The singer/songwriter/guitarist, along with the rest of the Mule (Matt Abts on drums, Danny Louis on keyboard/guitar and Jorgen Carlsson on guitar) have just unleashed a Mother Lode with Heavy Load Blues (Fantasy Records).
Featuring both covers and originals, there’s more than enough for fans to digest as the single CD fills almost the entire 80-minute capacity, and a second disc on the deluxe edition offers an additional nearly hour of music.
“Yeah, we tend to be a little excessive. But our fans like it!” Haynes laughs from his home. “And it changed throughout recording. We didn’t think we’d record this much stuff, but we ended up being in the studio longer than we usually have before. We were making another [studio] record at the same time, and there was a lot of extra time with the lockdown. We just kept going!”
The idea to do an all-blues record didn’t come to Haynes until about three weeks before entering the studio, and even then, he wasn’t sure if it would be a project for his solo career, Gov’t Mule, or a sort of “Warren Haynes and Friends” situation. But once he and the rest of the band started playing together, the decision was clear.
“I was hoping it would be a [Mule] record, but I hadn’t talked to everybody in the band about it, and it was such a departure for us. We’ll do a couple of blues songs in any given night, but never strictly adhered to that as a format,” Haynes says. “But once everyone was in agreement that it would be fun, and we could approach it in a different way with our chemistry and interpretation, then it took off.”
Adding to a blues authenticity is that the band recorded the entire project in a relatively small studio, playing live all together on vintage instruments and speakers, and not relying on headphones. And that went for both the acoustic and electric songs. Haynes says he wanted to recapture the sounds created in similar circumstances by blues records put out between 1955 and 1975.
“One common thread they had was the way they were recorded. And for the blues, it’s all about the interaction of the moment between the musicians. It’s not the same with [overdubs].”
The songs unfurl at a generous time length, with most running in the 5–7-minute range. More time for Haynes to really extend his guitar solos, along with an expanse for the rest of the band. “There’s no reason to err on the side of being too short. We’re not making pop radio songs!” Haynes laughs again.
On the regular record, there’s covers like Elmore James’ “Blues Before Sunrise,” “Snatch It Back,” “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” Tom Waits’ “Make it Rain” and “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.” The longest track is the Mule’s version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline),” clocking in at 9:05.
“I’m a huge Howlin’ Wolf fan, and that’s one of the darkest, heaviest blues recordings ever,” Haynes says. “Just think about that coming out in 1956, it must have just scared people to death. The original version was like what Black Sabbath would be in the ‘70s! Just ominous and scary. I didn’t want to do it that way, but still capture the grittiness and dark overtones.”
It was the first song the band recorded for the album, and what’s on it is also the only complete take that they did, laid down shortly after midnight. When it was done, the band all just kind of looked at each other and knew they couldn’t improve on it.
Another unique cover is on “(Brother Bill) Last Clean Shirt.” Haynes notes that song has some background and connection. It was originally written by Charles “Honeyboy” Otis, who Haynes says served a drummer mentor to Allman Brothers Band percussionist Jaimoe and was also affiliated with Sam Cooke and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Songwriting legends Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (“Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yakety Yak”) then rewrote it. Otis released his own version as “The Honeyboy,” and it was also recorded by the Animals.
Of the Haynes-written originals like “Heavy Load,” “If Heartaches Were Nickels,” “Black Horizon” and “Hole in My Soul,” there’s also “Wake Up Dead” that carries a writing credit for all four Mules.
“I originally had it at a much slower tempo, and when I showed it to everybody, we started batting around different interpretations. And a much more uptempo one is what we wound up with,” Haynes says. “And that was good, because felt we needed another uptempo song. They had tried it as a trio after I left the room for a bit, and it sounded really cool.”
On the live front, Gov’t Mule have played some one-off shows during the pandemic, along with a short tour and their annual late October “Mule-o-Ween” concerts. Haynes and Louis even did some duo gigs early on. And while Haynes says things aren’t quite back to the way they were before; it will just take a little time.
“It’s been really great, but it has been a process even getting back to semi-normal. It’s been gradual, but it’s not 2019” he says. “I think everyone been reminded how much we need live music, both performers and fans. And that goes for music or sports or anything. Just having an interaction with something you love in a crowd of people with a similar mindset.”
Gov’t Mule fans will practice that during two events on the band’s calendar, starting with the upcoming December 30 & 31 shows at New York’s historic Beacon Theatre. It’s favorite stop for lengthy runs of the Allman Brothers Band both during and after Haynes’ tenure, along with Tedeschi Trucks Band and other jam-centric groups.
Haynes estimates that he’s graced its stage for in between 250 and 300 separate shows going back to 1988 when he was in ABB co-founder Dickey Betts’ solo band. He recalls that Melissa Etheridge, who had just released her first album, opened the show.
In January of next year, Gov’t Mule will headline their own Island Exodus vacation/concert event over several days in Jamaica. And while it’s becoming more common for performers and bands to have their own cruises and getaways, can Haynes really enjoy his non-performing time without being mobbed if he’s easily the most recognizable guy around for miles?
“It’s a real mellow atmosphere and a lot of the same people year after year, fans we’ve met and become friendly with. It’s open and personable,” Haynes says. “I don’t worry about that part of it.”
Finally, it was just announced that Director Nick Cassavetes will helm a biopic on the Allman Brothers Band, based on Gregg’s autobiography. So, if the film touches on the band’s later years (Haynes was in the group for most of the years 1989 through their 2014 end), does that mean we’ll see an onscreen Warren Haynes doppelganger?
“That’s a scary thought!” Haynes laughs. “I don’t know about that!”
For more on Gov’t Mule, visit Mule.net