios and quartets he usually plays with. Joining him on the album is a New Orleans-based rhythm section that includes drummer Raymond Weber, bassist George Porter, Jr., and keyboardist Ivan Neville. Rounding out the band is saxophonist Ron Holloway—a longtime Haynes collaborator— and vocalist Ruthie Foster, who is also a fine guitar player. And while Haynes was tracking the record in Austin, he invited former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan to join the musical party.

We recently caught up with Haynes between rehearsals for the Allman Brothers’ annual residency at New York’s Beacon Theater to discuss hollowbody guitars, the three kings of the blues, and how he still continues to kick out the jams.

You’re quite a prolific songwriter. Did you write the songs on Man in Motion specifically for this project, or have you been collecting them over the years?


Haynes digs into a Gibson non-reverse Firebird with three P-90s during a gig in Negril, Jamaica, on January 27, 2011. Photo by Dino Perrucci
It was a combination of both. The majority were probably written with the project in mind or at least within a short window of time in the last two or three years. There are a couple of songs that go back further, like “Real Lonely Night” and “Your Wildest Dream,” that I’ve just needed an outlet for. Most of the other stuff is pretty new.

What was your songwriting process?

I’ve been a lyrics-first type of guy, but in the last few years I have been trying to do the opposite just to shake things up and not fall into a pattern. I often tend to write when I am lyrically inspired and then somewhere during the process of putting the lyric together I get some sort of cadence or melody in my head, which will eventually lead to the music. But that’s not always the case. Some of the songs on this record were written with the music first. I guess I don’t have a set way to write.

How did you choose the band for the album?

They were all exactly who I would prefer to interpret the songs for this kind of project and this type of music. George Porter, Jr., Ivan Neville, Raymond Weber, Ron Holloway, and even Ruthie Foster had all worked with me on previous projects. The only person I had not worked with before was [Faces keyboardist] Ian McLagan who was kind of brought in at the last minute. Gordie Johnson, the co-producer and engineer on this project, had been working with Ian on some other stuff. Ian lives in Austin, where we were recording, so Gordie thought it would be nice to have a dual-keyboard setup, similar to The Band with Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, where there are two keyboardists playing all the time. Ivan knew Ian from when they worked together on a Keith Richards project. I met Ian in the studio for the first time and things just fell in place very quickly and organically.

Did any songs develop in something different once you were in the studio?

“A Friend to You” originally was all one time signature. Right before I showed the songs to the band, Gordie and I were messing with the arrangement and I came up with the idea to make the intro and the bridge in 6/8 instead of 4/4. The final version, which was what we showed the band, had those time-signature changes.
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