Warren Haynes Discusses His Grateful Dead Tribute Show and Gov't Mule's Star-Studded New Album, 'Shout!'
Red Rocks is a musical mecca, a natural amphitheater in the foothills of the Rockies renowned for its great sound and serene setting. On this summer night, afternoon storms have given way to sunshine. A rainbow spreads across the plains behind the stage, helping to make the place feel even more magical.
On the stage, flanked by massive slabs of red rocks, the Colorado Symphony is taking its place, the black-clad musicians ambling out to their seats with instruments in hand. It’s an unusual setting for an orchestra—and an unusual crowd for one.
The steep rows of seats are filled with longhaired fans wearing Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers T-shirts. They’re buzzing with anticipation, and maybe a little something else, too.
The conductor strides outs with a wave and takes his place in front of the musicians, with his back to the audience. Behind him, a trio of more casually dressed musicians shuffle out and take their places: drummer Jeff Sipe, bassist Lincoln Schleifer and, at the lead, guitarist Warren Haynes, who is grasping Jerry Garcia’s iconic custom-made Wolf guitar. Built for Garcia by luthier Doug Irwin in 1972 and 1973, Wolf was one of the Grateful Dead leader’s main guitars. It sold for $789,000 at auction in 2002, and its appearance here tonight is indeed special.
With a smile and a wave, Haynes is ready for business. The orchestra launches into the show’s overture, a sweeping, majestic take on the Grateful Dead’s psychedelic masterpiece “Dark Star.” It must have been precisely what Jerry Garcia’s family had in mind when they commissioned Haynes to pick material and work with arrangers to craft this unique tribute to the late guitarist.
A couple of hours later, after playing 19 Garcia songs both iconic and underground, Haynes stands in front of his dressing room in the cave-like basement backstage, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with orchestra members. Around the corner, small plaques mark every concert ever held at the venue, going back to 1947.
Haynes has been playing here since 1989, appearing with the Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule, the Dead and Phil Lesh and Friends. A decade ago, he even received a trophy from the Red Rocks promoter after he appeared at the venue eight times with three bands in one summer. However, this is the first time Haynes has ever fronted an orchestra, and who’s to say what may come next for the prolific guitarist. After all, Haynes has always been open to musical exploration.
As a case in point, look no further than Shout!, Gov’t Mule’s new, 10th studio album and their first for Blue Note Records. It’s the band’s first new recording in four years, coming on the heels of a yearlong hiatus, the first of the band’s almost 20-year career.
Featuring Haynes, drummer Matt Abts, bassist Jorgen Carlsson and keyboardist/guitarist Danny Louis, Shout! is a diverse album. Its songs range from the punchy, new wave–inspired “Funny Little Tragedy” to the album-closing guitar jam of “Bring on the Music.” This stylistic breadth is reflected in the range of guest singers who appear on the accompanying bonus disc, where they deliver their own takes on the album’s songs. Among them are Dave Matthews, Steve Winwood, Jim James, Elvis Costello, Ben Harper, Grace Potter, Myles Kennedy, Glenn Hughes and Dr. John.
Clearly, Haynes’ career is anything but predictable. As he settles into his dressing room at Red Rocks after the concert, Guitar World takes the opportunity to talk to him about these new projects and what’s ahead for him and the long-running Gov’t Mule.
GUITAR WORLD: How did this symphonic exploration of the Grateful Dead’s music come about?
Jerry’s people called to say they had an idea about putting on some performances with symphonies playing Jerry’s music. They asked me to be involved as the first guest artist. I picked the material and sent my arrangement ideas to three arrangers, who took it from there. I actually called Phil [Lesh, Grateful Dead founder and bassist] when it was time to pick arrangers and got his take on the concept and some help picking the arrangers. That’s his world. He knows more about classical music than anyone I know, and far, far more than I do.