Warren Haynes has carved his name indelibly on the tree of roots rock.
The 58-year-old Grammy-winning singer and celebrated lead guitarist performs upwards of 100 shows a year with his group Gov't Mule and continues to field other projects, including his annual Christmas Jam, which raises funds for Habitat for Humanity. Having gained broad exposure from his work with members of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, Haynes knows his way around a jam or two.
He'll roll into Red Rocks on Friday with the Mule, which he formed in 1994 with the late bassist Allen Woody, to perform a special three-part show featuring a solo acoustic set by Haynes, a set of Gov't Mule favorites, and a Pink Floyd-based segment called Dark Side of the Mule that will include an enhanced light show, female backing vocalists and saxophone.
Westword caught up with Haynes to discuss his music, his life and what to expect at Red Rocks.
Westword: Hi, Warren. Where are you now?
Warren Haynes: I'm in Dayton, Ohio.
So you're out on the road with Gov't Mule?
Yeah. Tonight is actually our fourth show, and then we take a little break before I see you guys in Colorado. But we're out for quite a while.
Are you always aware of where you are when you're touring, or does it sometimes become a blur?
Well, I always know where the next few days are gonna be, but I'm not one of those guys who knows every step of the itinerary.
So do they say, "All right, let's go," and then you just kinda go?
Are you still living in New York City?
I had an apartment in Greenwich Village for a while, but now I live about an hour north of New York City, out in the country. I have a six-year-old son who's just about to turn seven, and when he was born we started living more remote.
You grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, right?
Yeah, all my family is still in Asheville, so that's still home to me.
Do you mostly travel by tour bus these days?
Yes. That's been the case for about 25 years now. We had to graduate to a tour bus just to keep everybody sane.
Didn't you have a van that you used for a while?
When we first started Gov't Mule years ago, we traveled in a van, but that takes its toll. We also had a thing called the Mule Van, which we do for promotion. That's a van that pulls up to the parking lot and offers merchandise and memorabilia, with a little PA that we could plug into if we wanted to play. But I wasn't driving it; someone else was.
Is it pretty much Warren Haynes and Gov't Mule when you go out these days?
Yep. That's what we're focusing on mostly for the moment.
How does it feel to be out doing your own thing, as opposed to when you were a part of a tour with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead or as part of the Allman Brothers?
Well, I enjoy every project that I do, or I wouldn't sign on to do it. I love the opportunity to be able to express myself in different ways. When I go from one project to another, there's fresh energy that comes along with that. I would never want to do just one thing all the time. Having said that, Gov't Mule is the thing that's always been dearest to our hearts in the way that, musically speaking, we can pretty much go anywhere we want to go. Each year we seem to establish new parameters and offer up glimpses of influences that weren't there before. The Mule has been going for 24 years now. With each record we make and with each year we play, you can see the change and the growth in the band. We continue to do what we've always done, but we're always expanding based on all the influences that we have, which are a lot. We love a lot of different types of music.
You've had a pretty stable lineup, so I'm guessing you all know each other pretty well at this point in terms of how you interact.
Yeah, Govt Mule is in a great spot right now musically and personally. It's hard to believe that we crossed the twenty-year-anniversary line, but now that we're on the other side of that, we're kind of looking at things as a whole new chapter. We're revisiting our beginnings, but we're also going in directions that we couldn't have expected, and it feels really good.
Would you say you are all roots-influenced musicians?
Our influences are rock, soul, jazz, folk, psychedelic and some reggae, but we're predominantly a rock band that has these sides to it. When I was growing up, the umbrella of rock music covered a lot of ground. It could be Sly and the Family Stone, it could be Crosby, Stills and Nash, it could be Jimi Hendrix; and though all of those artists were different from each other, they were all considered rock. I guess we're sort of a continuation of that. We take influence from anything that we consider to be timeless. We don't want to borrow from what we would consider to be trendy music. But anything that has a timeless nature — if we like it, it will somehow seep its way into what we do.
Can you tell me a little bit about Dark Side of the Mule?
I'll go back to the beginning of this one. Ten years ago on Halloween, we did a show at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. It was the day after Jorgen Carlsson joined our band on bass guitar. The night before was his first show, in Burlington, Vermont. It just so happened that his second show was on Halloween, and people who follow Gov't Mule know that on Halloween, we always do a special thematic show. So we usually do like one set of Mule and one set of something else, which could be covering a certain artist, or an album or whatever. That year's theme was Pink Floyd. We didn't cover the album Dark Side of the Moon; we just picked some of our favorite Pink Floyd songs and played them. We recorded it and filmed it, and it turned out good, and we decided to release it. We called it Dark Side of the Mule. So fast-forward ten years: This is the tenth anniversary year of that, and our fans have been asking for ten years now if we could do a tour of it. We never wanted to do a whole tour, but we decided we could do a handful of shows, I think there are seven or eight total, but the last one of these is going to be at Red Rocks. It's going to be a very special show, because the other Dark Side shows on the tour include three bands: The Avett Brothers, The Magpie Salute and Gov't Mule. Red Rocks is the only time we're going to do it with three sets of just myself and Gov't Mule.
You play a variety of Pink Floyd songs, right?
Yeah. Dark Side of the Moon is a pretty short album. We're gonna do two hours of Floyd, and it will be stuff from a few Pink Floyd albums, including Meddle and some from Dark Side, but it's Dark Side of the Mule, which is a mix of their stuff.
What do you listen to when you want to get outside of your own head?
When I feel like I'm saturated and I need to clear my mind, I wind up going to old classic stuff that I love. That can be jazz, blues, rock, folk or soul music. I have an equal amount of love for Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, B.B. King and Bob Marley. Those are on the top of my shelf. They're artists who I think have had a big impact on the world. My tastes run far more than that, but those are just a few examples.
The recent passing of Aretha was certainly a big blow.
I was such a huge Aretha Franklin fan growing up. People who have followed my career know that I started out as a singer. I started singing before I started playing guitar, and my first influences were soul music. My first hero was James Brown. Otis Redding, Ray Charles and Aretha were among my favorites. They are the absolute greatest singers from a vocalist's standpoint. Growing up, we collectively had about ten or fifteen albums. Those albums included the Four Tops' greatest hits, the best of the Temptations, the best of Aretha Franklin and the best of Stevie Wonder. We were kids who could only afford a handful of records, and we listened to those records hundreds and hundreds of times. I was first drawn toward singers before I caught the guitar bug.
Did the title of your 2017 release, Revolution Come...Revolution Go, have anything to do with the current state of the Union?
Well, we actually started recording on election day, but we didn't choose the title for a few months down the road. The title comes from one of the songs on the record. But the album does include a handful of songs that were kind of observations about what's going on politically in America. I wouldn't consider it a political record, but a few of the tunes take a narrator's observational approach to things. There's a song called "Stone Cold Rage" that's about how divided our nation is, but there are a lot of songs about reflection and relationships and life in general. It was our first record after celebrating our twentieth anniversary, so we just kind of wanted to step back and figure out what kind of record we really wanted to make.
What are your feelings about the U.S. these days?
Uh, I'm hopeful. We have a song called "Pressure Under Fire" that talks about people coming together, almost in like a ’60s mantra. I genuinely believe that it's up to the people to make things better. If we depend on politicians to make it better, it's probably not gonna happen.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.