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Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Soulful Acoustic Work of Warren Haynes

Warren Haynes—the eclectic electric-guitar ace behind Gov’t Mule and longtime Allman Brothers Band member and touring guitarist for the Dead—is no stranger to Guitar World readers.

His virtuosic, polished blues-rock playing owes just as much to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Johnny Winter (Haynes’ earliest influences) as it does their influences—the three Kings (B.B., Freddie and Albert) and Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Elmore James.

Haynes’ slide playing is also top notch. However, what GW readers are likely unaware of is the amount of acoustic-based “singer-songwriter”-type songs Haynes has penned over the years. With the July 24, 2015, release of Ashes & Dust—a record showcasing Haynes’ songwriting influences, like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Jackson Browne—that secret is out. This lesson looks at some of Ashes & Dust’s many acoustic highlights, which Haynes picked on his Rockbridge, Washburn, Epiphone and Guild axes.

Haynes had actually composed Celtic-style, Appalachian folk-flavored, “Americana” tunes his whole life, but none have fit into the stylistic framework of his various electric-guitar projects. A few years ago, Haynes envisioned a “singer-songwriter”-oriented album with legends Levon Helm (drums), Leon Russell (piano) and T-Bone Wolk (bass), but Wolk’s and Helm’s passing unfortunately put an end to those plans.

When New Jersey–based modern bluegrass band Railroad Earth opened for the Allman Brothers Band, Haynes finally found the right sonic setting for his largely unheard music: a mix of Railroad Earth’s upright bass, drums, fiddle, mandolin and banjo, as well as numerous other instruments (including additional acoustic guitar) played by RE’s Andy Goessling (more on him later). Holed up in NJ’s Barber Shop Studios for two weeks, Haynes and Co. cut all their Ashes & Dust tracks live, with the exception of a few slide overdubs and other instrumental touches.

“Glory Road” is one of many Ashes & Dust gems—ripe with fingerpicked slides and open-position hammer-ons and pull-offs, akin to FIGURE 1—that intermingles acoustic guitars with the aforementioned bluegrass instruments, all providing an organic foundation for Haynes’ emotive voice. (Note: On the album, Haynes’ playing is generally panned center and/or slightly to the right, while Goessling is panned to the left.) Meanwhile, the improvisation heavy “Blue Maiden’s Tale” is Celtic (Irish/Scottish)-inspired and features 6/8 and 4/4 meter changes, not unlike FIGURE 2. For the 6/8 bars, quickly fingerpick each chord’s root then upper notes in alternation; for the 4/4 bars, use down/up finger strums for Am and D.

Haynes penned “Company Man” in honor of his father; its lyrics detail a man who, in face of his employer’s plant closing, rather than relocate his entire family to another state where that company still thrived, opted to remain where his roots lie and “start over.” The song’s verses, similar to FIGURE 3, are structured from bar 1’s fingerpicked arpeggio.

FIGURE 4 features some tasteful melodic embellishments/decorations to open E, D and A chords, à la the those Goessling contributes to the track “Hallelujah Boulevard” and others.

Acoustic Nation December 2015, FIGURE 1

Acoustic Nation December 2015, FIGURE 2

Acoustic Nation December 2015, FIGURE 3

Acoustic Nation December 2015, FIGURE 4