“Three years ago I got a call from the Jerry Garcia estate saying they had this idea of putting his music together with a symphony, with a series of different guest artists,” Warren Haynes says. “They wanted to know if I would be the first guest artist.”
This idea was, of course, preposterous. Set aside for a moment that it’s mixing the oil and water of music theory: highly structured classical musicians and improvisational-heavy rockers. Consider the audiences: When the smell of dope is in the air, what will be the reaction from the gray-haired classical crowd… well, OK, the Grateful Dead audience itself is growing a little silver.
Hayes said yes, yes, this all sounds good. So on Aug. 4 he brings a rock quintet to Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center to join an orchestra made up of classical musicians from western New York, mostly the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the Eastman School of Music. The Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration.
Haynes is no longer simply the guest artist; he led the tours in 2013 and ’14 and, for this one, will be playing Tiger, the guitar Garcia played at the final Grateful Dead show, July 9, 1995, at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
As if Haynes isn’t busy enough. He has his own highly regarded power trio, Gov’t Mule. He’s also the guy who saved The Allman Brothers Band, joining the Southern rockers to pull them out of their doldrums. And when Dickey Betts was booted out of the band, Haynes was joined on guitar by Derek Trucks, launching the group’s finest incarnation since the days of Duane Allman, until the band’s retirement in 2014.
“I think we all miss it,” Haynes says. “We all loved the chemistry that we had together. If the time were to come to play together again, we would all be very excited about it. But I think we made the right decision.”
Haynes also played with The Dead, one of the bands that former members of the Grateful Dead toured as following Garcia’s death in 1995.
“Never met him,” Haynes says. “I had two older brothers, one of which had some Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia records. I heard some of that music in the background and occasionally asked about it.”
At the time, Haynes was much more about power trios like Cream. “Then in 1978, ’79, when I was 19, I did see a Grateful Dead concert,” he says. “I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember they played ‘Terrapin Station’ and was very moved by it.
“And somewhere around ’89 it just dawned on me, there are so many great songs in that Grateful Dead catalog. I still maintain that as unique as the Dead approach to improvisation was, it’s really the songs that are more important in the grand scheme of things.
“I’m not someone who thinks all pop music and all rock music would sound good married to an orchestra. Luckily that catalog is extensive enough that there’s a lot to choose from.”
One of those choices is unique. Not for what it was, but for what it wasn’t. The Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration’s version of “Dark Star” is not the song as originally written, but a four-minute section of Grateful Dead improvisation on the song, transcribed for classical musicians.
“As someone who was bitten by the improv bug a long time ago, I understand how the Grateful Dead made improv the lifeblood of their music, and they never turned back,” Haynes says. “I’ve been a jazz fan since I was 14, and that’s always been a big part of how I listen to music. Take all music and mix them together, the different approaches and open-mindedness of each genre, and borrow from the best of each field.
“It’s all connected in its own way, without thinking about it. That’s how Gov’t Mule got started, as an improvisational trio 20 years ago. The original power trios like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the way we all learned to play, takes a cue from jazz bands and blues bands and improv rock bands. In an odd sort of way, Miles Davis and John Coltrane influence the music we make, the same as The Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead.
“I saw it on the inside from working with the guys in The Grateful Dead, and on the inside from working 25 years with The Allman Brothers. You see the differences and the similarities in how they approached their improvisations. It was quite different, but really effective. Dickey Betts told me he thought the big difference was the Grateful Dead waited for it to happen, the Allman Brothers forced it to happen.”
Which works better? Haynes, the man who healed The Allman Brothers Band, is a diplomat.
“I think they’re both great.”
“They learned how to play music together in a psychedelic environment,” Haynes adds; he’s talking about the Grateful Dead, but history tells us he could be talking about The Allman Brothers Band as well. “They started when they were very young, learned as a group how to improvise and forge their own way in a way that is still valid all these decades later.”
A psychedelic environment? We’ve heard the stories. But would the music be the same if it hadn’t been for drugs?
“I would never say that,” Haynes says, once again the diplomat, although if it’s possible to hear someone smile over the phone, this would be the moment. The social context is important, whether you’re talking Coltrane or The Grateful Dead.
“It was a time and place,” Haynes says, “where a lot of great music was discovered under the influence.”
Bring On The Music Out Now!
New live release features over 5 hours of music. Available on CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, Vinyl and Digitally.