After the passings of Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks last year, looking back at his Allman Brothers Band history can be emotionally tough for guitarist Warren Haynes. But he was happy to do it for the new Peach Picks: Cream of the Crop 2003 archival collection, from which a rare performance of “Desdemona” is premiering below on Billboard today (June 12).
The four-disc set, out on June 15, features 36 performances from the Allmans’ July 25-Aug. 10, 2003 run, including shows in Pittsburgh, Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., Hartford, Conn., and Darien Center. N.Y., all during a tour supporting that year’s Hittin’ The Note, the Allmans’ first new album in 10 years.
“It was a really good time period for the band,” Haynes, who served as supervising producer for the set, tells Billboard. “We had all the new material and we were reinventing a lot of old material and the band was on a high note at that point, so it just seemed like a good thing to go back and make [the recordings] available to folks.”
Haynes was already working on Peach Picks when Allman’s health took a turn for the worse, and listening to the material provided a bit of relief for him. “It’s really interesting to hear how energized the band was at that point in time,” says Haynes, who co-wrote “Desdemona” with Allman for the Hittin’ The Note album. “Everybody was so psyched to make a new record and so proud of the record we had just made it just seemed like the band was really hitting it stride. Not having heard any of the stuff in a long time, when I went back to start listening to it. It was just really refreshing to get a snapshot of where the band was at that moment.”
It wasn’t just the new music lighting a fresh fire in the band, which at that juncture also included drummer Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson, guitarist Derek Trucks, bassist Oteil Burbridge and percussionist Marc Quinones. That year, taking a page from their good friends the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers began playing with their set lists dramatically each night, which the group would continue from that point on.
“It was a fresh outlook, or even a fresher outlook on the band’s legacy and what it meant for the band to still be touring and still be vibrant and still be breaking new ground and pushing itself,” Haynes recalls. “We felt that this is a band that’s been non-stop touring since the reforming in ’89, so we have to keep reinventing it. It became more and more important to us to just shake things up and do things as differently as possible on a nightly, weekly, monthly, yearly basis, and the entire organization — band, management and everybody — was down with that.”
Peach Picks also includes a selection of covers, including Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla,” as well as guest appearances by Susan Tedeschi, Karl Denson and Branford Marsalis, the latter of who plays saxophone on epic renditions of “Dreams” and “Whipping Post.”
Haynes says “there’s talk” about going into the tape vaults for similar sets from other eras of the Allmans as well. “We’ll see where it all goes,” he says. “I’m interested to see some of the different time periods, but  was kind of a unique opportunity, I think.” Haynes will be on the road this summer with Gov’t Mule, including a run of Dark Side of the Mule shows with the Avett Brothers and Magpie Salute, and he’s recently written a couple of songs with Derek Trucks that are intended for the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
“Derek and I have been communicating a lot since [Allman’s death],” Hayne says. “Jaimoe and I just had a really long phone conversation the other day, and about an hour into it I realized that whatever it was we were calling each other about hadn’t been broached, that we were just having a beautiful conversation that was long overdue. It’s all been kind of a blur and we lost so many people in such a short period of time that it’s almost impossible to process it all. So you make baby steps forward and you take baby steps backwards but try to just keep moving ’cause that’s the best way to honor all these people is to keep playing.”