Gov't Mule - Kicking It In Overdrive

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Gov't Mule
Kicking It In Overdrive
By Toni A. Brown & Les Kippel

It may have come as a surprise to many when it was announced that Warren Haynes and Allen Woody left the Allman Brothers Band this past spring. But the momentum the guitarist and bassist have been building up left them no other option than to push their solo venture forward. Signing a record deal with Capricorn was the incentive needed for Gov't Mule to take it on the road full time.

Haynes, Woody and drummer Matt Abts are not your typical power trio. The creativity present in Gov't Mule is about more than just volume and control. While providing a rock solid groove, the group's got the added dimensions of fun and improvisation,

The upcoming album for Capricorn is slated for an early 1998 release. Some of the 11 songs for the new project take on a jazzier approach than Mule's usual, hard rock presentation.

"Thelonius Beck" was influenced by Thelonius Monk and Jeff Beck, hence the title. "Damage" was written by Haynes and Matt Abts and, as Haynes describes it, "has a lot of different influences. It kind of has a raga feel; it kind of has an R&B feel. It sounds like Ravi Shankar meets Sly Stone. We have a lot of new songs that are going in some different directions. About half the album is new material that we've been playing on the road for the past six months to a year. And then the other half is new material that we just worked up for the record."

Gov't Mule's first self-titled album was independently released in July, 1995 and will be redistributed by Capricorn. It was followed up last October with Live At Roseland Ballroom (Foundation), a live power-house recording from the esteemed New York City venue. The "St. Stephen" jam is sure to get your attention.

Haynes' obvious Duane Allman influence was most apparent in his work with the Allman Brothers. "Duane was a huge influence on my playing," explained Haynes, "especially on my slide guitar playing 'cause really, there's hundreds of great, innovative, ground breaking guitar players. But, there's only a handful of innovative, ground breaking slide players. So any slide player who's serious about his or her work has listened to Duane Allman as well as Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Robert Johnson, David Lindley, Ry Cooder and Lowell George. All those cats are people that, if you play the slide, you better have listened to 'em."

Though Gov't Mule's music might be termed rock with an edge, it has its blues leanings as well. "We have a song on the new record, which is our arrangement of an old traditional song called 'John The Revelator,' and the version that influenced us the most is Son House's, but the way we ended up doing it is just very traditional-drums, slide guitar and an instrument called a prima, which is like a Serbian mandolin," says Haynes. "It's very stark and open and very traditional but, in the same way, it has a modern page to it, as well. We always want to do a song or two on each record that comes from that old blues school.

"But for the majority of the record, it's original material that sounds like Gov't Mule-a product of all our influences-straight jazz, straight blues, rock, psychedelic and folk influences," Haynes added. "All those things combined equal Gov't Mule. But we do occasionally pay homage to some of the places where it really came from. A lot of the young kids that have gotten turned on to the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, they're still discovering new music all the time-new old music, old blues, old jazz-and I think it's important for people that listen to improvised music to understand where a lot of the roots came from in jazz and blues both, 'cause that's really where improv came from."

There are strong psychedelic overtones in Gov't Mule's sound, and Haynes is quick to discuss the association. "The influences that tend to crop up a lot are Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Mountain, but we listen to Jefferson Airplane, the Dead, the Allman Brothers and Pink Floyd. There's all sorts of psychedelic influences that mostly started in the '60s and carried over into the early '70s."

In 1980, Haynes joined David Alan Coe's band. "Coe knew that I was a big Allman Brothers fan," he explained, "and he was friends with Dickey and Gregg and some of those guys. We were doing an album in Nashville, and the Allmans were doing an album in Nashville. This was in '80 or '81, and he went by and picked 'em up and brought 'em by the studio, and that's the first time that I ever met those guys. Dickey and I sort of struck up an acquaintance, although I was only 20 at the time. We started playing around together, and I think Dickey was kind of impressed by the fact that I was not only influenced by the Allman Brothers, but all the jazz and blues and stuff that influenced those guys. We could sit and talk about old music and we could sit and play old music, and there was a common bond there. So, through the years whenever we would see each other, we'd always get together and play, and then around '86, he decided that he wanted to do a record for the first time in eight or nine years, so he called me up and asked me to be a part of it.

"I'd left Coe's band in '84, and in the two years between '84 and '86, I was doing a lot of work as a session musician in Nashville and pursuing a career as a solo artist. And about the time that Dickey called me and wanted me to join up with him, I'd just gotten an offer to do my first solo album. So I pushed that record back to do a record with Dickey, which ended up being a record and a couple of tours, and then when that was over I thought, 'Well, okay. Now's a great time for me to do a solo record.' And I got a call from the Allman Brothers saying they were gonna reform and wanted me to join, so once again, I put my own album on the back burner, joined the Allman Brothers, and it wasn't until '92 that I actually did a record that I'd been planning on doing since '86." Tales Of Ordinary Madness was released on Megaforce Records, and although the album did not burn up the charts, Haynes proved himself a masterful lyricist and a brilliant composer. Fans are well-advised to seek out this excellent collection.

One of the first shows Haynes did with the Allman Brothers was at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, which was originally booked as a Gregg Allman solo performance. Haynes explained, "Since the Brothers got back together, they decided to honor that date by doing it as an Allman Brothers show, which was a huge mistake because we were entirely too loud for Avery Fisher Hall-one of the worst shows that we've ever done in that it was just the wrong band for that place."

The concept of forming Gov't Mule came about during an Allman Brothers Band tour. Haynes says that it started in a casual way. "Woody and I were riding down the road on the tour bus with the Allman Brothers, sitting up one night listening to Hendrix or Cream or something like that, and talking about how nobody had really pulled off the power trio type thing in so long. To do a power trio like Cream or the Hendrix Experience or Mountain or even bands like Led Zeppelin or Free, which were trios with a singer, those kinds of bands all had this interplay going on between the three musicians that was totally different than a larger band or even the trios that came later-much more improvisatory. And each member had to kind of take up space and play in a unique way that lent itself to the trio. So we're riding down the road talking about that and Woody goes, 'You know, nobody's done that in a really long time, and it's such a cool facet of music. Me and you and the right drummer could do that.' And I said, 'Well, yeah. Me and you and Matt Abts could do that.' So we just started talking about it. We called Matt, and he was totally into the idea. Matt and I played together in the Dickey Betts Band in the '80s. Matt played with Dickey for like five years, and I was there the last two-and-a-half of those five years. Matt and I had talked about playing together again. We had a great musical rapport, and in my opinion, Matt's one of the greatest drummers on the planet. We called Matt and he was totally into the idea, so we got together at this club in L.A. and jammed one night after an Allman Brothers show, and the jam was so good and special and inspirational right off the bat, that we thought we needed to pursue this. So, when we all had some time off, we booked a studio in Florida and went in and put together some songs that we had written, wrote some new songs and did a couple of covers and recorded them just to see where we were, and right from the beginning it had a special chemistry. That's what you have to have in the beginning, some sort of chemistry to build off of."

Once the Mule started, it was hard to slow it down. Haynes says, "It really just started picking up steam and gathering momentum and becoming its own entity and growing very quickly and very strongly and we thought, at some point, it may deserve and demand full time attention, and we just kind of figured, for the time being, we'll do what we have to do. We'll do two bands as long as we can, but the more it became obvious to us that Gov't Mule was where our musical future lay, the more we felt like we can't be in two bands forever. In order for Gov't Mule to be as good as it can be, we can't continue to devote only half the year to it."

The other members of the Allman Brothers knew this was a direction Haynes and Woody could eventually go in. "Whenever you're in a band, everybody always does other projects," Haynes rationalized. "Gregg has been working on a solo album for the last couple of years and, for the last several years, he has toured with his own band. Jaimoe does jazz gigs when he's not working with the Allman Brothers. He has a couple of bands that he plays in. Butch is now putting together a band called Frog Wings that's gonna tour separately from the Allman Brothers. It's just one of those things especially in a band like the Allman Brothers, where a lot of those songs go back almost 30 years. People are looking for new directions to go in, and especially in mine and Woody's case, some of those songs I'd been playing since I was 14 years old. So, you're always looking for new material, new creative directions. I write a lot of songs that don't fit the Allman Brothers, and I even write a lot of songs that don't fit Gov't Mule and some that don't even fit myself as an artist. I've written songs for everyone from John Mayall to Garth Brooks, and some of these are songs that I would never do myself because my voice doesn't fit the song or vice versa. Now that Gov't Mule's been together for three years, when we write songs, we write with the three of us, the overall sound and the overall picture in mind. And it makes it a little easier to focus on that."

It is always interesting to know who musicians would like to play with. Warren Haynes is no slouch when it comes to players he's shared the stage with, but there are still some artists he'd like to have a run with. "I've been fortunate to have jammed with a lot of the people that I grew up listening to, but I've never played with Carlos Santana," says Haynes. "I've still never played with Jeff Beck, who's one of my all-time favorite guitar players. I've still never played with Clapton, who was my initial incentive to want to play guitar-the reason I started playing guitar was because of Cream, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. We recently got to play with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, who is a great player and a big inspiration to us. The early ZZ Top music was so cool and so unique. Billy's such a fine player-he sat in with the Allman Brothers at the Super Bowl party that we did at the House Of Blues, and it was a lot of fun. But there's so many…horn players, keyboard players, we could just go on and on."

Haynes sums up his career with the Allman Brothers Band by saying, "We had eight great years. The Allman Brothers gave us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join an institution that's been around almost 30 years and to be a part of something that was not only an institution, but an institution that I had been influenced by since before I even started playing guitar. I've nothing but appreciation for those guys and the fact that they gave me a great opportunity and we had eight great years together. I don't think any of us really thought it was gonna last that long."

This article originally appeared in Relix Magazine, Volume 24 #4 (August, 1997).

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