One for the road

When founding guitarist Dickey Betts ushered fellow guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody into the Allman Brothers Band in 1989, it seemed like a marriage made in heaven. The band benefited from an infusion of youth and creative energy it had sorely lacked since the mid-’70s; meanwhile, Haynes and Woody gained a time-tested vehicle from which to peddle their rugged chops.

The tours that followed proved that the Brothers were still a force to be reckoned with, not just another classic-rock outfit pumping out nostalgia for the senior circuit. But in 1997, Haynes surprised the group’s loyal fans by making his boldest career move yet. He left the band.

Disillusioned by the creative stagnation of the Allman Brothers Band Haynes and Allen Woody abandoned the Allmans in favor of their burgeoning side-project, Gov’t Mule. Meanwhile, the Allmans remained on tour with replacements, dutifully rehashing the band’s greatest hits for dwindling crowds without so much as a hint of new material.

But tragedy has a way of trifling with the best-laid plans.

When Woody died in August 2000, Haynes found himself at another career crossroads. Without his longtime collaborator and friend, the future of Gov’t Mule was uncertain, leaving the guitarist to do the only thing he could do: organize an all-star tribute to his fallen partner, featuring the Black Crowes, Phil Lesh and — of course — the Allman Brothers Band.

Haynes joined his former bandmates on the Roseland Ballroom stage in New York for the first time in three years, teaming up with Gregg Allman and Derek Trucks for a blistering set of classics and traditional blues. That performance planted seeds for another collaboration, a string of shows at the Big Apple’s Beacon Theatre in March 2001. Both sides agreed to make the reunion official, as Haynes stepped in to fill the void created by the absence of Betts, who had been unceremoniously dismissed by the band in May 2000.

These days, Haynes is back to his old tricks, juggling commitments to the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule and former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. With back-to-back-to-back tours scheduled, a new ABB album in the works and two independent projects in the bag, Haynes is doing his damnedest to succeed James Brown as the hardest working man in show business.

After leaving the Allman Brothers in 1997, Haynes was candid about his desire to devote more time and energy to Gov’t Mule. Then came this reunion.

Metro Times: How has the Allman Brothers Band changed since you and Woody left?

Warren Haynes: The vibe now is so much better. When we left the band, there was no rehearsing, no writing, no sound-checking, no plans for recording. The band was just going through the motions, playing material that we already knew. Gov’t Mule, on the other hand, was writing and recording and rehearsing, constantly pushing creatively. That’s where the Allman Brothers are now.

Metro Times: One of the most obvious differences between the current incarnation of the band and the one in ’97 is the absence of Dickey Betts. Has his departure sparked the creative rejuvenation of the band?

Haynes: Not necessarily. Dickey’s gone now, but the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band have had issues from day one. When I joined the band in ’89, I thought that the longest I’d be in the band would be three years, because that’s the longest there’s ever been an Allman Brothers Band. They play three years, then they break up. Years later, we were still together as the longest incarnation of any Allman Brothers Band, ever. But it wasn’t without problems — there were definitely troubled periods.

Metro Times: Can you foresee a time when you might once again tire of playing Allman Brothers staples? At some point, you’ll have to slow down, right?

Haynes: I have no complaints. In most ways, things are better than ever. But it’s sad that some of those things came as the result of something as tragic as losing your best friend.

The Allman Brothers Band will perform with Phil Lesh and Friends Sunday, June 30, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston; call 248-645-6666.

E-mail Rossiter Drake at [email protected]
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