Warren Haynes on the Allman Brothers reunion, Dickey Betts’ signature sound, and Where It All Begins



By Steve Newton

Word on the street is that the Allman Brothers Band is playing some of the finest, most intense gigs of its illustrious career. And according to people who have seen the group recently, it’s not just the best-known members—Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman—who are making things happen. From all reports, the sterling guitar work of one Warren Haynes is really inspiring the band to new heights of southern-rock splendour.

“I think the young blood has something to do with it,” says Haynes, who—over the wires from New York—is quick to share credit with new Allman percussionist Marc Quinones and bassist–background vocalist Allen Woody. “With Marc and Allen, the three of us add somethin’ to the band that is significant without takin’ anything away from the established sound, which is the sound we all fell in love with.”

Haynes was an 11-year-old nonmusician when his legendary forerunner, Duane Allman, died in a motorcycle crash on October 29, 1971, but shortly thereafter the North Carolina native began studying guitar with a passion. At the age of 20 he joined David Allan Coe’s band, and through that connection he met Dickey Betts, whose solo band he played in for three years.

“The whole time that we played together in his band there was never any indication that the Allman Brothers would get back together,” says Haynes. “If the topic was ever brought up, nobody was really excited about it. But then things kinda started comin’ around. Stevie Ray Vaughan was gaining some momentum, as was Robert Cray, and things started headin’ back towards the blues a little bit. I think as that started happening, Dickie and Gregg and Butch and Jaimoe all got together and thought, ‘Hey, maybe it’s time we buried the hatchet.’ ”

Haynes—who joined the reunited Allmans in ’89 to perform on the band’s 20th-anniversary tour—was the ideal choice to take over Duane Allman’s old spot opposite Betts, especially considering his superb talents on slide guitar. Nowadays he plays almost all the slide in the band—and there’s a lot of it on the band’s latest release, Where It All Begins. (There should also be a lot of it when the Allman Brothers play the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Sunday, October 30.)

“Dickie’s a really good acoustic-slide player,” says Haynes, “and occasionally when we’re doin’ some acoustic stuff he’ll pull out the slide and we’ll swap roles. But I play all the electric slide in the band, and it’s cool, because one of the things that was missin’ in some of the other incarnations of the band was the combination of Dickie’s guitar and slide guitar at the same time. If Dickie was playin’ the slide, then his signature sound was missing.”

As well as handling lead, rhythm, and slide guitar with the Allmans, Haynes also contributes lead and background vocals. His talents as a songwriter are evident on one of Where It All Begins’ most uplifting tracks, the 6 1/2-minute “Soulshine”:

When you can’t find the light to guide you through a cloudy day/When the stars ain’t shinin’ bright, you feel like you’ve lost your way/When the candlelight of home burns so very far away/You gotta let your soul shine, just like my daddy used to say.”

“My dad was a big influence and inspiration to me,” says Haynes, “not that he’s a musician, because he’s not, but he has this natural singing talent that he was never given a chance to pursue. He could see early on that I was obsessed with music, really, and he encouraged me to follow my heart and my dream.”

Not only has Haynes managed to live the dream of being in the Allman Brothers, but last year he also branched out with a fine solo release, Tales of Ordinary Madness. Produced by onetime Allman Brother and current Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, that CD showcases Haynes’s vigorous vocals as well as his exceptional guitar chops and songwriting skills. It’s dedicated to Albert King, who died while Haynes was recording it.

“I felt compelled to do that,” says Haynes, “because he was a huge influence on me, and I think in a lot of ways possibly the biggest influence on rock guitar ever.”

King’s biting blues style is also deeply embedded in the improvisational southern-rock tradition, one that Haynes feels is still alive and well in ’94.

“Having gone through the ’80s, I think people are realizing that a lot of music during that time was headed away from what we refer to as real music. Machines are great for making demos and for writing songs—and technology is a wonderful outlet—but at the same time some of the best music ever made was made on a $40 guitar with a human voice. So the music starts inside, and you translate it to the audience. It doesn’t always take 64 tracks of digital technology to do that.

“And that’s kind of the premise behind Where It All Begins,” he adds. “That record was done like an old record, where everything was recorded live on the fly. We joke around about it, but if it was up to us we’d never make another studio record—we’d just make live records and that’d be it, because there’s something about playing to an audience that brings things out of you that you can’t bring out of yourself otherwise.”


To hear the complete 1994 interview with Warren, become a patron of the Newt on Patreon.

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