Warren Haynes Says Jamming ’Can’t Maintain the Attention of Your Audience,’ Reflects on His Session Work

Guitar legend Warren Haynes, known for his band Gov’t Mule and his work in The Allman Brothers Band, reflected on his career and pointed out why any jam band or a jam musician should study conventional singer-songwriters. Speaking to Dean Delray on his recent “Let There Be Talk” podcast, Haynes explained that if you’re a jam band, the attention span of your audience may not be on your side if jamming is all that you do.

“Any jam band, in order to have some sort of staying power, you have to study the whole singer-songwriter thing and include it in your list of influences,” Haynes explained (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs).

Let There Be Talk episode 726 / Warren Haynes, Gov't Mule, The Allman Brothers

“Otherwise, jamming is great, but it can’t maintain the attention span of your audience if that’s all you do.”

For Warren, both sides of this coin are equally important. And although he’s well-known for his lead guitar work, he finds the singer-songwriter stuff to be of great importance.

“I love sitting in here, and someone play a great song on acoustic guitar as much as I love hearing some 20-minute jam that goes off the cliff,” Haynes explained.

Warren Haynes ­with Joe Bonamassa | Guitar Center's King of the Blues 2011

“I grew up listening to singer-songwriters. Obviously starting with Bob Dylan, but even the more ’70s stuff like James Taylor and Jackson Browne and all that kind of stuff.”

“When I was 14 years old, I went through this phase where I studied all that stuff. And it’s so meaningful to hear somebody perform a song, either stripped down or by themselves, where you get the song in its entirety, but in a whole another way.”

Haynes has also played with Bob Dylan live more than once, and he’s been very vocal about being his fan. Performing with Dylan, as he said in the past, was a challenge of its own.

Warren Haynes - Old Friend - 9/14/2012 - Telluride Sessions

During the interview with Dean Delray, Haynes also reflected on his work as a session player. Before joining The Allman Brothers Band, he did some interesting studio work and even co-wrote music with established names. Asked about how he got into session work in the first place, Haynes replied:

“Well, I grew up in Asheville, which is five hours from Nashville. I knew at that time I didn’t want to go to New York or LA, so Nashville was the only viable choice that was close by. When I was 20 years old, I had taken a gig with David Allan Coe, which was my first gig on that sort of level.”

And that’s what actually helped him land the gig with The Allman Brothers Band. He continued:

“It was through him that I met Dickey Betts and Greg Allman, which would eventually lead me to join The Allman Brothers.”

Allman Brothers on David Letterman 8-29-94

“By joining his band, I was able to play on his records, which were produced by Billy Sherrill, who did all the great George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, and, eventually, Merle Haggard. But Billy Sherrill also did those Ray Charles country records, which were fantastic.”

“So I found myself with this open door. It wasn’t a shoo-in, it wasn’t like I could just start at the top. I had to go through all the ropes like anybody else, but I was young enough to be willing to kind of put up a fight.”

“So I decided to move to Nashville when I was 22 or 23, and tried to do session work there,” Haynes explained. “The more I did it, the better I got at it.”

Warren Haynes & Gov't Mule ft. Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic) - "Stratus" Live LOCKN'15 | Relix

Interestingly enough, Haynes adds that, during this period, he got more work as a backing singer rather than a guitar player:

“I actually got more work as a background singer than I did as a guitar player. I think a lot of the producers thought my guitar playing was a little too much. [Laughs] Maybe not Nashville prime-time at that point.”

However, as time went on, Haynes felt like session work wasn’t his thing. To put it simply, he just felt like making his own music and expressing himself. Warren added:

“But as I worked more and more, I started realizing that I didn’t really like it. It wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to be a chameleon. I wanted to be able to express myself in more of a personal way.”

OLD FRIEND (Live at Beacon Theatre, March 2003)

“And then I had gotten a call around 1986 from Dickey Betts saying that he wanted to put a band together and wanted me to be part of it and wanted us to write some songs together. So it all kind of just exploded from there.”

But then another call from Betts came, which effectively put Haynes in the spot once taken by the legendary Duane Allman:

“I worked with Dickey for two or three years, and then in 1989, they called me and said, ‘We’re putting the Allman Brothers back together, and we want you to join,’ and so at that point, the whole world changed for me.”

Warren Haynes "River's Gonna Rise" - Guitar Center's King of the Blues 2011

Photo: pitpony.photography (Warren Haynes 2016 (12 von 14))


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.