Former Allman Brothers Band guitarist and Gov’t Mule front man Warren Haynes isn’t always a fan of rock or pop music that is given the symphonic treatment.
Haynes, who appears with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra Wednesday night, said, “I think it has to be the right music, the right set of songs.”
The rock star and the symphony are performing together for the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration, a concert showcasing the music of Jerry Garcia, the late front man of iconic ’60s progressive rock band, the Grateful Dead.
Garcia left a large body of work encompassing rock, folk, country, bluegrass and even jazz. But to be perfectly honest, Haynes said, not every Jerry Garcia or Grateful Dead song should be married to a symphonic sound. They don’t all work, but he’s proud of what he’s chosen for this show.
“These fit perfectly,” he said.
It was important to Haynes that the songs he chose not only sounded good when accompanied by brass and strings, but that they didn’t lose the improvisational style that was central to the music.
Haynes said there were a couple of things they did to ensure improvisation stayed in the show.
The easiest way was simply to have the orchestra just bow out while the electric band continued on.
“The symphony will just come back on cue,” he said and then added, “but there will also be times when I’m improvising while the symphony is not. They’ll be playing what’s written on the sheet music and I’m playing to that.”
What really interested Haynes is that some of the symphony’s sheet music is actually scored from Grateful Dead jams.
“My friend Stephen Bernstein took all Bob’s [Weir] parts, all of Jerry’s parts and all of Phil’s [Lesh] parts and assigned them to different instruments,” Haynes said. “I come in and improvise to that, adding another layer. It makes for some very unique symphonic playing.”
Haynes got involved with symphonic music after he was approached by the Jerry Garcia estate a few years ago with an idea to get several different artists to do Garcia songs with a symphony.
“They asked if I was interested in being the first,” he said.
Haynes told them he’d love to.
The singer/songwriter had never worked with a symphony before, and he also had a relationship to the Grateful Dead.
Haynes was a fan of the band, though he came to it late. Haynes saw the Grateful Dead perform in Charlotte in 1979, and had an older brother play Grateful Dead records around the house. But he said he didn’t really get into their music until about 10 years later, around the time he joined the Allman Brothers Band.
Haynes said he saw Garcia play a few times and could have met the man, but it was always, “Nah, next time.”
“And then there was no next time,” Haynes said.
Following the death of Garcia in 1995, Haynes played in various post-Grateful Dead incarnations and spin-offs of the band, including Phil Lesh and Friends and The Dead.
The Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration is still a lot of fun for Haynes. At this point in his career, Haynes doesn’t have to do many things that don’t interest him, but he wasn’t entirely sure whether he’d ever consider putting his catalog through a symphonic process.
“It would be on a song by song basis,” he said, but then added, “We are doing one of my songs, ‘Patchwork,’ which I wrote about the passing of Jerry Garcia, and the symphonic version turned out great.”
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com, 304-348-5195, follow @LostHwys on Twitter or visit Bill’s blog: blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth.