© 2020, MJ Ostrander
I first saw Warren after he was recruited by Dickey Betts to play with the reunited Allman Brothers. The venue was an amphitheater dubbed Nautica in downtown Cleveland, one of those smaller places where once stellar acts come to play. I remember how young he looked compared to his aging bandmates, but he looked like he belonged amongst those legends. There was something outstanding, something immaculate in the way the twenty-nine-year-old played his Les Paul that gave the band’s set of decades old songs and relatively limited catalogue a much-needed shot in the arm. Who was that guy?
Haynes was still with them a year or so later when I saw the Allman’s again at the same amphitheater. Unlike the first time, the weather did not smile upon us. I remember standing in a steady heavy drizzle nearly the entire evening. I recall going to the semi-trailer latrine where a woman had assumed the role of a USMC drill sergeant, ordering we ladies in no uncertain terms to go, go, go and move it, move it, move it down the narrow aisle outside the stalls. We weren’t allowed to pause to squeeze the wet out of our clothes and if someone protested her technique, it was a lot like a scene from Full Metal Jacket. I don’t know if she was paid or volunteered, but I wished she’d been present at other concerts where the lines crawled. I might even have given her a meek thank you as I fled rather than left the trailer. Most of all I recall how fine that red-haired guitarist played. Again I wondered, who was that guy?
I’m nothing if not the queen of out of sight, out of mind. So it shouldn’t surprise you that it wasn’t until circa 2003, whilst surfing YouTube that I came across Dave Matthews and special guest Warren Haynes in Central Park doing Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer. Really? Of all the potential choices, Matthews had dared a version of this most sacred Young hymns! And who is this Warren person? It was a hard time in my life, and I needed a laugh. I hit play. In due course, after the opening video of New York, they showed the band. Oh my God! There was the guy! The guy! The Allman Brothers guy! He was older and heavier, but my mind and ears went racing back over a decade and sure ‘nuff he was the one! Sorry Neil, so very sorry, but this version was nothing to chuckle at. It was fabulous the first time I listened and remains my favorite cover performed with help from the delayed introduction to my new guitar god.
For those of you who’ve never heard of Haynes, (a miniscule number, I’m sure), he was born in 1960 in Asheville, North Carolina and began playing guitar at age twelve. Before he stepped onto a stage with the Allman’s, he did a four-year gig with David Allan Coe at the age of twenty. Haynes consistently toured with the ABB for fourteen years before leaving with bassist Allen Woody in tow to form Gov’t Mule. The Mule has recorded twenty-two albums in the studio and in live performance. Haynes has also recorded and performed solo work. Following Jerry Garcia’s death, Warren has played off and on with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead.
Although categorized as an electric bluesman, his repertoire contains acoustic folk, superb slide and everything from Sabbath to Prince. The list is far too long, but besides Gov’t Mule, I like his work with Derek Trucks and Joe Bonamassa best. Truly a working musician, you never know where and with who he’ll show up.
In 1988, Haynes organized and performed at the first of what is now his well-known and uber-popular Christmas Jam, an annual concert put on in his native Asheville with many special guests. Proceeds from the show are given to Habitat for Humanity. After twenty years, the 2019 Jam was cancelled. Reasons are sketchy, but Haynes has assured his fans and the City of Asheville that the show will return like Sana Claus in 2020.
Haynes personal life is his own, but he lost bassist and good friend Allen Woody in 2000 and his long-time equipment manager Brian Farmer in 2014. They both passed away suddenly and in one of those creepy numerical things, though fourteen years apart, they both died in August, one day apart. Woody was 45 and Farmer was 54.
Warren is married to Sirius DJ Stefani Scamardo who is also manager for Gov’t Mule. They reside in Mount Kisco, NY. Aside from his sheer talent, I admire Haynes for his love of Gibson guitars and his soft-spoken humility. I have attempted to see Warren on three separate occasions, the first in Ohio and two at Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado. Each time something more important has intervened with my schedule. I hope this is the year I get to see That Guy for the first time in twenty years. But I’m not making any bets.