No one could ever accuse guitarist, vocalist, musical arranger and bandleader Warren Haynes of being a slacker. While his work with his signature band Gov’t mule and a steady solo career keep him occupied as his day job(s), his ongoing efforts with the Jerry Garcia Symphony Project and various other guitar duties.
Haynes is currently preparing to helm “The Last Waltz 40 Tour: A Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of The Last Waltz,” which he’s taking on tour for the next two months. Produced under the auspices of Blackbird Presents and the company’s resident producer Keith Wortman, the idea originated with a two-night, sold-out concert event entitled “Last Waltz New Orleans: A Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of The Last Waltz” during last year’s Jazz Fest. Haynes and producer/bassist Don Was served as musical directors of the all-star ensemble which also included Michael McDonald, Jamey Johnson, John Medeski, and Terence Higgins of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Glide recently had a chance to talk to this musical multi-taker during a rare respite just prior to the holidays and Gov’t Mule’s Beacon run..
Did you know these other musicians on The Last Waltz Tour previously?
I had worked with Mike McDonald in the past and knew he would be wonderful for it. I had only recently met Jamie when I heard him at the Skynyrd tribute at the Fox Theater. He sounded amazing and I immediately thought he would fit into that Levon role extremely well. We put one night on sale and it sold out very quickly and then we added another night and did two nights at the theater. The concept was to make it a little more New Orleans based on the fact that we were in New Orleans and we had originally lost Allen Tousaint who had done the horn arrangements for the original Last Waltz. It came together quickly based on the fact that we were familiar with each other’s work.
So how much of the original show do you tackle? Is it just the Band material or is also the material that featured the special guests — Dylan, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris and the like?
The show in New Orleans contained about thirty percent of the special guest/cover type songs. We had Ivan Neville and Cyril Neville and Dave Malone from The Radiators. One night we had Lukas Nelson. Recently, when we did my event in Asheville, the Christmas Jam, we had Bob Weir and Alison Krauss. The concept for the tour will be to have different guests in different cities. So we won’t be doing the same songs everywhere we turn up.
Had you mostly worked with these musicians before?
The only one I hadn’t worked with was Jamey Johnson. I’ve worked a lot with Medeski and a lot in the last few years with Don Was. Terrence Higgins was the drummer in my band after I released the Man in Motion album and toured behind that. I worked with the horn guys off and on through the years. It didn’t take a ton of rehearsal. Everybody showed up prepared, we rehearsed a few days and that was that.
How familiar was everybody with the material?
In varying degrees, everybody was familiar with the songs. But everybody had plenty of time to live with the music. We decided on the song selection well in advance. We couldn’t possibly tackle the whole show because the original show was so long. When everyone showed up the first day of rehearsal everyone showed up prepared and it just clicked.
Have The Band’s two surviving members Robbie Robertson or Garth Hudson seen the show? Have they weighed in on it?
I don’t know if either one of them saw the New Orleans show, but Keith (Wortman) had heard from Robbie, but I’m curious what that discussion was about. I had heard he really enjoyed. I’m not aware of what else they might have spoken about.
What did The Last Waltz and the Band’s music mean to you as an individual? Was that an influence on you early on? Did it make a big impact on you musically?
When I finally saw the movie it was so intense to have all those people in one place that were all connected to The Band’s music. It was such an impressive night. Then through the years, it became more and more important, as did The Band’s music to me. I think that music is more important now to me and to a lot of people more now than it was then.
You’re the epitome of a journeyman musician. You’ve been a part of so many great bands, be it your solo material, the music you make with Gov’t Mule, and of course the ongoing role you’ve played with the Dead and the Allman Brothers Band. You could have done tributes connected with those bands and their classic albums.
This opportunity came up because it was the 40th anniversary of The Last Waltz and it was something we were all excited about doing. The one-off version exceeded our expectations and we decided to keep it going a bit longer. I’m very excited it’s going to happen, and of course I was very close to Levon the last 15 years of his life and I really loved him and loved playing music with him as much as possible. We celebrated his 70th birthday with him at Mountain Jam a few years back and we had a lot of guests join us for that. It just feels right. I just feels natural.
How do you manage your time? You’re part of so many different ensembles? How do you keep it all straight?
Well, it takes a lot of work and a lot of coordination from my office and I have a lot of people helping me tie it all together. But I think it’s very important to me to feel some sense of urgency in what I’m doing and not get trapped into doing the same thing all the time, which I absolutely would not enjoy.
It seems you don’t have to worry about that ever happening. But how do you handle conflicts? What would happen if the Dead were to call and ask you to be available next month? How would you shuffle things around to accommodate them?
Well. hopefully you have more advance warning. (chuckles) There have been instances in the past where I had to move a lot of stuff around to accommodate something I really wanted to do, but if you can make it work, you do. There have also been instances where there were things I really wanted to do that I absolutely could not do based on scheduling.
Still, it must be nice to be given those choices.
Well it’s certainly better to be too busy than not busy enough.
The Last Waltz 40 Tour Dates
January 21 – Hollywood, FL @ Hard Rock Casino
January 23 – Clearwater, FL @ Ruth Eckerd Hall
January 24 – Atlanta, GA @ Woodruff Arts Center
January 25 – Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
January 27 – Red Bank, NJ @ Count Basie Theatre (Jamey Johnson not scheduled to appear)
January 28 – Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre (Jamey Johnson not scheduled to appear)
January 29 – Philadelphia, PA @ Verizon Hall/Kimmel Center
January 31 – Toronto Canada @ Sony Centre
February 2 – Albany, NY @ Palace Theatre
February 3 – Westbury, NY @ Theatre at Westbury
February 4 – Washington DC @ The Theater at MGM National Harbor