We're not about to slight the great James Brown here. But that credo he lived, breathed and performed by, that he was "the hardest-working man in show business," should be appropriated by Warren Haynes.
Take a look at the guitarist's recent tour schedule. Late last month, he wrapped up an annual performance residency at New York's Beacon Theatre with The Allman Brothers Band, the landmark Southern rock/jam ensemble that Haynes has been associated with for more than two decades. When we caught up with him for a phone interview, he was in San Rafael, Calif. — the heart of Grateful Dead country — for an engagement with Dead bassist Phil Lesh. Then Haynes hit the road for a brief trek with The Warren Haynes Band, the soul-fortified group that brings him to Lexington for a concert Wednesday at Buster's Billiards and Backroom. No sooner do those dates conclude than Haynes will be out again with Gov't Mule, the guitar-heavy psychedelic jam band that he has led since 1994.
Still think Haynes doesn't work as hard as the mighty Godfather of Soul? Then go back to Halloween, when The Warren Haynes Band performed an entire set of James Brown's classics during a show in Denver. That came in the midst of a year's worth of work in support of Haynes' 2011 solo album, a soul/R&B-fortified adventure fittingly titled Man in Motion.
"Yeah, it's all a little bit nutty," Haynes said of the multi-band juggling act he maintains and the relentless touring schedule that comes with it. "But I enjoy it. It keeps me invigorated."
Haynes has always had a reputation for being more than a one-band man. But what makes his schedule seem just short of preposterous over the past year is that touring titan Gov't Mule took all of 2011 off. That simply gave the man in very real motion time to focus on the soul-music inspirations he grew up with in what became The Warren Haynes Band.
"I had a good feeling about this new project from the very beginning," Haynes said. "This is an endeavor I've wanted to embark on for a long, long time, just as Man in Motion was a record I wanted to make for many years. It just happened to take until this past year to be able to put it out and feel like the time was right, with Gov't Mule taking the year off. Things just seem to happen for a reason, you know?"
Listening to Man in Motion and the subsequent Live at the Moody Theater CD/DVD set (due out April 23) reveals a few differences from the harder-edged jams that Hayes creates with Gov't Mule. There are prominent placements of organ, saxophone and background vocals in decidedly sunny, Memphis-flavored grooves. But the guitar sound, still ripe with accents of blues-accented improvisation, remains unmistakably Haynes in any setting.
"Man in Motion was really about combining the influences of soul music and blues music. Although I utilized them more on this album than I ever have in the past, they have always been a huge part of everything I've done because that's the music I grew up with. So Man in Motion takes a lot of the same elements and mixes them together with a different balance.
"People have asked why I didn't just make Man in Motion a Gov't Mule record. That would have been a lot of fun, and the music would have sounded amazing. But it would have gone a little further down that road than Gov't Mule has ever gone. In some ways, it would have been further than I would have liked it to go as far as the traditional soul element was concerned, because Gov't Mule is predominantly a rock band. I wanted this record to showcase the influences I discovered before I discovered rock 'n' roll."
Live at the Moody Theater chronicles an entire concert recorded last fall in Austin, Texas, with Haynes Band-mates Ron Johnson (on bass), Terence Higgins (drums), Nigel Hall (keyboards), Ron Holloway (saxophone) and Alecia Chakour (background and harmony vocals).
The first disc revisits most of the material from Man in Motion, and the second explores soul-energized covers of distinctly non-R&B classics including Jimi Hendrix's Spanish Castle Magic and Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic. Haynes' tireless Allman Brothers gem Soulshine brings the performance home.
The gig at Buster's will be among the Haynes Band's final performances. The group was scheduled to finish touring duties last year so Haynes could return his attention to Gov't Mule. But Man in Motion wound up with a Grammy nomination. Additional shows also were considered a plus in promoting Live at the Moody Theater.
But there was one other special gig last winter that didn't involve any of Haynes' rotating lineup of bands. He was part of an all-star blues/rock delegation that included Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger that was invited to perform for President Barack Obama at the White House in February in honor of Black History Month. The president even became part of the fun by singing a verse of Sweet Home Chicago with the group.
"That was an amazing experience all the way around," Haynes said. "And the whole thing with the president singing? People keep asking me if that was planned, and it absolutely was not. Buddy Guy kept going, 'Come on now, Mr. President. We heard you singing Al Green a while back. You've got to sing some blues with us.' Finally, Mick Jagger handed him his microphone, so I think the president felt obligated.
"It was surreal. What an honor it was to be invited."