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One for the Road
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Haynes Predicts Brighter Future for Allman Brothers

When founding lead guitarist Dickey Betts ushered fellow guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody into the Allman Brothers Band in 1989, it seemed like a marriage made in heaven. The band benefited from an infusion of the kind of youth and creative energy it had sorely lacked since the mid-'70s; meanwhile, Haynes and Woody gained a time-tested vehicle from which to showcase their rugged chops.

The collaboration produced two studio albums (1990's Seven Turns, 1994's Where It All Begins), a pair of live records (1992's An Evening With the Allman Brothers Band and 1995's 2nd Set), and a never-ending series of tours that served as proof that the Brothers were still a force to be reckoned with, not just another classic rock outfit peddling nostalgia to the senior circuit.

Then, in 1997, Haynes surprised the group's loyal fans by making his boldest career move yet.

He left the band.

Disillusioned by the creative stagnation and internal strife that had transformed one of the most formidable live acts of the past three decades into yet another stale, uninspired jam band, Haynes and ABB bassist Allen Woody abandoned the Allmans to devote more time to their burgeoning side-project, Gov't Mule.

The duo, along with drummer Matt Abts (formerly of the Dickey Betts Band), would release two studio albums (Dose, Life Before Insanity) and one postcard from the road (Live... With a Little Help from Our Friends) in the next three years; the Allmans, meanwhile, remained on tour, dutifully rehashing their greatest hits for dwindling crowds without so much as a hint of new material.

But tragedy has a way of trifling with the best-laid plans.

When Woody died in August 2000, Haynes found himself at another career crossroads. Without his longtime collaborator and friend, the future of Gov't Mule was thrown into uncertainty, leaving the acclaimed guitarist to do the only thing he could do: organize an all-star tribute to his fallen brother, featuring the Black Crowes, Phil Lesh and of course the Allman Brothers.

It was then that Haynes joined his former bandmates on the Roseland Ballroom stage in New York for the first time in three years, teaming up with lead singer/organist Gregg Allman, guitarist Derek Trucks, bassist Oteil Burbridge and percussionists Butch Trucks, Jaimoe and Marc Quinones for a blistering set of classics and traditional blues numbers. That performance planted the seeds for another collaboration, this time for a string of shows at the Big Apple's Beacon Theatre in March 2001. Pretty soon, both sides agreed to make the reunion official, as Haynes stepped in to fill the void created by the absence of Betts, who had been unceremoniously dismissed by the band in May 2000.

These days, Haynes is back to his old tricks, juggling commitments to the Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule and former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, whose new album, There and Back Again, features the 42-year-old Haynes on slide guitar. With back-to-back-to-back tours scheduled, a new ABB album in the works and two independent projects in the bag, Haynes is doing his damndest to succeed James Brown as The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.

RD: When you left the Allman Brothers in 1997, you were candid about your desire to devote more time and energy to Gov't Mule. What made this reunion possible?
WH: When Woody passed away in August of 2000, Gov't Mule cancelled everything that we had booked, and the Allman Brothers called me and said, No pressure, but if you'd like to come back and give it a try, we'd love to have you. They were being very supportive, so I went back in March of last year and did the Beacon Theatre run that the Allman Brothers do every year in New York just on a trial basis to see how it was going. To me it sounded great. Everyone was communicating, getting along great, and I was very pleasantly surprised that both of those things happened. I think everybody else in the band was very pleasantly surprised by how quickly the music came together.

At that point signed on full-time to be in the Allman Brothers again based on the fact that I had time on my hands. I never would have gone back had Woody never passed away because we were going full tilt on Gov't Mule. That was one of the reasons we left the Allman Brothers in the first place. But sometimes unforeseen circumstances prevail.

RD: Would it be fair, then, to say that something positive came out of a tragedy?
WH: Sometimes life works in mysterious ways. It's like the old saying, a door closes and a window opens. Things have a way of getting better after recent tragedy, and that's what happened here. In some ways, Gov't Mule is doing better than ever, and it's really sad that Allen Woody, one of the founding members, didn't live to see that come to fruition. But we did see it on the horizon, we did talk about it and acknowledge it. Before Allen died, we saw the numbers getting bigger and bigger and the audiences getting younger and younger. It's a shame that he never got to experience it, but in some ways, Gov't Mule has reached whole new heights.

RD: How do you handle full-time commitments to both bands?
WH: Gov't Mule is still a priority. The Allman Brothers only do around 50 shows a year, so there's still plenty of room for me to do other things. That was part of the reason that I was able to come back into the Allman Brothers, because we could work it out where both bands could co-exist, and I could still do some stuff with Phil Lesh, which is fun as well.

RD: How has the Allman Brothers Band changed since you and Woody left?
WH: The vibe now is so much better than it was in '97 when Woody and I left the band. When we left the band, there was no rehearsing, no writing, no sound-checking, no plans for recording. The band was just going through the motions, playing live the same material that we already knew. Gov't Mule, on the other hand, was writing and recording and rehearsing, constantly pushing ourselves creatively. That's where the Allman Brothers are now. The Allman Brothers are back in a mode where everybody's excited about breaking new ground. We just recorded a brand new record. It's the first record since Where It All Begins, which was released in '94. So it's a really good feeling for everybody to be back into the music, and in some ways the vibe is better than ever.

RD: One of the most obvious differences between the current incarnation of the band and the outfit you left in '97 is the absence of Dickey Betts. Did his departure spark the creative rejuvenation of the band?
WH: Not necessarily. Dickey's gone now, but the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band have had issues from day one. When I joined the band in '89, I thought that the longest I'd be in the band would be three years, because that's the longest there's ever been an Allman Brothers Band. They play three years, then they break up. Years later, we were still together, which was amazing because that was the longest incarnation of any Allman Brothers Band, ever. But it wasn't without problems -- there were definitely troubled periods. It feels good now, though, because everybody's in it for the music and for all the right reasons. Everybody's attitude is great, and the music benefits from that.

RD: Around the time that Betts was dismissed from the band, at least one founding member, Butch Trucks, intimated that the split was not permanent. Does the prospect of reconciliation loom on the horizon?
WH: That's not my question to answer, but it doesn't appear that way.

RD: Back in 1995, a year after the release of Where It All Begins, the band began to preview a handful of new songs during their annual string of shows at the Beacon Theatre. Will any of those songs, produced during the Dickey Betts era, make it onto the new album?
WH: I don't think so. It's predominantly all different material. The new record is probably going to come out in January or February of next year. Gregg and I got together and wrote a lot of new songs, and there's a lot of new material coming in and out of the Allman Brothers camp these days. It feels good that the creative process is flowing strongly.

RD: The Allman Brothers recently split with Epic Records to form their own label, the ABB Record Company. Did that allow you an added element of artistic freedom for the new album? Or was the split provoked by the band's creative stagnation during the late '90s?
WH: There are a lot of reasons for the Allman Brothers to have their own label. There's so much live music from the past that can be released on that label, and the band funded the new studio record, so we were able to do it exactly how we wanted to do it. Not that we had that issue with Epic, because Epic let us do what we wanted to do anyway, but this record is pretty much entirely paid for by the Allman Brothers, and its a pretty good feeling.

RD: What are your plans once the summer tour ends?
WH: When this tour ends, I start the Phil Lesh tour and another Gov't Mule tour. This year and last year have been crazy in the sense that I'm constantly touring with three bands and recording with three bands.

RD: Do you ever sleep?
WH: Every chance I get. (laughs)

RD: So, all told, how many items are you crowding onto one plate?
WH: There's three right now, and that's my limit. I don't plan on being this busy for the rest of my life, but this is a very creative time period. From a musical standpoint, I definitely enjoy taking advantage of that. It does mean that I have less of a personal life and less time at home, so a time will come when I want to slow down a little bit. For the time being, I'm taking advantage of these wonderful opportunities that are given to me. I sometimes compare being a musician to being an athlete, in the sense that you have a limited time span in which to accomplish things.

Obviously, we dont have it nearly as bad as pro athletes because a lot of great musicians tour, like John Lee Hooker, until they're quite elderly. John Lee Hooker, he toured until he was 82. I hope to be doing it when I'm 82. But I don't want to be doing it 300 days a year.

RD: Can you foresee a time when you might once again tire of playing Allman Brothers staples like "Statesboro Blues" and "Jessica" on the live circuit? At some point, you'll have to slow down, right?
WH: I have no complaints right now. In most ways, things are better than ever. But it's very sad that some of those things came as the result of something as tragic as losing your best friend. -- Rossiter Drake

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