Yes, the B-side of "Ohio".
Warren Haynes’s only flaw is he’s not beautiful. Because not only can this guy play, he can SING! If this were 1971 instead of 2011 Warren would be a household name, someone all over the radio, who fans would flock to see in concert.
I got an e-mail imploring me to check out Grace Potter’s rendition of "Gold Dust Woman". I won’t say the hype on Ms. Potter has become deafening, but I’ve been e-mailed that television performance for months. If she only had a hit song. If she was doing something new, if it wasn’t that hard to find great singers. I’m not putting her down, she can sing, but she doesn’t make my blood boil.
Warren Haynes does.
No, I’m not turning gay, not even turning Japanese. But listening to Warren Haynes pick out "Gold Dust Woman" did make me hot. Because he got inside the notes, he got it right. He inhabited the original in a way today’s Fleetwood Mac usually can’t.
It’s not about flash, it’s about feel. Not about a ton of notes, but the right notes. And more important than notes is tone. And Warren Haynes is a master. I could recite everybody he plays/played with, but either you know him or you don’t. Derek Trucks may be the star of the latest edition of the Allman Brothers, but Warren Haynes is the utility player. And without the utility player, without the lineman doing the dirty work, you’ve got no team. This is what Eric Clapton tried to do when he picked up with Delaney & Bonnie, be part of the game instead of the game itself. Yes, Eric wailed, but it’s Dave Mason wrote the ever-lasting number.
You see it comes down to the material. And whatever you think of Stevie Nicks’ voice or appearance or beliefs, she wrote "Gold Dust Woman" and you didn’t. And neither did Warren Haynes. But the reason we love "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" so much, why it eclipses everything else Clapton has ever done, is Duane Allman. Who performed righteously with his own band, but as the utility man in Derek & the Dominos ushered the act into the stratosphere. Yup, it’s Duane who brought the incendiary riff to "Layla". Hell, Clapton still can’t play it live. His strengths lie elsewhere.
Not that I don’t love Clapton. Not only from the Bluesbreakers and Cream, but that very first solo album, with "Easy Now" and "Let It Rain". But Clapton’s the star, Allman was the ensemble player. And so is Warren Haynes.
But Warren steps out with his own act, Gov’t Mule. And he gets very close. He’s only one hit away from ubiquity. Then again, he isn’t trying for that hit. Then again, if the Black Keys can make it, so can Warren Haynes. But does he want it, is he trying? I’d say he’s burned out from the near-misses, but nobody that burned out can play so much with so many acts and shine so brightly.
First fire up this clip:
It’s cut off in the middle, but the sound is better. You swear there’s got to be another player on stage, someone else playing six string with Warren, but there’s not, he’s got all that sound coming from his own axe. So ominous, the exact same feel from the original record. And then he starts to sing…
This is live. With no overdubs. How many people can sing on record but can’t truly sing? Like Crosby, Stills & Nash. Sure, Stephen’s voice is shot today, but they never got it truly right back then, not live. But on record…
Stay with the first clip until at least a bit after two minutes in, when Warren whips out the slide and gets that tone, so right. But then go to the second clip:
The title says "Gold Dust Woman". But when Warren steps to the mic, looking impossibly slim, ready to be a star, ready to be in a magazine, he starts singing that legendary CSNY a cappella number…"Find The Cost Of Freedom". And then…at 1:10, Warren starts playing "Gold Dust Woman".
But this is not Gov’t Mule. This an all star band at the Jammys. And who’s playing the John McVie role but Will Lee, originally of the World’s Most Dangerous Band, he may have been supporting Letterman all these years, but he can play, he’s in the groove, his bass positively THROBS!
Still, it’s Warren’s guitar that’s truly in the pocket. The sound quality’s not perfect, but there’s a direct link to that 1977 record. Whew!
This is why today’s music lives live. This is why the average customer of Live Nation may barely go to one show a year, but the true music fans are going incessantly. Go to see the face of the moment once and you’ve got it. It’s like going to a taping of a TV show. You’ve got the proximity to a star, but the thrill is all external, whereas when you hear Warren Haynes pick those legendary notes the thrill’s inside, you can’t help but close your eyes in reverie.
Still, we need songs.
This scene was broken big not when the pros complaining that they don’t play live, the Nashville cats who write but don’t perform, were composing the hits, but when they were written by the performers playing them. You see we believed what came out of the speakers was the truth inside the stars themselves. We wanted to get closer. Not for the brush with fame, but to be nearer to the light of life.
And those original songs were so good that these tributes thrill us too.
But we’re still waiting for those original numbers that kill us, that make us want to go to the show and smile.
What we’ve got now is two roads. One based on recording and one based on performing. The recording one is too often sterile, it doesn’t titillate us, it doesn’t make our blood boil. And those performing are too often playing B-level material.
But boy can they play.
It’s just a matter of time until these live performers write their hits. Just like the legends of yore. And they may not be played on the radio, but they’ll be passed hand by hand on the Internet, today’s FM band.
We’re going somewhere, it’s not exactly clear. But it is about playing, it is about writing, it’s about more than fame.