Warren Haynes has made his name as the frontman who rips virtuosic lead guitar in the Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule, but there’s another side to him he hasn’t explored yet: folk singer. Growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, Haynes often went to gigs by local folk heroes Doc and Merle Watson and befriended older songwriters like Larry Rhodes and Ray Sisk. “I never wanted to pursue that direction as an artist, but that whole folk music scene influenced me greatly as a songwriter,” Haynes says.
Haynes keeps an acoustic guitar close by wherever he goes, and has written several folk and bluegrass-flavored songs as he’s toured with acts including the Allmans, the Dead and Gov’t Mule. “I have more songs written in this direction, probably more than I have in any other direction. . .but I never really had a home for them,” he says. That changed when he met the bluegrass band Railroad Earth when they opened up for the Allmans at Red Rocks. They teamed up for Ashes and Dust, out July 24th, which features work with friends like Grace Potter (who joins Haynes for a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman”) and Allman alum Oteil Burbridge (who plays on “Spots of Time,” which Haynes co-wrote with friend Phil Lesh.)
The decades-old “Is It Me Or You,” a slow-rolling confrontation to a friend, is a standout. Haynes says he wrote the song in the Eighties about a friend who was “in a downward spiral at the time.” “He had actually reached a place where he was blaming everyone but himself. And we were so close, and my life was moving in a positive direction and his was moving in a negative direction. And it was a lot of guilt trip going on, causing me to question my own motivations. You know, how it is when you care about someone.”
Haynes was always hesitant to record the song. “It’s always been an extremely personal song to me and I always wanted to record it but never felt like I had the right reason.” But he changed his mind when he heard the band’s mandolin, fiddle and banjo paired with his electric guitar on the track. “It kind of brought the song to life in a way that felt like the way I wrote it,” he says.