February 2017
more... GuitaristsBluesClassic RockWarren Haynes

Warren Haynes: Working-Class Hero

Warren Haynes: Working-Class Hero

Your guitar tone on this album is much cleaner than your usual tone with Gov’t Mule.

Yeah. The music itself dictated a change in my approach. I went for a much cleaner, more old-school blues and R&B sound. Most of the sounds on the record are what I consider to be “pre-rock” with lower gain. For the most part, I am playing vintage hollowbody guitars like Gibson ES-335s and 345s. On a couple of tracks, I played my Les Paul and on a couple I played my D’Angelico New Yorker. The intent was to go for a completely different thing. The vibe was to take the soul music of the late ’60s and combine that with early-’70s blues—right when they were making that transition more towards soul music. We didn’t go in wanting to copy anything directly. We just wanted to take a cue from two worlds we felt would best represent the songs we’d chosen.

What was it about the sound of the hollowbody guitars?

It just seemed like the right sound for the music. 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. Of course Albert played a V, but his sound was distinctive. We just wanted to find something that matched the music more than anything else.

Did you use a multi-amp setup?

Yeah, it was usually a combination of two or three amps we recorded separately during the session and then blended during the mixing. I used a Trainwreck amp I borrowed from a friend because my gear was all in New York. Because we were recording in Texas, it wasn’t possible for me to bring all of my vintage gear. So I just brought a few things and then borrowed the rest. Most of the amp sounds were the Trainwreck, an old Fender Vibrolux, or a ’60s Fender Super Reverb.

Armed with his vintage Gibson ES-335 and PRS amps, Haynes discusses a tune with
saxophonist Ron Hollaway at Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studios in Austin, Texas.
Photo by Stewart O'Shields

You and Gordie Johnson have worked together before. When you’re in the studio, what is the dynamic between you two like?

When we start to record, Gordie is in the control room and I’m on the floor with the band. Once we graduate beyond that, we work very well together and I take a very hands-on approach. Gordie and I have a very good working relationship. We trust each other’s instincts, and if one of us feels really strongly about something, the other one usually backs off.

Does that happen very often?

Most of the time we agree, but if we don’t, the one who feels the most passionate takes the ball and runs with it. But I trust his instinct so much, which is why he is there. I not only trust him sonically, but also from an arrangement perspective. From a creative standpoint, he is one of the best I have ever worked with. The end result is always great because neither one of us are going to settle for less than something that satisfies both of us.

Did recording at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studios add to the vibe of the sessions?

We recorded the last two Mule records at Pedernales, so I’m very comfortable there. Gordie works a lot out of there— it tends to be his home base. There is a big “comfort factor” there. Gordie knows how to get what he is looking for in that room, and it’s just a great place to record. In order to do this kind of record, we really needed a studio with a great vintage mic and amp selection. It worked out great.

Many of the songs have stretched-out sections. Did you plan this going in?

We went into it knowing there needed to be a lot of guitar playing in addition to the songs and my voice, which tend to be the focus of the record. The jams— especially in the song outros—went down just like you hear them on the record. We had the option of shortening them or fading sooner, but we felt that would be the wrong choice. Most people who buy this record would probably prefer the longer version.

How did you decide on a good performance in the studio?

When I’m looking for a good performance, the most important factor is to get the chemistry of the band together. The call and response, and the interplay between the musicians is more important to me than how well I am playing at any given moment, and that carries over into the solos.

Did you cut your solos live?

All the guitar solos were recorded live on the basic track with the band—I don’t go back and overdub them later. I find that’s pretty futile in improvisational music. For me, capturing the spirit of the whole band hitting on all cylinders is the most important thing, and the best way to capture that is to have the whole band in the room looking at each other while we’re playing. That’s what I am accustomed to. It’s how we make Gov’t Mule records and how we did the last Allman Brothers record. Sometimes I think, “Well, maybe for the next record I will overdub more,” but it never turns out that way. I always find I’m happier with the solos I play on the live track.
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