James Brown rightfully may have been known as the hardest-working man in show business, but if anyone carries that mantle now, it would be guitar-playing singer-songwriter Warren Haynes.
Recruited by his boss and founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, Dickey Betts, to hold down the other guitar slot when the band relaunched in 1989, Haynes has worn many other hats since then. He’s a founding member of the jam-band power trio Gov’t Mule, a partner with his wife, Stefani Scamardo, in the Evil Teen Records label, a member of the Grateful Dead circle and an in-demand guitarist for guest spots with a mind-boggling list of artists.
And somehow during all of this, the Asheville, N.C., native has found time to maintain a respectable solo career since his 1993 debut, “Tales of Ordinary Madness.” Haynes is now touring in support of his latest effort, “Ashes & Dust,” a self-produced album with the bluegrass-rooted band Railroad Earth. He will be at the Crest Theatre on Saturday, March 26.
“I really only make solo records when I feel like I’ve written a bunch of songs in a similar direction that don’t really seem like Allman Brothers songs or Gov’t Mule songs. My last solo album was ‘Man in Motion,’ which is kind of soul music meets blues,” Haynes explained, speaking from his home in Westchester County, N.Y.
“The songs for ‘Ashes & Dust’ are ones that I’ve been writing my entire life, and I’ve been writing a lot in this direction recently, so I felt like it was time to start recording and documenting a lot of these songs. ‘Ashes & Dust’ is like folk-inspired, kind of a singer-songwriter record, but with a lot of playing and improvisation. … It is very much more about the songs and my voice and surrounding my electric guitar with acoustic instruments, which is more the way these songs were written.”
Haynes and Railroad Earth serve a varied stew of songs that range from “Stranded in Self Pity,” which has a klezmer-like buoyancy applied to it thanks to some infectious clarinet and piano accompaniment, to the western-inspired “Glory Road,” with its mention of gunslingers, saddlebags and downtown ladies sprinkled amid crying fiddle and trilling mandolin. Elsewhere, he applies some biting slide guitar to a old-time music reading of Billy Edd Wheeler’s “Coal Tattoo,” which is punched up by Andy Goessling’s banjo playing, and the self-penned “Company Man,” a tale of layoffs and economic uncertainty with unforced country nuances to it.
About the only hint of conventionality on this recording is a simmering cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman,” which is given a Celtic twist and features Grace Potter.
A Southern kid who grew up an Atlanta Braves fan and playing Little League baseball – at 13 he pitched against Cal Ripken Jr. – Haynes was recruited at 19 to play in the band of noted honky-tonk hell-raiser David Allan Coe, through whom he met Betts and Gregg Allman.
His entry into the country music world found him co-writing “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House,” a song Garth Brooks took to the top of the country charts in 1991.
Since the Allman Brothers Band called it quits in 2014, Haynes has toured in support of Gov’t Mule’s “Shout!” – a two-disc set featuring the band only on the first disc and the same songs on the second disc accompanied by a stellar lineup of guest vocalists, including Potter, Elvis Costello, Dr. John and Steve Winwood.
Now he’s back on the road.
“I’m really busy – a lot of touring and a lot of recording,” he said. “It’s nice to have a little bit of time at home, but my schedule gets pretty hectic as of this tour.”