2003 was a seminal year for The Allman Brothers Band: a breakout for the final and longest-running lineup of the group, which had come together two years earlier, and, with a new studio album (Hittin The Note) and at long last a batch of sturdy new material to toy with, was feeling loose, exciting and up for a good time. This was a band that loved playing together and could blow rooms or sheds absolutely to pieces at any moment, stoked by the guitar tandem of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks.
That definitely comes through on Peach Picks: Cream Of The Crop 2003, a four-disc collection of music recorded at six shows between July 25 and August 10, 2003. No songs are repeated over the four discs, and you get a little of everything from this era: a healthy sampling of Hittin’ The Note material, a grab-bag of inspired guests like Karl Denson and Susan Tedeschi, and some aggressive renderings of classic Allmans warhorses like “Mountain Jam” and “Whipping Post,” the latter of which is the unique and much-beloved version from North Carolina featuring Branford Marsalis.
Warren Haynes was supervising producer for the release, which comes out June 15 on the band’s own Peach Records. I had Warren take a walk down memory lane back to 2003, as well as look ahead to a very busy summer with Gov’t Mule.
JAMBASE: What do you recall about 2003 and The Allman Brothers Band specifically? What comes to mind?
WARREN HAYNES: It was a very seminal time for that version of the band. It was really important to everyone that we make a record, and we hoped it would be a great record. Everyone was excited going into making Hittin’ The Note. Coming out of making it, on the other end, we were looking forward to exploring those songs onstage and the possibilities that arise when we’re injecting a lot of new material into the sets. We’d then balance that with the classic material, and in some cases, reinvent the classic stuff and take it to places it had never gone before. That was fun — that was a very energized time period.
The new material was changing all the time, and that’s what happens when you release new music into a band like that. Certain songs get a different treatment as time goes on. So, with that in mind, my role in this situation was to pick songs from the performances that sonically sounded the best and showed what we could do then.
JAMBASE: When looking at that batch of new tunes from Hittin’ The Note, “Desdemona” is one so often cited by Allman Brothers Band fans as the standout. There were a number of good songs but that one felt instantly classic and you guys dove right in, opening that up as a major improvisational vehicle.
WH: Yeah, when Gregg [Allman] and I wrote “Desdemona,” I think it was the first song we wrote down at his house when we began those co-writing sessions. We kind of got the feeling immediately that we had set the bar really high. We were really proud of that tune, and also knew it would open itself up to be explored live. Beyond that, though, it was a vehicle for Gregg as a singer because it’s beautiful for his voice. That was one song that was changing on a nightly basis. Every version we did in the studio, and definitely, every version we did live, was different.
JAMBASE: As you noted — and this comes through really well on Cream Of The Crop — the band was starting to open up older Allman Brothers songs in different and exciting ways. “Black Hearted Woman” was one of my favorites. It was a cool song to hear from the earliest era of the band, but when you guys opened it up with that monster, galloping jam segment — starting about this year I think — it became a highlight every time it turned up in a set.
WH: We were looking for any opportunity to open songs up, and to allow exploration and improvisation in a way that was different than what we had been doing before. There’s an inherent charm that comes with opening up staples like “Liz Reed” or “Whipping Post,” but we wanted to go beyond that, too, and open up songs that the band hadn’t really been exploring for decades. We had a lot of conversations back then: What do we do with this, what do we do with that?
So “Black Hearted Woman,” yeah, it’s so fun to play, but it was always so short — it was over before you knew it. A lot of songs in the repertoire got looked at that way: how can we take these and make them longer? And some worked and some didn’t, but it’s a good example of the overall excitement and interest in doing this that the band had at that time.
One of the other things I’ll point out, too, is that there are a lot of covers over the course of these four discs. Many of them are not covers you’d normally associate with a typical Allman Brothers Band show, and some of them we played only a handful of times more while some of them were just starting to be played then and stayed in the repertoire. I think that reflected back to a time when the Allman Brothers were just beginning and interpreting a lot of outside material. A lot of people associate the doing of that with the Grateful Dead — they played a lot of outside songs — but some of the biggest Allman Brother songs from a live performance perspective, including “Statesboro Blues” and “Stormy Monday” and “You Don’t Love Me” and “Done Somebody Wrong,” those were blues songs that they had put their own stamp on. So, we looked at taking some other songs that we could put that version of the band’s stamp on — songs we had never tried.
JAMBASE: Was there any resistance within the band to doing that, with the covers?
WH: No, not for the most part. You know, at that time, we would try any suggestion. If you had a suggestion, it would get run up the flagpole, and if it worked, we would stay with it. There were certain songs that only got played a handful of times, but it goes back to the idea of shaking things up. We were all about doing that and about bringing new songs into the fold and figuring out creative ways of varying the setlist. This band was really excited about having new material and not having to depend on just the classic catalog.
JAMBASE: One more Hittin’ The Note tune I wanted to mention was “Instrumental Illness,” which is not on Cream Of The Crop, but for a few years there — especially 2003 and 2004 — was a setlist anchor for you guys.
WH: I love that tune. It was really fun to play. We did spend a few years playing it with The Allman Brothers and it was smoking. Then we kind of got away from it for a while and when we did it again, it never quite came back full force. But it was a wonderful vehicle — that breakneck tempo and then the shift from that tempo into more of the funk tempo, which was a nice change of pace.
JAMBASE: How come it never came back, really? You later played it with your Ashes & Dust Band and worked it into a few Gov’t Mule sets, but with The Allmans it seemed for a while it was destined to become one of those showpieces.
WH: You know, it’s funny. Sometimes that happens. It happened with “Kind Of Bird,” which is kind of the reason Gov’t Mule started to play that so much —The Allman Brothers had stopped playing it altogether. But songs like that, and both of those songs especially, take a lot of rehearsal. You can’t just say, “Hey, let’s play that tonight,” after not playing it for a while, it’s just not that simple. But “Instrumental Illness” just never did quite solidify again when it came back. There were other new songs, too — instrumentals that were kind of occupying that space.
JAMBASE: One more callout from Cream Of The Crop is your decision to include that awesome version of “Whipping Post” that featured Branford Marsalis in North Carolina. It’s a very unique version, although I’m sure you’re aware there’s a complement of Allmans fans who just don’t hear “Whipping Post” with a sax.
WH: Yeah, but there are hundreds of versions out there of “Whipping Post.” Go grab one and listen to it. [laughs] I think this one is so unique that people deserve to hear it. And Branford, he’s a first-rate musician who has put himself in the middle of so many different kinds of music. It’s always a blast any time we get to share the stage.
JAMBASE: You’ve been injecting more Allman Brothers songs into Gov’t Mule sets — “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” was the latest. Do you think you’ll continue to add those tunes?
WH: We’ll see. I think it’s appropriate at this time to do our part to keep that music going, not that it needs our help because it’s going to live on whether Mule plays it or not. But I do feel such a close connection to those songs, and I think our audience does too. Since that band is no longer touring, it’s nice to interpret those songs, and I’ll be open-minded about which ones we might do.
JAMBASE: You have a packed summer with Gov’t Mule. What can we expect?
WH: Well, we’re stoked there’s so much different stuff happening. There’ll be shows with just us, there’ll be shows with friends, there’ll be a handful of Dark Side Of The Mule shows, which will start out as kind of a regular Mule show and then become a Dark Side show.
It’s funny, when we did that Dark Side Of The Mule show at the Orpheum in Boston for Halloween 10 years ago, we never thought it would happen more than once. People that read JamBase have an idea about what we do on Halloween and New Year’s, and that it’s something thematic, but a lot of the world hasn’t heard that from us. But after thinking we’d only do that Pink Floyd collection one time, five years later we did something similar at Mountain Jam, and honestly, we’ve gotten so many requests to do it again that we thought, well, if we’re going to do it, we might as well do it on its 10 year anniversary. So we will have that in for a handful of shows.
JAMBASE: Speaking of anniversaries, 2018 marks Jorgen Carlsson’s 10 years with the band. That went by quick!
WH: It went by quick, yeah, and the band right now is in a really good place — a place we can be in only by staying together with these four members. I’ll point out another oddity which is that the original Dark Side Of The Mule show was Jorgen’s second show with us. We played the night before in Vermont which was his first show, and his second show included doing 90 minutes of Pink Floyd. That actually may have helped him [laughs], because he knew that material probably better than the Mule material at that point.
JAMBASE: Will Gov’t Mule remain your primary focus over then next year?
WH: Yeah, I mean, Gov’t Mule is always my primary focus. And now that there are fewer irons in the fire, so to speak, it gives us more time not only to explore Gov’t Mule but to think about how, where and when we want to explore it. Also, since we’re on the other side now of our 20th anniversary, we’re looking at things in a different way. I mean, with Mule, you’re talking about a band that never expected to do a second record, let alone to be together for 20 to 25 years. So, now what do we do? That is exciting and stimulating for us. And that’s the only way you can continue to be viable to your audience if you’ve been together that long.
Revolution Come. Revolution Go
Rock & roll has always been a reflection of the times, and the new Mule is no exception.