Nothing slows down guitarist Warren Haynes, and we mean that quite literally. In the next two weeks, he’ll perform eight shows with the Warren Haynes Band, play the main stage as lead guitarist for both Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers at Florida’s Wanee Music Festival, and host a workshop with fellow guitar legend Jorma Kaukonen (of Hot Tuna) before hopping on a plane to California for four nights with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s latest version of Phil lLesh & Friends.
“Boring is not an issue,” says Haynes, on the phone from New York before flying to Kentucky for a gig last week. “Obviously I get asked all the time, ‘Is it a lot of effort and coordination, switching from one band to the other?’ It’s easier than people might think. To me, it comes really naturally.”
It’s par for the course for the Asheville, N.C.-raised musician, lauded by Rolling Stone as one of the 25 best guitarists in history. He arrives in Charleston on the last night of his tour behind Man in Motion, his 2011 solo release that features friends like bassist George Porter Jr. (of the Funky Meters), keyboardist Ivan Neville (of the Neville Bros.), and blues artist Ruthie Foster harmonizing on vocals.
“I put my wish list together, and everyone was available,” Haynes says. “Ruthie and I had sung together, and Ivan and I had sung together, but never the three of us. I just had this notion that our three voices would work.”
Haynes’ touring bandmates — drummer Terence Higgins of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and renowned keyboardist Nigel Hall — aren’t exactly second stringers either. The band played Charleston once before, holding down the main stage before Zac Brown at the Southern Ground Music Festival last October. Their live shows incorporate far more covers than a Gov’t Mule set list, but they’ve also built their own stable of originals, including the album’s title track and the rollicking “Hattiesburg Hustle.”
Fans of the Warren Haynes Band may have to wait awhile before hearing them live again. After this week, the group’s only other gig on the books is an August double-billing with the Allman Brothers in Pennsylvania. After an extensive summer tour with Gov’t Mule, including two weeks in Europe, Haynes plans to reconvene with Mule in the studio and put his solo project on the backburner. Shortly after Haynes and his wife Stefani Scamardo, program director for SiriusXM’s Jam On station, adopted a son last fall, the bandleader took a rare break from the road.
“The first thing I did was take two months off and spend time getting to know my son,” Haynes says. “Eventually, I’d take on one show here and one show there, building back toward having a sort of normal schedule.” Smack in the middle of that time off, Haynes planned and executed his annual Christmas Jam in Asheville, now one of the marquee music events in the Southeast.
Still, Haynes’ current tour marks the longest he’ll have been away from his new son — 10 days and counting.
“It’s a whole other world,” Haynes says of fatherhood. He and Scamardo tried to conceive for years before deciding to adopt. It’s yet another bond in the pair’s intimately intertwined careers and family life: Scamardo manages Gov’t Mule and served as executive producer on Man in Motion.
“It puts me in an odd position of being married to my manager, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives,” Haynes laughs.
Serving as a modern-day stand-in for both Jerry Garcia and Duane Allman is not without its pressures, and it goes without saying that Haynes’ knowledge rivals any musical scholar.
“It goes back to the time period way before the golden era of rock ‘n’ roll, which I consider to be 1967 to 1973,” Haynes says. “I’m a little jaded because I tend to compare everything to the greatest music of all time, so I’m listening to something new and I think, ‘How does this stack up against Otis Redding or Pink Floyd?’ or whatever the case may be.”
Despite the high standards, Haynes says he’s optimistic about the new crop of young bands he’s sharing the stage with at festivals.
“A lot of young musicians are making music for the right reasons again, to please yourself, first and foremost, and to gather an audience along the way,” he explains. “These days, if you’re with a major label, you get one shot, and if it doesn’t happen, then you get dropped. There’s no artist development.”
Haynes credits his open taping policy and the immediate release of concert recordings by his various projects (including the live music download site MuleTracks.com) as encouraging today’s newcomers.
“You create your own audience and control your own world. There’s no big conglomerate to take your music to the masses, other than the media and modern technology,” Haynes says. “Once you do that, the labels come and try to swoop you up, but they’re not offering a lot financially to aspiring musicians.”