Warren Haynes is hardly an unknown quantity. The last two decades he’s gotten around enough to take over for Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” guy. Playing with the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule and the post-Jerry Garcia Dead, Haynes has established him- self as one of the finest improvisational rock guitarists alive today. But his palette extends beyond jambased blues-rock, as he demonstrates with his new solo album, Man in Motion.
The soul-drenched effort is only Haynes’ second solo album, arriving 18 years after his 1993 debut, Tales of Ordinary Madness. It came a year before Gov’t Mule started and the reformed Allman Brothers released their first disc, 1994’s Where It All Begins, launching Haynes on a nearly non-stop touring regimen. That’s one reason for the long break between solo discs. Now that Gov’t Mule is taking a well-deserved break, there was finally some time in Haynes’ schedule.
“Gov’t Mule has made a lot of studio records since then, a lot of touring, and same thing with the Allman Brothers,” says Haynes at soundcheck for a show in New York City, which he has called home the last 20 years. “Solo records are more something I feel like doing every now and then. I’m much more content to be in a band. Having written a bunch of songs that seemed to work well together but aren’t Gov’t Mule songs and didn’t seem like Allman Brothers songs, it seemed like now was the right time.”
Fans of his other bands will find plenty to enjoy with Man In Motion. The seven-minute “Sick of My Shadow” works a thick, slinky groove with help from keyboardists Ivan Neville and Ian McLagan. “Hattiesburg Hustle” embarks on a swampy blues amble, and “On a Real Lonely Night” emanates a supple blues funk long on both bluesy ache and funky swing. But there are surprises as well, from the jazzy vibe of the title track and the gospel-tinged ballad “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday.” Indeed, the entire effort has a gospel/ soul flavor that sounds like it was brewed in Muscle Shoals, though Haynes explains the style’s actually a more wide-ranging touchstone that goes back to his youth.
“All the great soul music, whether it came from Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Motown, whatever the case may be, I was influenced by all of it. Gospel music precedes that music. All that music was born out of black gospel music, and the first sound that ever made the hair on my arms stand up, when I was only 5 or 6 years old, was black gospel on the radio on Sunday in North Carolina, where I grew up,” he says.
The album came together relatively quickly, and was finished in six days. Haynes says he was looking for a fresh, live-in-the-studio feel that has the same loose, unpremeditated feel of his bands’ performances. He made a dream-team list and was able to get everyone he wanted — the Meters’ bassist George Porter, Jr., New Orleans session drummer Ray Weber, sax player Ron Holloway and Neville.
McLagan joined a week before recording began, at Austin producer Gordie Johnson’s suggestion, helping them mine for a twin keyboardist sound like that of The Band’s Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson, according to Haynes. He credits much of the album’s old fashioned, back-in-time feel to Johnson’s production.
“The most important thing was to make a record that didn’t sound like it had a date stamped on it. This record — in large part thanks to Gordie Johnson — sounds like it could’ve been recorded anytime over the last 40 years, and I love that,” Haynes says.
The turning point in his career took place when he was only 19, when country star David Allan Coe tabbed him to be his band’s lead guitarist. Coe was at a high water mark in his career, and Haynes played on three albums. Not only was it a “baptism by fire,” as he describes it, but it afforded him an opportunity to meet a lot of other musicians, including Gregg Allman and Dickie Betts, who several years later would ask him to help restart the Allman Brothers. Along the way he’s learned a thing or two about playing guitar.
“The longer you play, especially in the live setting, [the more you learn] how to listen to all the other musicians on stage or in the studio when you’re improvising, and how to become part of this tapestry,” he says. “It’s very important to leave plenty of space for the rest of the music and to allow all the other instruments to complete your sentences. And that’s something you get better with the more you do it.”
The ever-evolving nature of the songs and stage performances helps keep it vibrant and rewarding, something he thanks the fans for.
“If musicians have a complaint it would be that they get trapped doing the same sort of thing too much,” he says. “Thankfully we have an amazing audience that encourages us and inspires us to take it wherever we want to go from a musical standpoint, and that’s something that not a lot of people can say.”