Busy for a Dead Guy

Touring with the Dead is just one of the jobs Warren Haynes is juggling.

The Dead, grateful to be jamming after all these years.
The Dead, grateful to be jamming after all these years.
James Brown may have rightfully claimed the title of the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business 40-some years ago, but nobody's schedule in the 21st century comes close to Warren Haynes's. The 44-year-old singer and guitarist, ranked one of the top 25 greatest axemen of all time by Rolling Stone, is spending the summer on the road, playing with the Allman Brothers Band, with Gov't Mule (the Southern rock-jam quartet he leads), as a solo acoustic artist, and with the Dead (surviving Grateful Dead members Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir).

"There's a lot of stuff that I'm trying to get to," Haynes admits. "There are obvious similarities [among the bands]. But when I bounce back and forth from one project to another, I have a whole different outlook and approach. That keeps it fresh."

Haynes's latest gig -- he's also a member of Dead bassist Lesh's band -- offers him opportunities that his other bands don't, he claims. With the Dead, he gets to reach back into the grandfather of all jam bands' extensive catalog of rootsy, bluesy originals and American standards.

On this tour, dubbed Wave That Flag, the group is playing fan favorites "Shakedown Street," "Friend of the Devil," and "Alabama Getaway," covers like "Smokestack Lightning" and "Eight Miles High," and some new songs, including percussionist Hart's "Strange World," which Haynes sings.

As the newest member of the group (celebrating its 39th anniversary this year), Haynes found himself accepted rather quickly into "the family." "They make me feel at home," he says. "We had a pretty good chemistry right off the bat. The more I do with the Dead, the easier it becomes."

The Dead has no plans to record right now; they want to test their road mettle first. (This is the founding members' first extensive tour since they reunited a couple years ago, after leader Jerry Garcia's not-so-surprising death in 1995.)

This suits Haynes -- who does double duty at the band's Wednesday concert at Blossom Music Center with an opening solo acoustic set -- just fine. With all the jumping around among cities, bands, and setlists, he barely has time to work the pair of new albums -- his own Live at Bonnaroo and Gov't Mule's upcoming Deja Voodoo -- he's just recorded. "The last four years have been the busiest," he says. "But the opportunities that have been presented to me are opportunities that I couldn't possibly turn down. I would regret it if I did.

"It's music. It's my favorite thing to do in the whole world. And doing all these different projects keeps it interesting. If I was this busy with just one band, I would totally get burned out."