Warren Haynes still believes in the blues
Warren Haynes pauses after each Daily Planet question. He chooses his words carefully during an interview earlier this week, much like the many blues-laden licks he’s created over his nearly 40 years in professional music. His answers are thoughtful. His words, like his guitar solos, make one think that anything is possible.
“The blues have always been a way, both listening to it and performing it, to begin the healing process. I think that’s where it came from,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘I can’t listen to the blues. It’s too depressing.’ It’s actually the opposite. It’s uplifting. It makes you rise above your troubles.”
His words linger in the ether for a moment, then he continues, “I think that’s what music does, in general, but blues music specifically has that kind of power.”
Haynes, the former Allman Brothers Band guitarist and frontman of spacey Southern jam outfit Gov’t Mule since 1994, has been helping many a music fan start the healing process throughout his career.
Telluride Blues & Brews Festival creator Steve Gumble knows this.
“When you hear a Warren Haynes guitar lick, you know it’s Warren Haynes,” he said.
Gov’t Mule is the festival’s headliner Sunday night in Telluride Town Park, closing out the Main Stage slate. The band will start playing at 7 p.m. Festival passes and single-day tickets have long been sold out, but listeners are sure to hear the Mule’s wails echo off the box canyon walls from Placerville to Bridal Veil.
Gumble said Mule and Colorado “go hand in hand,” as the band has been friends of his and the festival for the past 20 years.
Haynes’ first trip to Telluride came in 1991, when he played with the Allman Brothers Band. His story of how the dark skies parted, as if the sun wanted a front row seat for the set, is indicative of the almost-tangible aura Telluride has, especially when it comes to live music.
“It had been raining for three days and we came on,” Haynes said. “In the middle of ‘Blue Sky,’ the sky opened up and the sun came through. People went crazy. It was beautiful.”
Haynes, who has played with The Dead and Phil Lesh and Friends, couldn’t exactly describe why the Centennial State and his band have such a connection, but he believes it has something to do with the music.
“What we share is that love of music that is not force-fed to people, but is organic and you have to discover on your own,” he said.
Mule “embraces a jazz philosophy,” as Hayes put it in an Aug. 15 interview with the Charleston (South Carolina) City Paper. The quartet can meld Pink Floyd into hypnotic covers, improvise crowd favorites like Uncle Jerry or bang out an original from their canon that includes nine studio albums. Mule’s latest release, “Revolution Come…Revolution Go” (2017), is further evidence of this range. “Traveling Tune” sounds like a pat on the back from an old friend, a straightforward blues ballad about road weariness and returning to the comforts of home. “Thorns of Life” and “Revolution Come, Revolution Go” both eclipse the 8-minute mark, jams for the Deadhead crowd.
When asked what type of setlist the Telluride crowd can expect, Haynes said it’ll include a little bit of everything — tunes both diehards (Muleheads?) and casual listeners can enjoy.
“Festival sets tend to be a little more upbeat and a little less of a roller coaster ride, but we’ll play a little bit from each part of our career,” he said. “I haven’t really put the setlist together yet, but it will be something catering to the Telluride audience.”
Haynes likes to go with the flow. After all, Mule started as a side project for him and late cofounder, bassist Allen Woody, when they realized they both had some time on their hands outside of being full-time members of the Allman Brothers Band.
“We started out with no aspirations of doing a second or third record,” he said. “We were just taking it one step at a time. We were just having fun.”
Now, “on the other side of 20 years” the band feels like it could “go places we’ve never gone, musically speaking,” Haynes said.
“We’ve just been lucky, I guess, that all the decisions we’ve made during our musical career were based on what felt right to us. It wasn’t about second-guessing the marketplace,” he added.
Haynes shuns any questions about his musical place among the greatest guitarists this side of 1900. He’s still a music fan at heart, explaining that he recently listened to Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention’s “Roxy & Elsewhere” and the fresh-faced blues bangers The Marcus King Band, who, he said, has “an extremely bright future.”
Just before the interview ends, Haynes offers up one more wisp of wisdom, “Keeping that flame going, that’s what it’s all about.” And then he hung up.